Freewill and Determinism

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  • Created by: Chantal
  • Created on: 03-04-14 14:39

Freewill and Determinism

  • Hard determinists= accept determinism and reject free will
  • Libertarians= reject determinism and accept freedom and moral responsibility
  • Soft determinist/ Compatibilists= rejects two previous views that free will and determinism are incompatible and argue that freedom is not only compatible with determinism but actually requires it


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  • The view that every event has cause and so when applied to moral decisions we do not have free will
  • Everything in the universe has a prior cause including all human actions and choices
  • There are natural laws which govern everything which happens and all our actions are the result of these scientific laws


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  • Christian predestination= our actions are of total irrelevance in this life as God has already decided whether we are to be saved or not
  • God determinesand that has limited understanding of God’s purposes and plans
  • Augustine of Hippo:
    • People need the help of God’s grace to do good and this is a free gift from God regardless of individual merit
    • God alone determines who will receive the grace that assures salvation
  • Pelagius:
    • Rejects any deterministic ideas
  • John Calvin:
    • God is in control and people cannot do anything to achieve salvation
    • People are not all created with a similar destiny
    • God makes his choice about who is to be saved independently of any qualities
    • If we have no control over our actions we have no responsibility for them
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Hard Determinism

  • Spinoza= ‘In the mind there is no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined to wish this or that by a cause, which has also been determined by another cause, and so on to infinity’
  • ‘Hard’= strict position: Incompatible with free will and moral responsibility
  • John Hospers:
    • There is always something which compels us both external and internally to perform an action that we would think was the result of our own free will
    • Uses several psychoanalytical example
  • Clarence Darrow:
    • In 1924 he defended two young men on a charge of murdering a young boy
    • Pleaded for the death penalty to be reversed to life imprisonment as the two young murderers were the product of their upbringing, their ancestry and wealthy environment
    • ‘He did not make himself. And yet he is to be compelled to pay’
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Hard Determinism: Pschological Behaviourism

  • First discussed by John B Watson:
    • Suggested that behaviour can be predicted and controlled
    • Behaviour is influenced by heredity and environment (nature/ nurture)
    • By manipulating the environment behaviour can be altered= conditioning
  • Ivan Pavlov:
    • Conditioned dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring
  • Freud-
    • Concluded the human personality consisted of 3 areas
      • Super-ego: set of moral controls given to us by outside influence
      • Ego: the conscious self, the part seen by the outside world
      • Id: the unconscious self, the part of the mind containing basic drives
  • Claimed that human beings are determined because of our natural drives
  • Mental and emotional lives of the children can be affected to the point where they became nuerotic and psychotic eg experiment with boy and white fluff
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Hard Determinism: Social Conditioning

  • Individuals are trained within society in order to act or respond in a way that society approves
  • Examples of this include the way pupils act at school, and how members of family act
  • Social structures influence individuals and in turn, influence their actions
  • It suggests that humans act in accordance to their social conditioning rather than through genetic predisposition or real free will
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Hard Determinism: Genetic Determinism

  • Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins-
    • Our moral reasoning is a result of natural selection
    • Emotions such as guilt, anger, sympathy and love all have biological basis
  • It is already known that people are physically determined by our genes, but genetic determinists claim that our even our behaviour is determined by our genes
  • The environment and social factors cannot influence and change our preferences etc
  • We are victims of our genetic make up
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Hard Determinism: Freedom of Choice

  • Freedom of choice is just an illusion we may appear to have moral choices but we only think we choose freely because we do not know the causes that lie behind our choice
  • John Locke:
    • Freedom is an illusion
    • Describes a sleeping man in a locked room; on awakening he decides to stay where he is, not realising that the door to the room is locked
    • The man thinks he has made a free decision but in reality he has no choice
  • Ted Honderich:
    • Since everything is physically determined, there is no choice and so no personal responsibility
    • The mind is a by-product of brain activity and actions are caused by ‘psychoneural’ events involving both mind and brain
    •  Each action is an effect and there is no room for free will
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Hard Determinism: Evaluation

