Olly Thorn Somehow Believes in Free Will

Olly ThornI’ve been very impressed with the work that Olly Thorn does over at Philosophy Tube. Like most of my YouTube consumption, I listen to him while making dinner. He usually has interesting things to say.

Free Will and Healthcare

While making dinner yesterday evening, I listened to two of his videos. (He puts out relatively short videos each week.) The first one was Healthcare, Ethics, & Postmodernism. In it, he discussed healthcare ethics. In particular, he talked about the way that many healthcare providers try to ration based upon the behavior of patients. He calls this the Principle of Voluntary Responsibility.

People naturally believe, for example, lung transplants should go to those suffering from cystic fibrosis before those suffering from lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. Thorn makes excellent points about this and you really should watch the video.

But he skips the question of free will.

Now that might seem like a strange complaint about this video on healthcare. But I have a hard time getting past this issue when discussing what people call voluntary behavior.

I know it seems like having cystic fibrosis is just bad luck whereas being a lifelong smoker is a choice. But I think both people have bad luck. To say that the smoker could have chosen to not smoke is only saying that in a different universe with different starting assumptions the smoker would have made different choices. That’s true. But that doesn’t change the facts in the universe in which the smoker actually lived.

Encouraging Better Behavior — In Theory

None of this is to say that the cystic fibrosis sufferer shouldn’t get the lung transplant. Putting smokers at the end of the lung line is a way to encourage people to make better decisions in the future.

The problem with this is that we live in a highly unjust society. As a result, it is usually the poor who “choose” to smoke. And after smoking became taboo in the US, our tobacco companies just started selling more cigarettes overseas. That is: as middle- and upper-class people stopped smoking here the tobacco industry just got more poor people elsewhere addicted.

Fillwill and Torture

Although I’m even more concerned about the issues Thorn raised in his healthcare video, we still largely agree (I think). But that’s not the case in his video What Is Solitary Confinement Like?

In the video, he argues that solitary confinement is torture and he speculates that it should not be given to anyone. I’m fine with all that.

But then he says:

The neo-Nazi terrorist Anders Breivik murdered 77 people including several teenagers in 2011. And he’s been in various forms of solitary confinement ever since. And I have to confess, I have no sympathy for him.

It’s an understandable opinion. But I don’t share it. Breivik is a horrible person. But I’m not okay with him being tortured for the exact same reason that I wouldn’t be for torturing a cougar that attacked and killed my nephew.

Sure, that cougar has to be put somewhere that it can’t harm people. But I don’t blame it for being a cougar. And I don’t blame Anders Breivik for being a psychopath.

Free Will Obscures Reality

I understand that everyone feels like they have free will. I do too. But it’s a delusion. It’s a story we tell ourselves to keep going — keep living.

But I really do think that we can’t see reality and we can’t think ethically if we don’t abandon the concept of free will.

No one deserves to be tortured, even people who gleefully tortured. To say they do is to make the same ethical mistake that proponents of capital punishment make. And I know it’s hard to think this way. “An eye for an eye” just seems logical. But it’s not. It’s applying a kind of culpability that we don’t to dogs.

And I think we can all agree that we are no better than dogs.