A2 OCR Ethics- Free will and Determinism

Detailed notes on hard and soft determinism alongside libertarianism.


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A2 OCR Religious Studies Religious Ethics G582/01
Free will and Determinism
What's meant by the terms `free will' and `determinism'?
Free will revolves around the idea of freedom, or liberty. Free will is the ability to make choices,
good or bad with an absolute degree of freedom. Consequently, this means that our actions may
be evaluated because it originates from a free choice and thus, we can be rewarded or punished.
Determinism on the other hand revolves around the idea of a lack of liberty and a lack of choice.
Determinists view the world around them in a `closed system' meaning that everything is caused
and thus, can be calculated and estimated meaning that we don't have `free will'. Ostensibly, this is
a Newtonian idea which suggests that our actions are not free and are ultimately caused.
Consequently, we cannot be rewarded or punished.
The 3 branches (though not for hard determinists) in this unit:
1) Hard determinism- this is the idea that everything around us pertains to the Newtonian
understanding of causation. We don't have free will because our actions and `choices'
are caused and thus we cannot be rewarded or punished.
2) Libertarianism- this is the idea that we have absolute free will and all our actions and
choices are made by individual liberty. We have therefore, responsibility and can be
rewarded and punished.
3) Soft determinism- this is the idea that both hard determinism and libertarianism can
work together in ethical discourse. Rather than being polarised points of view, they
actually need each other to sustain ethical understanding.
Hard determinism
Hard determinism has its roots in the works of the famous Sir Isaac Newton who devised the laws
that we're abiding by right now (ostensibly) like the laws of motion and physics. Consequently,
Newton's understanding meant that people saw the universe as a closed system where nothing is
random and everything has a cause especially as these laws are supposedly `immutable'. Individuals
such as Laplace developed Newton's ideas asserting that because everything has an apparent
cause, everything can be estimated and recorded. Consequently, Newton's work has fed into this
understanding that human behaviour, actions and choices are also caused and therefore, we don't
have free will to act otherwise in situations.
Christian hard determinism
It's wrong to assume that hard determinism is a secular, scientific theory. It has its roots in
religion, especially Christianity. Primarily, through the idea of `Predestination' enhanced by Martin
Luther and developed by John Calvin and our 2nd most favourite, St Augustine (1st being Aquinas of
A quote from Calvin: `For some are fore-ordained for eternal salvation, others for eternal
Calvin's possible inspiration from Matthew 22: `For many are called, but few are chosen.'

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A2 OCR Religious Studies Religious Ethics G582/01
Predestination translated into Simple English is the idea that God has decided through his divine
omniscience about who will go to hell (damnation) or achieve heaven (salvation). Luther's idea of
Original Sin and the disobedience of Adam and Eve made Calvin result to thinking that no-one was
capable of addressing for themselves their route in the afterlife, only God was capable of deciding
this because we are tainted with eternal disobedience and disarray.…read more

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A2 OCR Religious Studies Religious Ethics G582/01
Social determinism
Another branch of hard determinism is social determinism which is more personal and looks into
the social side of things. It concludes human behaviour is determined by nature, society, genes,
you name it and so nothing is free. This is similar or analogous to behavioural determinism. A
famous example of social determinism can be seen in the works of Clarence Dallow in 1924.…read more

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A2 OCR Religious Studies Religious Ethics G582/01
Stephen Pinker
Pinker was influenced by Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin suggesting that our moral behaviour
was determined through natural selection but we still have moral responsibility because of the
feeling of guilt and an innate sense of right and wrong (counter to Skinner).…read more

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A2 OCR Religious Studies Religious Ethics G582/01
He argues that some things are uncaused and this includes human behaviour (everyone seems to
be ganging up on Watson). Through his `uncertainty principle' he argues that we don't know where
all subatomic particles are in the universe and therefore we are free because of this streak of
randomness in our Newtonian causal universe. Honderich argued against this saying that human
behaviour cannot be applied to subatomic understandings.…read more

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A2 OCR Religious Studies Religious Ethics G582/01
chosen to go to France via car and so even though nature caused the volcano, you still had the
choice to act otherwise.
Hume also argued via the principle of the `liberty of spontaneity' being the executer of free will in
spontaneous circumstances. For example, if you're confronted with a robber on Oxford Street you
(probably) have a choice to fight or run away, hence, there's free will.…read more



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