  • Hard determinism means we cannot be blame or praise people for their actions
  • If hard determinism were true then people would not be morally responsible and so would not deserve blame for even the most cold blooded and calmly performed evil actions
  • All choices we make are just illusions- they are determined
  • Hard determinism, therefore, rejects the idea of punishment as retribution, but it does not reject any other views about the justification of punishment; for example deterrence, self defence or moral education
  • Classical physics is indeed deterministic, but modern quantum physics is not deterministic and so it makes no sense to worry about determinism in the 21st century. Modern physics maintains that the most basic laws of nature are not deterministic but probabilistic
  • If determinism is true then all the horrible things that happen in the world had to happen- this is a very pessimistic view of the world
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  • The view of those who reject determinism-we have complete moral responsibility
  • Determinism is false and we have free will
  • We are not compelled to act by outside forces but that moral actions are the result of the values and character of the individual
  • Appeals to our intuitions: we see ourselves free agents- make moral choices
  • Peter van Inwagen:
    • Analogy of choosing which branch to go down when travelling along a road
    • Whereas determinism is like travelling along a road with no branches- we cannot choose a different way, or reach a different destinatio
  • Werner Heisenberg:
    • His uncertainty principle says that we cannot know both the location and the momentum of subatomic particles at the same time Many scientists agre
    • Honderich- Rejects the claims of quantum physics saying that they only apply at the subatomic level
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Libertarianism: Freedom

  • When asked to defend our actions we blame ourselves, or wonder if we did the right thing- we evaluate our action by asking ourselves whether we could have acted differently
  • We would only blame, criticise or regret if we believed we had alternative ways of acting
  • Freedom is seen as a goal of moral action- even if our freedom is limited, we show our freedom in our aim to be free and act freely
  • Jean Paul Satre:
    • Freedom is both the goal and the measure of our lives- from nothing man makes himself what he choose
  • A person must fill his nothingness with freedom- everything depends on the individual and the meaning he gives to his life
  • Mauvaise foi= a person who tries to avoid freedom and just conforms to what is decided by others
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Libertarianism: Evaluation

  • Libertarianism recognises that people have a sense of decision-making, a sense of freedom, a sense of deliberating over their choices in life
  • Personal responsibility underpins our whole system of ethics and law
  • David Hume pointed out that, even if in nature event B consistently follows event A on every observed occasion, to say that event A causes event B is to go beyond observation. It is our way of interpreting the events, not a feature of the events in themselves
  • Libertarians insist that free will is the uncoerced power to choose- but how does a person decide what to do? What criteria does he use to make a decision? What about his past experiences, emotions, beliefs and values?


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Soft Determinism

  • Some of our aactions are determined but we are morally responsible for our actions
  • Free will is not compatible with fatalism (what ever will be will be) but is compatible with determinism as we can include our own values, choices and desires among the choices that are determined
  • Agree all human actions are caused, if they weren’t they would be unpredictable
  • When an individual’s actions are free, they are not forced or compelled by an external force
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Soft Determinism: Kant

  • 17th Century lecturer of Philosophy. Believed in ‘ought implies can’
  • We can only be blamed for our actions if we have some control over them. Believed we develop morality throughout our lives
  • Determinism is applied to everything except the acts of free will
  • People decide actions depending on pure reason (theory) and practical reason
  • There are factors that control us but we still have a responsibility to make an action
  • If there is no free will them we would not discover who we are and why are we here
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Soft Determinism: Hume

  • Scottish Philosopher
  • Influenced by Isaac Newton’s work, he believed that nature limits free will not God
  • Events are caused due to casual links. He called this the constant union of objects
  • He argued the links are predetermined but our reactions to these events practise free will
  • The predetermined events and our actions of free will work together. This link is called inference of the mind
  • The decision what to do is spontaneous; it cannot be predetermined. This is called the liberty of spontaneity
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Soft Determinism: Evaluation

  • Soft determinism agrees that moral responsibility is important in our society, but that it is not reasonable to hold a person responsible for actions caused by his emotions, beliefs, desires and decisions if he has no choice about having them
  • It is, however, hard for the soft determinist to decide what exactly is determined ad what can be freely chosen. The complex nature of people and the roles of physics, genetics and psychology make deciding what exactly is, or is not, a determining factor very hard
  • Soft determinism also allows for creativity in our choices- so not all our choices are the result of existing desires and habits
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