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Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
#1
Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
I have been told that absent an ability to do otherwise is essential to say a person is morally responsible (or in other areas, though I'll concentrate on morality) as this rests on "ought" statements. So "you should not murder" etc. As ought implies can, there is a problem with determinism. This would include both compatibilist and incompatibilist views, I'd assume. What do others here think?
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#2
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
No. It isn't compatible.

But you can still do ethics and/or be a moral realist as a determinist/hard incompatibilist. The notion that some states of affairs or actions are good and others bad does not disappear with the notion of free will.

A determinist is guided less to punish bad behavior and more to prevent its causes... because (to a determinist) free choice ISN'T the cause of x behavior. It was exterior factors that made such and such a person do x.

The matter of free will is hardly settled. But incompatibilism has its benefits. Having a deterministic worldview is not only extremely logical, it can help you to overcome "moral anger." Sometimes, we are prone to think that "such and such deserves our wrath" when they do things that harm us. A determinist is able to stand back and look at the whole picture. Sure, a wrong was committed. But it is senseless to get angry over it. It is better to proceed logically through the situation, understanding that there were exterior causes leading the person to do what they did. The most fruitive activity then is to prevent further harm to oneself and others--not anger or revenge.

As Baruch Spinoza puts it:

Quote:I have laboured carefully, not to mock, lament, or execrate human actions, but to understand them; and, to this end, I have looked upon passions, such as love, hatred, anger, envy, ambition, pity, and the other perturbations of the mind, not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties, just as pertinent to it, as are heat, cold, storm, thunder, and the like to the nature of the atmosphere, which phenomena, though inconvenient, are yet necessary, and have fixed causes, by means of which we endeavour to understand their nature, and the mind has just as much pleasure in viewing them aright, as in knowing such things as flatter the senses.
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#3
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
I take it you don't agree with those who claim imprisoning people etc. is wrong if they aren't morally responsible for their actions. Or those like C. S. Lewis who felt this would lead to treating people even worse, e.g. like mental patients instead of moral actors.
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#4
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
(May 28, 2019 at 8:55 pm)mcc1789 Wrote: I take it you don't agree with those who claim imprisoning people etc. is wrong if they aren't morally responsible for their actions. Or those like C. S. Lewis who felt this would lead to treating people even worse, e.g. like mental patients instead of moral actors.

Imprisoning people is a way of preventing them from doing further harm. So I'm not against it. Some people are dangerous and interpersonally destructive.

Furthermore, the issue is hardly settled. Free will may be true. Our intuitions scream that it is. As I read in an article recently, one strike against determinism is that it is impossible to act as if it were true. There are a plentitude of counterarguments to thrust at this: Spinoza would say that a person who stops making choices in life because determinism is true has an "inadequate idea" causing him not to act properly.

People are moral actors, they just aren't free (according to the determinist). Viewing people as some kind of zombie is another inadequate idea. It's like saying that the planet Earth is "just some filthy rock" upon discovering that it's not at the center of the universe. It's like saying human beings are "just some kind of primitive ape" upon realizing that evolution is true. No! There is a better way to look at things! Understanding that the Earth orbits the Sun is more information. In no way does it diminish the majesty or beauty of planet Earth. Understanding that we evolved from hominids is more information. We can better understand who and what we are by discovering our evolutionary past. Likewise, understanding that a person's actions have exterior causes is more information. It doesn't diminish who and what they are. They still endure pain and suffering, and an ethicist is free to pronounce that bad... and to pronounce it good when they suffer less.

Look at it this way: criminals tend to come from impoverished backgrounds. We can recognize (on a macro scale) that poverty has a causal relation to criminal behavior. If it is possible, isn't it better to repair the thing that causes the behavior rather than severely punish the people who are caused to act criminally by their life circumstances?

If determinism is true, our justice system is truly an evil and brutal affair.

It's food for thought, anyway. I am in no way convinced that determinism is true. But of all the metaphysical theories concerning free will, it seems the most plausible. After all, all matter that scientists observe obey the laws of cause and effect. We are made of matter. Therefore, the motion of the matter in our brains and bodies must also obey those same laws of cause and effect. There is no evidence for Kant's "noumenal self" and all bringing quantum physics into the argument does is add an element of randomness to the picture. It doesn't imply free will of any kind. That's why I tend toward determinism.

Which metaphysical theory do you find most plausible, btw?
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#5
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
(May 28, 2019 at 9:37 pm)vulcanlogician Wrote:
(May 28, 2019 at 8:55 pm)mcc1789 Wrote: I take it you don't agree with those who claim imprisoning people etc. is wrong if they aren't morally responsible for their actions. Or those like C. S. Lewis who felt this would lead to treating people even worse, e.g. like mental patients instead of moral actors.

Imprisoning people is a way of preventing them from doing further harm. So I'm not against it. Some people are dangerous and interpersonally destructive.

Furthermore, the issue is hardly settled. Free will may be true. Our intuitions scream that it is. As I read in an article recently, one strike against determinism is that it is impossible to act as if it were true. There are a plentitude of counterarguments to thrust at this: Spinoza would say that a person who stops making choices in life because determinism is true has an "inadequate idea" causing him not to act properly.

