Clarence Darrow, criminality, and free will

September 2, 2013 • 6:09 am

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), a Chicago attorney who lived only two blocks from where I now reside, is one of my heroes.  You’ll surely remember him as the defense attorney in the Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925, the man who conducted a brutal cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan about the veracity of the Bible.

But the Scopes trial was only one case in a long and distinguished career, one in which Darrow fought relentlessly for the underdog, whether that be socialists, laborers, or blacks. He took on many unpopular causes, and was one of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union.

I don’t have the space to recount his many achievements, or explain why I admire him. If you want to learn about Darrow, read either the Wikipedia article or Douglas Linder’s Clarence Darrow Home Page. Better yet, read John Farrell’s excellent biography, Clarence Darrow, Attorney for the Damned.  The following short video gives the highlights of his career.

Someone sent me a collection of Darrow’s speeches in and out of the courtroom, which had a title similar to that of the biography. The anthology is Attorney for the Damned: Clarence Darrow in the Courtroom, edited by Arthur Weinberg and with an introduction by William O. Douglas (late justice of the U.S. Supreme Court). Reading through it, I realized that Darrow’s entire philosophy of criminal justice hinged on his notion that criminals had no free will: they couldn’t choose to commit or refrain from crime, but were conditioned completely by their constitutions and environment.

This is relevant to the Leopold and Loeb case, one of the three most famous criminal trials of the twentieth century (the other two are the O. J. Simpson case, in which I was involved, and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping).

Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were two brilliant Jewish students at the University of Chicago, who, influenced by Nietzsche, decided to commit the perfect crime. On May 21, 1924, they kidnapped a 14-year-old named Bobby Franks, killed him by bludgeoning him with a chisel, and drove to a lake in nearby Indiana where they dumped Frank’s body in a culvert.

They almost got away with it, but someone discovered the body, and, a few days later, a policeman found a pair of Leopold’s glasses at the scene. They had an unusual frame, and only three pairs had been sold in Chicago. They traced the glasses to Leopold, who quickly cracked (as did Loeb), and both went to trial in August. Darrow was their attorney.

Knowing that the evidence was indisputable, Darrow had his clients plead guilty, hoping that by so doing he could save them from hanging. (Only one of dozens of Darrow’s murder clients was ever executed.) In a remarkable 12-hour speech, which I think was largely extemporaneous, Darrow pleaded for their lives to Judge John Caverly.  His speech is reproduced in its entirety in the Weinberg collection, and you can see part of it online.

It did the trick. The judge, who apparently was weeping heavily at the end of Darrow’s elocution, sentenced both killers to life in prison plus 99 years.  In 1936, Loeb was murdered in prison with a straight razor, probably by an inmate whose sexual advances were refused (it’s pretty clear that both Leopold and Loeb were gay). Leopold was released on parole in 1958, moved to Puerto Rico to avoid attention, and died in 1971.

Reading Darrow’s writings, and his closing argument in the Leopold and Loeb case, I was struck by how often Darrow brought up his view that criminals have no choice about their actions.  This was mentioned in the Wikipedia article:

The Leopold and Loeb case raised, in a well-publicized trial, Darrow’s lifelong contention that psychological, physical, and environmental influences—not a conscious choice between right and wrong—control human behavior. The public got an education in psychology and medicine and, because Leopold was an admirer, the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.

And Darrow’s philosophy is evident in his moving speech for Leopold and Loeb: “Closing argument: The State of Illinois v. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, delivered August 22, 1924″. I’ve put part of it in bold because it seems so prescient, as if Darrow realized that science itself rules out any kind of free choice:

Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.

. . . I know, Your Honor, that every atom of life in all this universe is bound up together. I know that a pebble cannot be thrown into the ocean without disturbing every drop of water in the sea. I know that every life is inextricably mixed and woven with every other life. I know that every influence, conscious and unconscious, acts and reacts on every living organism, and that no one can fix the blame. I know that all life is a series of infinite chances, which sometimes result one way and sometimes another. I have not the infinite wisdom that can fathom it, neither has any other human brain. But I do know that if back of it is a power that made it, that power alone can tell, and if there is no power then it is an infinite chance which man cannot solve.

