Monday, April 6, 2009

Explanation of My Last Post: The Free Will Debate

I feel I should explain my last post as not everyone will understand what I am pointing out. First of you have to understand what I mean by "The Knack". This can most easily be understood by watching the first few minutes of an episode of the TV show "Dilbert". In the episode Dilbert's mother takes a young Dilbert to see a doctor about his extreme interest in all things mechanical and electrical. In the end Dilbert is diagnosed with "The Knack" which is "a rare condition which is characterized by an extreme intuition for all things mechanical and electrical and utter social ineptitude."

While my intention in including a reference to Dilbert was purely for humor's sake, the rest of the rewritten article was done for a different purpose (To see and compare my rewritten article to the original follow the link at the end of the article to the source). My reason for rewriting the article comes from an exercise that is used in classes on logic to teach about and point out logical fallacies. Some times an argument for a particular position or conclusion is given and the validity of the argument is unclear. But if we take the same logical form of the argument and insert different words the fallacy immediately becomes apparent.

An example of this is the simple statement, "My physics professor said gravity is constant, therefore it is." To point out the fallacy I will change this statement but keep it in the same logical form. "Dizzy said the world would end tomorrow, so it will." This statement is obviously fallacious, and it makes the fallacy in the first statement easier to point out. While it may be true that gravity is a constant, it is not constant because someone said so. Thus the argument is invalid because it makes use of a logical fallacy, an appeal to authority. I should point out that just because the argument is fallacious does not make the conclusion false, that assumption is also a logical fallacy. The reason why this exercise is used in logic classes is to reveal the underlying argument when it may not be obvious.

So my purpose in rewriting the news article was to put the same argument into different words in order to more easily show the underlying assumptions behind the article, and the broader issue. In a very simple way it comes down to the debate over free will. Without beating around the bush I will outline the philosophical issues involved. The question involved is whether or not people are able to choose who they will be and how they will act. As seen in the photo, on one side of issue there are those who say that the way they are is not a choice and thus there is no free will. This means they did not and cannot choose their own identity. On the other side, are those therapists who try to change a person's homosexual tendencies. They do this because they believe it can be done.

So here is the main question, do we have free will? Can someone choose who they will be? Those on one side of the debate will say that we cannot choose, and demonstrate this by saying that we cannot choose our DNA, or our environment. Hence they argue that a person cannot change the fact that they are have homosexual tendencies. As seen from the original article this argument is used to form the basis to say that therapists should not try to change someone's sexual orientation.

But if you read my rewritten article the underlying logical fallacy is easier to see. There is a difference between aptitude, predisposition, DNA or environment and someone's actions. In reference to the rewritten article, just because someone has an aptitude for scientific things (i.e. the knack), does not mean they will do scientific things, nor does it make them a scientist or an engineer. They can become one, but only if they preform the actions associated with that. Returning to the original article we see that they confuse disposition with actions. They assume that because someone has an inclination to act in a certain way, then they must act in a certain way. In essence they deny that we have free will.

The danger of thinking like this lies in applying this same principle to other things, such as if someone has the inclination to murder, or the inclination to steal, or the inclination to hurt others. If those people can be held accountable for their own actions, then we must have free will. If we have free will then if someone has homosexual tendencies then they do not have to act accordingly, and they can change their actions. Thus being gay is a choice. The inclination may not be a choice, but acting on those inclinations is, and it is the actions, not the inclination that defines someone as homosexual or not.

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