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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: June ::
The Murder of Gonzago
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1187  Thursday, 3 June 2004

[1]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 09:43:06 -0400
        Subj:   The Murder of Gonzago

[2]     From:   David Cohen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 12:02:15 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1176 The Murder of Gonzago

[3]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 13:20:03 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 15.1176 The Murder of Gonzago


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Wednesday, 02 Jun 2004 09:43:06 -0400
Subject:        The Murder of Gonzago

This discussion of fate vs. free will is fascinating, but I wonder if it
can be put into a Shakespearean context? For example, B.F. Skinner's
favorite Shakespeare play was _Othello_ because he thought it a perfect
example of "operant conditioning." Skinner was convinced that the play
demonstrated how Iago controlled Othello by means of positive and
negative reinforcement. Iago "shapes" Othello's behavior just as Skinner
could "shape" the behavior of a rat in a box, or so Skinner himself
thought. Skinner also used the play to illustrate that what we think
doesn't matter - only what we do. As a by-product of having been
"shaped" by Iago, Othello comes to think and believe whatever Iago wants
him to think and believe. Or so Skinner argued.

In _Hamlet_, I think the central issues near the end of the play involve
fate or, as Hamlet and Horatio call it, "providence."

Is providence helping Hamlet out as he moves toward revenge? If so, how
can we know that? Is the climatic final scene an example of error and
chance? Or is it guided by Divine Providence? If so, how?

One word about identical twins. They can be very different from each
other. Early in my career, I taught two sets of identical twins. The
first was two young women who took my composition class. Their abilities
were quite distinct, with one receiving an A, while the other struggled
to make a C. A few years later, I taught male twins, and they were very
different two. One was outgoing and quite verbal, the other rather shy.
Their final grades were different too. My friends in biology, who know a
lot more about this issue than I, say that the current thinking about
nature vs. nurture is that they are both extremely important: 50/50 -
that's their considered opinion.

Ed Taft

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 12:02:15 -0500
Subject: 15.1176 The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1176 The Murder of Gonzago

 >David Cohen has made some interesting observations about fate versus
 >free will with reference to augury.  I realized that in my response to
 >him, my terminology is probably somewhat confusing . . . .

 >2)  David's ideas about Free Will vs. Fate

Perhaps I should wait till my post of today is digested, but okay . . .

 >3) . . . I submit that David's viewpoint and mine may be closer than
he imagines,
 >once we get past the rhetoric and examine the mechanics of fate a little
 >more closely.

I have my doubts, so here's my view, boiled down:  The question of free
will can be cast into two basic questions about our character,
motivation, and conscious intentions: what we do and what we are.  The
first question is about what we do:

[1]  To what extent do our actions stem from our own will as opposed to
current exigencies and other people's wills ?

It's what most people have in mind when they speak of their free will:
more formally the application of conscious rational powers to formulate
"intelligent" actions free of influences external to our conscious
selves, including unpredictable chance events.  If free will in this
sense is an illusion, than our belief that we can do whatever we want to
do is a delusion

The first question is about what we do; the second is about what we are:

[2]  To what extent is our will free from the controlling influences of
our unique biology and childhood conditioning"?

Here's a more troublesome question, indeed, for the possibility that we
have no free will-that the belief that we are free to be whatever we
want to be is a delusion-invokes the specter of genetic and other
biological determinism (tyranny from within), as well as the specter of
early environmental, including parental, determinism (tyranny from without).

 >I think we might have to clear up point number one first, since most of
 >us are probably starting with these presuppositions . . .

Forgive me, but I do not subscribe to the augury business, except in the
sense that we can all make predictions, some of us better than others,
based on knowledge of persons and things.

GLENDOWER
     I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
HOTSPUR
     Why, so can I, or so can any man;
     But will they come when you do call for them?

 >B.  If you, using augury, contradict my belief in my ability to bring
 >about an event by making a contrary prediction, you are preventing the
 >exercise of my free will.

I would say that this example merely demonstrates the kinds of external
influences that support the view that that there is no free will,
however real it may seem.

 >C.  Fate (or at least belief in it, combined with a contradictory
 >prediction) prevents free will.

I still don't know what you mean my fate.  If by fate, you mean how
things fall out-whatever ill be will be-then it is a trivial concept
except perhaps in some deep philosophical sense, e.g., why is there
anything rather than nothing.  If by fate, you mean something more
personal, e.g., Providence, then all you are doing is introducing yet
another constraining external influence (social, divine, astrological,
etc), which supports the view that there is no free will.

 >D.  Augury in itself prevents or causes events.

Any vocalized prediction will affect others, of course, especially the
vulnerable.  I hope you don't  really mean by "event" big events, for
example, predicting that the market will go up tomorrow will make it
happen.  That would be a form of magical thinking, e.g., if I prick this
doll, that person will fee pain.  An example of augury or preventing or
causing "an event" would be useful

 >E.  I am no longer accountable for the outcome of predicted events.

You are if you made them happen!

 >I will leave it up to David to define what he means by these terms, and
 >how he sees them fitting together.

See above.  If you need more, please ask.

 >To contrast this with an augerer's thoughts about free will vs. fate:
 >A.  "Free will" is a person's exercise of their ability to make a
 >choice.  It frequently is modulated by a person changing their mind
 >about a course of action, or deciding to try a different approach.

As I have said before, there is nothing in the making of choices that
necessarily says anything definitive about free will. Again, the example
of identical twins reared apart making the same choices is instructive.
  One ignores these kinds of findings at one's intellectual peril

 >C.  The outcome of the choice may be other than what the chooser intended.

This is, of course, as true as it is self-evident. (Incidentally, not
all self-evident things are true, e.g., the power of normal parenting to
shape a child's personality development.)

 >D.  The choice itself and its outcome can normally be predicted with a
 > high degree of accuracy, allowing for human error.

Not so, according to empirical evidence, especially when the base rate
of the choice or outcome is low.  By base rate, I mean the frequency of
events.  So for example, the "choice" of suicide (low base rate) is
virtually unpredictable, even with a valid suicide test.  Even with a
99% accurate test, such prediction of suicide in any individual,
whatever his test score, is virtually unpredictable-all the predictions
based on the test will prove false positives.   On the other hand, the
"choice" of pushing a child to attend college is highly predictable
given the high base rate of such choices.  Of course, in the case of
high base-rate events, the prediction is trivial

 >E.  It does not matter if the person for whom you make a prediction
 >about knows the prediction or not; the outcome will be the same.

Some might say that it doesn't matter if you make a prediction or not,
that is, if the person doesn't know about it, the outcome will be the
same, i.e., the prediction has no effect

 >H.  Fate is what makes it possible for us to make predictions.  Without
 >it, predictions would never be valid.  Nearly all events are fated.

I don't know what this means because I don't know what you mean by fate.
  Question:  If nearly all events are fated (whatever that means), what
events are not fated.  Again, without concrete examples, what you are
talking about is hard to divine.

Note: the items I did not respond to I either believe are
straight-forward, true, or ambiguous.

David Cohen

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 2 Jun 2004 13:20:03 -0400
Subject: The Murder of Gonzago
Comment:        SHK 15.1176 The Murder of Gonzago

It's encouraging to learn that Pamela Richards is able to see into the
future. Over here, the gift is less widely distributed and seems denied
to all but politicians.  Tony Blair's abilities in this area are, for
example, legendary.

T. Hawkes

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