That was not a rhetorical strategy: Darrow really did believe that.

Here’s another quote from Darrow on the “delusional” nature of free will:

“There are a lot of myths which make the human race cruel and barbarous and unkind. Good and Evil, Sin and Crime, Free Will and the like delusions made to excuse God for damning men and to excuse men for crucifying each other.” – Clarence Darrow 

Weinberg’s anthology begins with a remarkable speech, “Address to the prisoners in the Cook County Jail” (online). Weinberg first gives some background:

“The warden of the Cook County Jail in Chicago, who knew Clarence Darrow as a criminologist, lawyer, and writer, invited him to speak before the inmates of the jail. Darrow accepted the invitation. This was in 1902.

The prisoners marched into the auditorium where they heard what is today still considered one of the most extraordinary and unique speeches ever delivered to such an audience.”

You can read the whole speech, if you want, but here’s an excerpt from it, emphasizing not only the criminal’s lack of free will, but also the environment of greed and capitalism that drove so many men to crime. Darrow was an ardent socialist at a time when that simply wasn’t on in polite society. Remember, he’s telling this to convicted criminals (again, my emphasis):

If I looked at jails and crimes and prisoners in the way the ordinary person does, I should not speak on this subject to you. The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure, is because I really do not in the least believe in crime. There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.

. . . Let us see whether there is any connection between the crimes of the respectable classes and your presence in the jail. Many of you people are in jail because you have really committed burglary. Many of you, because you have stolen something; in the meaning of the law, you have taken some other person’s property. Some of you have entered a store and carried off a pair of shoes because you did not have the price. Possibly some of you have committed murder. I cannot tell what all of you did. There are a great many people here who have done some of these things who really do not know themselves why they did them. I think I know why you did them — every one of you; you did these things because you were bound to do them. It looked to you at the time as if you had a chance to do them or not, as you saw fit, but still after all you had no choice. There may be people here who had some money in their pockets and who still went out and got some more money in a way society forbids. Now you may not yourselves see exactly why it was you did this thing, but if you look at the question deeply enough and carefully enough you would see that there were circumstances that drove you to do exactly the thing which you did. You could not help it any more than we outside can help taking the positions that we take.

. . . There is one way to cure all these offenses, and that is to give the people a chance to live. There is no other way, and there never was any other way since the world began, and the world is so blind and stupid that it will not see. If every man and woman and child in the world had a chance to make a decent, fair, honest living, there would be no jails, and no lawyers and no courts. There might be some persons here or there with some peculiar formation of their brain, like Rockefeller, who would do these things simply to be doing them; but they would be very, very few, and those should be sent to a hospital and treated, and not sent to jail, and they would entirely disappear in the second generation, or at least in the third generation.

There’s an afterword to the talk that includes this:

“Too radical” was the comment of one prisoner when a guard later asked him what he thought of the speech.

Darrow was prescient in realizing that the lack of free will had serious implications for the criminal justice system. If you want to read more about his views on free will, see Tamler Sommers’ short essay, “Darrow and determinism: giving up ultimate responsibility.

There aren’t many videos of Darrow in which he actually speaks. Here’s one, from around 1932, in which he’s “interviewed” (it’s really a monologue). It shows not only his eloquence, but also his views on free will and criminality.


Here’s Darrow speaking at the trial of Leopold and Loeb. The pair are to Darrow’s right, with Loeb, wearing a bowtie, looking at the camera. Leopold sits to Loeb’s right with slicked-down hair, staring straight ahead.

Here are Leopold and Loeb’s mugshots when they were put in Joliet prison (they were later transferred to Stateville Penitentiary.)


Finally, here are Darrow and Bryan at the Scopes trial:

Here’s a photograph of Darrow’s famous interrogation of Bryan on July 20, 1925. The trial was moved outside because of the heat in the courtroom. This was a rare case in which the defense attorney actually put the prosecuting attorney on the stand, but Bryan, who was a showman, considered himself an expert on the Bible and wanted to be questioned. That was a serious mistake, as you’ll see from the transcript of his testimony.

Picture 1

71 thoughts on “Clarence Darrow, criminality, and free will

  1. There is one way to cure all these offenses, and that is to give the people a chance to live. There is no other way, and there never was any other way since the world began, and the world is so blind and stupid that it will not see. If every man and woman and child in the world had a chance to make a decent, fair, honest living, there would be no jails, and no lawyers and no courts.

    This was very well said!

    1. Agreed. What he appears to be advocating here is equal oportunity for all humans without the often seen fear of human nature.

  2. “decided to commit the perfect crime” – that’s a very strange phrase to use, if you don’t believe in free will. First you say they ‘decided’, rather than ‘they happened to’; then you say they attempted ‘the perfect crime’, ie one for which they could never be blamed. So they were aware of concept of blame, and of the objection of society to murder. Were they not using free will when they tried to cover up the murder?

    “to excuse men for crucifying each other” – if Darrow didn’t believe in free will, then no excuse is needed for crucifying someone; it’s just the inevitability of the circumstances that some people will crucify some others.

    1. “decided to commit the perfect crime” – that’s a very strange phrase to use, if you don’t believe in free will.

      No, it isn’t. When a brain causes action, based on its prior state and input from the outside world, that’s called a decision.

      That’s what the word means.

      It does not mean causing action through some incoherently described phenomenon called “free will”, where decisions are somehow not bound by physical reality.

  3. Clarence Darrow is a hero of mine, too. “Clarence Darrow for the Defense” by Irving Stone was one of the books in my parents’ library, and I remember finding it enthralling. Is it there or somewhere else that I have read that Darrow would put a wire down the middle of his cigar so that the ashes wouldn’t fall off, and as he spoke to the jury they would be so fascinated by the impossibly long cigar ash that they would miss any flaws in Darrow’s summing up?

  4. Are you admiring Darrow because of his support for the oppressed and his awesomeness in the Scopes trial, or because of his commitment to determinism and the absence of free will? I’d think that the deterministic viewpoint is incompatible with evolution – it claims, after all, that you have no choice in responding to this comment and even what you’ll write.

    Also, no scholar of philosophy here, but isn’t Nietzsche all about will and thus completely incompatible with the “they couldn’t help it, they were products of their environment” defense?

    1. I’m rusty on my Nietzsche but I recall that his “will to power” is not about free will but was more about innate compulsions humans feel to exact power over others. One person’s will meets another’s & they equal out or one dominates, etc.

      Sadly, it seems Nietzsche gives people a lot of bad ideas: the men who committed the crime mentioned in this post (I assume going on the idea that humans experience pleasure in dominating) and of course Hitler’s crimes of genocide (going on Lebensraum & übermensch among other things).

          1. I rocked it – 80% which surprised me because of my rustiness with Nietzsche but I did watch all the Harry Potter movies recently so I could participate in pop culture Harry Potter references 🙂

  5. The Leopold and Loeb case was the basis of the 1959 film Compulsion, with Orson Welles as Darrow (“Jonathan Wilk” in the film) and a young Dean Stockwell as Leopold (“Steiner”). Here’s Welles addressing the court:

    5:50 “I’m asking this court to shut them into a prison for life. Any cry for more goes back to the hyena…. This court is told to give them the same mercy that they gave their victim. Your Honor, if our state is not kinder, more human, more considerate, more intelligent than the mad act of these two sick boys, then I’m sorry that I’ve lived so long.”

  6. Darrow’s thoughts on crimes and prisons, laws and the growing prison population could easily apply to modern times. It’s too bad his ideas were not better acted on by those who could action them.

  7. I never realized that the scene where Darrow questions Bryan from Inherit the Wind had the dialog taken almost word-for-word from the court transcript. How the hell do you come up with “Do you think about the things you do think about?!” without having a script? Really cool.

  8. While Darrow was a great lawyer and did great things for the “underdog”, it did not carry through his career. The Wikipedia page briefly notes the Massie affair which took place in Hawaii, but really glosses over what a tragedy of justice it was. In this case, Darrow took the case because he wanted to go to Hawaii and he needed the money (as he was “devastated by the depression”). He clearly did not take the case of the underdog in this trial, but rather the side which would almost guarantee him a win and positive publicity due to the rampant racism of the time. This is why one should not have heroes: heroes are forgiven faults others would not be. The criminals, who were murderers, spent all of one hour in the judges chambers as punishment, reportedly sipping champagne.

    1. Darrow did need the money, but he strongly believed in the case. As was noted above, he was one of the founders of the NAACP.

  9. While Darrow did often fight for the underdog, he did not always follow the noble path. While the Wikipedia article does briefly mention the Massie affair in Hawaii, it glosses over the true tragedy of the case. Darrow took the case because he was broke and he wanted to go to Hawaii. He pretty much knew he would win due to the prevalent racism of the day against native Hawaiians. His defendants were “convicted” of manslaughter (it was murder) and served the harsh sentence of one hour in the judge’s chambers, reportedly sipping champagne. This is an example of why one should not have heroes: they are forgiven faults and transgressions they otherwise wouldn’t be. Heroes also diminish the “regular” person’s self-worth. Praise Darrow for what he deserves it for, but do not let him off the hook for what he is guilty for.

    1. Certainly heroes can have faults and flaws, and be criticized. He didn’t say “super-hero” or “saint”.

      To me a hero is not a model of perfection, but somebody who despite all the crap in life at some point or perhaps fairly consistently rises above and achieves something great.

      Are the acheivements of Martin Luther King entirely invalidated by the fact that he was a human male with sexual needs and weaknesses? Wouuld the secret hotel recordings made illegally by the FBI convince you that his leadership, his speeches, his tireless efforts against great odds and mortal danger, did not reflect intelligence, extraordinary vision, great moral commitment, great perseverence, and great courage above and beyond what most people are ever able to muster?

      I don’t feel my self-worth is the least bit diminished by holding up the example of MLK as a hero, flawed and human, yet able to stand-out in an extraordinary way despite his human fallibility.

  10. “Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), a Chicago attorney who lived only two blocks from where I now reside, is one of my heroes… Darrow’s entire philosophy of criminal justice hinged on his notion that criminals had no free will: they couldn’t choose to commit or refrain from crime, but were conditioned completely by their constitutions and environment.”

    Of course, if here is no free will then there are no grounds for admiring “heroes”… and no accounting for such admiration than that the admirer, too, has no choice in the matter. (As you may detect, I think that free will is real.)

    1. I don’t have any choice about whether I admire Darrow, but admiring somebody who does good (or denigrating someone who does bad)does have salutary effects on society, for it’s an environmental intervention that promotes good behavior.

      So those are the grounds for my admiration, be they learned or genetic (or both).

      Your comment is largely incoherent, I think, unless you believe in dualistic (rather than Dennettian) free will, in which case you’re the only reader who does. And I’d ask you to justify why you think we can control the molecules of our brain through the existence of some non-material mechanism.

      1. Fair question. The answer is in three parts at least. Firstly, the molecules are only known via consciousness, and even beyond that very indirectly: the epistemological status of the molecular world is less secure than that of the mental events themselves, including volitions. Secondly, my clearest experiences of volition relate to choices that go against or else are apparently irrelevant to the obvious biological drives and instincts. Thirdly, no one knows the mechanism which causes the quantum wave function to be collapsed (observed, whatever…) to yield these particular molecules and their particular states: it is presumably non-classical, involving no energetic nudge, for example. Of course there is at least one alternative, the Many Worlds interpretation.

        “I don’t have any choice about whether I admire Darrow, but admiring somebody who does good (or denigrating someone who does bad)does have salutary effects on society.” I think the judgment “salutory” in a purely determinist worldview is incoherent.

        1. I presume that you know what “salutary” means: “beneficial” or “having a good effect”. And you’re arguing that saying something has a good effect is incoherent under determinism?


        2. Molecules are known to us via our perceptions of their interactions with physical entities. We can then use physical entities to control molecules based on their observed behavior during those interactions. That is not quite controlling molecules with non-material (more broadly non-physical) mechanisms. If you’d like, we can remove the human experience from molecular interactions and just let the universe proceed as it had for billions of years before we became aware of it.

          Your clearest experience of volition is a naive one and probably not so clear. Obvious biological drives are not always the most important ones as they often compete with each other as well as competing with non-obvious biological drives for priority.

          I don’t know why you think our ignorance of what causes quantum wave collapse is justification for thinking that there is a non-physical mechanism for controlling molecules in our brain.

    2. Even if the entire universe were fully deterministic (as opposed to just the sub-systems known as bio-organisms) and every future outcome could in principle be predicted, in practice we could not make such predictions. So there is still surprise in the world, and mystery.

      If the winning number of a lottery were selected in advance and locked in a safe with a time lock that nobody could open, people would still buy tickets prior to the opening of that safe. This is because the pre-determination of the winning number doesn’t eliminate people’s sense that they have a chance to pick that number, that they might be the one. Even though all that hope and surprise is determined, it is nonetheless experienced as hope and surprise.

      In a purely deterministic universe, if any being were subtracted instantaneously by an outside agent, it would change the future, so each individual plays a role in outcomes, despite determinism. Likewise for any hero. If they did not exist, if they were not who they were with the capabilities they possess they would not influence outcomes the way that they do. Admiring heroes under such deterministic circumstances makes as much sense as admiring a sunset, admiring beautiful flowers, or admiring the waves crashing upon the shore.

      1. Who can imagine a person standing on a dramatic seashore and saying “Ah, this is bunk. Those waves have no choice but to surge and break, to burst and splash high upon the cliffs and to descend in trickling cascades of white foam upon the rocks, and to send their fragrant sparkling mists into the air so that the sun can glisten through them”? It might be beautiful if it weren’t so damn deterministic? How boring to watch matter and energy doing what it must do?

          1. LOL. I guess the perfect answer to the question “Who could trash such beauty?” is: Calvin could. Or maybe any teenager jonesing for their social networks and video games…

      2. When people say they “admire a sunset” they’re simply expressing appreciation of its beauty. They’re not (usually) implying that the sun is a free agent that could have chosen not to be beautiful. This is completely different from admiring someone for their heroic behavior. When people say they admire someone for risking his life by running into a burning building to rescue a child, the clear premise is that the hero has free will. He is admired because he freely chose to risk his life to save the child, when he could instead have chosen to act selfishly.

        1. the clear premise is that the hero has free will
          …or rather, that the hero is the sort of person it’s handy to have around wherever children are relatively helpless and buildings are more or less flammable.
          What’s ‘free will’ got to do with that?

  11. Clarence Darrow wrote his autobiography. He is very frank about his lacks of behavior. He is also clear in this book about the lack of free will in humans or any animal. His conclusion comes from belief in how nature works always the same way, but determinism was coming in great fire from physics in the 20s and 30s. Einstein and Darrow thought alike. The real reason humans have no free will is biological determination, heredity and environmental influences and their horribly complex interaction affecting both. If you understand evolution, then you should understand we have a huge mistake attributing free will to any organism. This comes from biology, not physics.

    1. This comes from biology, not physics.

      Hmm. That is true to a degree, but only to the extent that biology and chemistry depend on physics. Without the underlying physics, the principles of conservation of energy and laws of electrostatic forces and quantum mechanics, and the mathematics of dynamical systems, there would be no theory by which biology or chemistry on their own could conclude that organisms are deterministic, other than simply asserting that they appear to behave that way. Physics gives a great deal of detailed explanation for why chemistry and hence bio-organisms are deterministic.

      1. Your view is that physics is the real science behind biology. Really, it is both biophysics and biochemistry. In no case is just physics. To reduce biology to physics alone is pure crap. Biology has very succeeded in prevented quantum mechanics in heredity.

  12. If there is no such thing as free will then what do you make of children born to highly religious parents, true believers, who are able to break free from these shackles to become clear-thinking ahteists in their 20s or 30s?

    1. Making intelligent choices is what intelligent brains do, just as running downhill is what water does.

      Let’s put it another way: if there were truly free will, why would anyone “choose” to be religious? Wouldn’t a truly free will make the most intelligent choices and not be influenced by parents, history, culture, authority, peer pressure, the desire to be seen by others as pious, etc?

      The existence of religion seems like an enormous argument against the existence of free will.

  13. This reference to Rockefeller was too funny. Clearly Darrow regards billionaire robber barons as psychopaths.

    There might be some persons here or there with some peculiar formation of their brain, like Rockefeller, who would do these things simply to be doing them; but they would be very, very few, and those should be sent to a hospital and treated, and not sent to jail, and they would entirely disappear in the second generation, or at least in the third generation.

    There is a slightly creepy suggestion of eugenics at the end, the idea that preventing people from reproducing will breed their bad blood out of the species. This wasn’t all that unusual at the time. Prior to the experience of Nazism, it probably seemed quite a lot less sinister even to such an intelligent person as Darrow. Nonetheless, it mars the speech somewhat.

      1. To our language hawks, what is the “correct” way to write Dave’s sentence?

        Dave, I assume your first comma is misplaced.

        I like:

        Anyone who admires intelligence, decency and honesty, admires Darrow.

  14. Jerry, fantastic post. I read the transcript of Darrow questioning of Bryan.

    I was interested to see that Bryan uses the term “evolutionist” to characterise Darrow’s views. So early on this term is being used by the religious to parse “science” from “evolution”.

    Darrow however says later says that Bryan’s views are an insult to men of science and learning.

    I think it is interesting to note that Darrow does not refer to himself as having “evolutionist” views, but instead of being a person of “science and learning”.

    I think that it is very useful to not buy the terms that the religious want to put on this issue to frame it in ways sympathetic to their case, but to defend evolution as one with science and learning itself.

    Therefore, I put to you that the word “evolutionist” should only be used by the religious, to men of “science and learning” if we need to describe our view, it will suffice to say that our view is the “scientific” view, or a view of science and learning, and not the view of an “evolutionist”, as that term is only used to parse “science” from “evolution” and the two things are the same!

    Thanks for sharing this material. Really enjoyed reading it!

    1. Agreed. Words like “evolutionist” and “Darwinist” are terms creationists use to market evolution as just another ideology.

      1. That they do. Surprisingly though, you will find exceptions where some scientists will also use the term ‘Darwinist’. Dawkins, for example.

        Two nations divided by a common language, perhaps.

          1. It’s almost as if they want to replace “Darwin” with “Jesus”.

            Like Darwin has to be the perfect example of a human being that was never wrong. To them it appears that if Darwin wasn’t right on all his ideas, then evolution, by proxy, must be false.

            It’s so silly and such an ignorant understanding of what evolution is.

          2. They do that for Atheism too. Once they figure out who the authority figure of the moment is, then anything they can find, whether a character flaw or a disagreement with other atheists means that Atheism is false.

            Projecting; they do it so well.

  15. I don’t have any choice about whether I admire Darrow

    Then people don’t have any choice about whether they believe that criminals deserve retribution.

    I don’t see how the concept of admiration makes sense at all absent a belief in some form of free will. What does it mean to admire someone for doing something they were caused to do rather than that they freely chose to do? In what relevant way is that different from, say, admiring your washing machine for washing your clothes when you press the start button?

    Admiration is one of a number of basic concepts governing human social relations that seem to depend on the notion of free will and moral responsibility: “should,” “ought,” “guilt,” “innocence,” “deservedness,” “blameworthiness,” “praiseworthiness,” and so on.

  16. I’m a criminal defense lawyer (and card-carrying member of the ACLU) today in large part because my father gave me, as a youngster, copies of Attorney for the Damned and Irving Stone’s Clarence Darrow for the Defense, and took me to the play Darrow with Henry Fonda when it passed through town (the theater not being on the ordinary itinerary for kids from our neighborhood).

    As you say, Darrow was a socialist when socialism wasn’t on in polite society. Socialism has never been on in polite society — unless you want to count as “polite society” the humanities departments of certain universities and want to count as “socialism” the feckless, Rococo version espoused as “theory.” But the Age of Darrow represents the high-water mark for American socialism (and other Leftist movements) — the age of Darrow clients Eugene V. Debs (who won nearly a million votes for U.S. President running on the Socialist ticket from a prison cell) and “Big” Bill Haywood, of Emma Goldman and “Mother” Jones, of the IWW “Wobblies” and the First Great American “Red Scare.”

    1. FWIW, in the first sentence of the second paragraph above, only the two occurrences of the word “on” were meant to be italicized.

  17. This contribution is offered a bit late in the game, I know, but here is a review by Adam Gopnik of a recent book on neurology findings re “free will”. I haven’t read this book. I do not doubt the results of neurological experiments that indicate regions of the human brain activate prior to awareness by human consciousness of initiating a decision processing. Claims about how decisions are actually made relating to “determinism”, and options — or not — available to individuals from nano-second to nano-second, presently seem to me to be claims that go (to steal a movie title for use as a metaphor) a bridge [or several] too far.

    From the daily New Yorker e-mail 9.3.3013:
    Adam Gopnik in today’s New Yorker e-mail reviews three new books:

    A series of new books all present watch-and-ward arguments designed to show that brain science promises much and delivers little. They include “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind” (St. Martin’s), by Robert A. Burton; “Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuro-Science” (Basic), by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld; and “Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind” (Princeton), by a pair of cognitive scientists, Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached.

    In “Neuro,” Rose and Abi-Rached see the real problem: neuroscience can often answer the obvious questions but rarely the interesting ones. It can tell us how our minds are made to hear music, and how groups of notes provoke neural connections, but not why Mozart is more profound than Manilow.

    Courageously, they take on, and dismiss, the famous experiments by Benjamin Libet that seem to undermine the idea of free will. For a muscle movement, Libet showed, the brain begins “firing”—choosing, let’s say, the left joystick rather than the right—milliseconds before the subject knows any choice has been made, so that by the time we think we’re making a choice the brain has already made it.

    Rose and Abi-Rached are persuasively skeptical that “this tells us anything about the exercise of human will in any of the naturally occurring situations where individuals believe they have made a conscious choice—to take a holiday, choose a restaurant, apply for a job.”

    What we mean by “free will” in human social practice is just a different thing from what we might mean by it in a narrower neurological sense. We can’t find a disproof of free will in the indifference of our neurons, any more than we can find proof of it in the indeterminacy of the atoms they’re made of.

    1. … initiating a decision process. [NOT initiating a decision processing, as I mistakenly typed in para 1. If prayer to something yielded things, I’d pray right now for preview/edit software options.]

  18. Darrow was a master of courtroom procedure. The Detroit case, in which he defended a Black family who had moved into a white neighborhood and been surrounded by a mob, was his greatest case. He had a good judge who also respected good procedure. The Scopes trial was a farce from the beginning. The judge wrote so much judicial error into the transcript that the verdict was overturned on the basis of procedure. The judge would stop the trial to have a picture taken, holding a Bible, with his arm around William Jennings Bryan. As for Loeb Leopold – he had the Bar Association set his fee on the basis that “the rich as well as the poor deserve good representation.” The family refused to pay his bill because they actually thought he should get the murderous twits off! Darrow is one of my heroes as well, but his last case, the Massey case in Hawaii, was an absolute disgrace — a huge blotch on his whole career.

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