People are moral actors, they just aren't free (according to the determinist). Viewing people as some kind of zombie is another inadequate idea. It's like saying that the planet Earth is "just some filthy rock" upon discovering that it's not at the center of the universe. It's like saying human beings are "just some kind of primitive ape" upon realizing that evolution is true. No! There is a better way to look at things! Understanding that the Earth orbits the Sun is more information. In no way does it diminish the majesty or beauty of planet Earth. Understanding that we evolved from hominids is more information. We can better understand who and what we are by discovering our evolutionary past. Likewise, understanding that a person's actions have exterior causes is more information. It doesn't diminish who and what they are. They still endure pain and suffering, and an ethicist is free to pronounce that bad... and to pronounce it good when they suffer less.

Look at it this way: criminals tend to come from impoverished backgrounds. We can recognize (on a macro scale) that poverty has a causal relation to criminal behavior. If it is possible, isn't it better to repair the thing that causes the behavior rather than severely punish the people who are caused to act criminally by their life circumstances?

If determinism is true, our justice system is truly an evil and brutal affair.

It's food for thought, anyway. I am in no way convinced that determinism is true. But of all the metaphysical theories concerning free will, it seems the most plausible. After all, all matter that scientists observe obey the laws of cause and effect. We are made of matter. Therefore, the motion of the matter in our brains and bodies must also obey those same laws of cause and effect. There is no evidence for Kant's "noumenal self" and all bringing quantum physics into the argument does is add an element of randomness to the picture. It doesn't imply free will of any kind. That's why I tend toward determinism.

Which metaphysical theory do you find most plausible, btw?

I think we mostly agree. People seem to think if determinism is true, people would act really differently. They seem to forget how they act would be determined too. So those who don't act like they think should follow, are determined to. That includes those who reject determinism.

Even if determinism is false, I think there is much which can be done in regards to our criminal justice system. It's simply assumed sometimes that if you "could have done otherwise" then every punishment we use is justified, or the best possible. That's not even close to obvious though. As you say, socioeconomic factors (and other things) can play a large role. That would still hold even on libertarianism.

Regarding me, for many years, I was a determinist, now I'm a compatibilist. I'm open to being wrong, though so far I haven't seen anything much to support libertarianism aside from introspection and it "feels like" we possess contracausal free will (which is pretty weak).
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#6
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
In a deterministic world, whether moral responsibility is compatible with determinism is simply not up to you, regardless of what you think, which is also not up to you.
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#7
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
(May 28, 2019 at 11:43 pm)Anomalocaris Wrote: In a deterministic world, whether moral responsibility is compatible with determinism is simply not up to you, regardless of what you think, which is also not up to you.

Well of course. That doesn't tell us whether it's true or not though.
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#8
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
(May 28, 2019 at 8:30 pm)vulcanlogician Wrote: Having a deterministic worldview is not only extremely logical, it can help you to overcome "moral anger." Sometimes, we are prone to think that "such and such deserves our wrath" when they do things that harm us. A determinist is able to stand back and look at the whole picture. Sure, a wrong was committed. But it is senseless to get angry over it. It is better to proceed logically through the situation, understanding that there were exterior causes leading the person to do what they did. The most fruitive activity then is to prevent further harm to oneself and others--not anger or revenge.

First, let me point out that you are inconsistent. If people can't prevent themselves from making certain choices then others can't prevent themselves from getting angry about it.

Second, you are defining anger as a negative, when it has its own useful place among our range of emotions.

Third, you are saying that, regardless of all subjective experiences to the contrary, we have no choice in how we interpret events. In most cases we respond to our interpretations, not directly to "causes."

(May 28, 2019 at 9:37 pm)vulcanlogician Wrote: I am in no way convinced that determinism is true. But of all the metaphysical theories concerning free will, it seems the most plausible. After all, all matter that scientists observe obey the laws of cause and effect. We are made of matter. Therefore, the motion of the matter in our brains and bodies must also obey those same laws of cause and effect. There is no evidence for Kant's "noumenal self" and all bringing quantum physics into the argument does is add an element of randomness to the picture. It doesn't imply free will of any kind. That's why I tend toward determinism.

With the bolded statement above, you are begging the question. On the contrary, we observe material people, including ourselves, make choices. Determinists conflate material causes with our reasons for our behaviors, when they are two distinct things. That is reductionism, but materialism is not necessarily reductionistic. Reasoning is an emergent property of a very complex arrangement of matter in our brains.

So determinism is a property of simple material objects, not a law of physics.
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#9
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
Simple property of material objects is an artifact of the laws of physics.   It may be a complex emergent artifact of the laws of physics, but nonetheless directly outgrowth of those laws.

Observing people making choices is nonsense.   We interpret what we observe to be the making of choices.   But the interpretation is untestable.   The mechanism underlying the observed phenomenon is not understood, so the grounds for the interpretation is wholly absent.   Furthermore it appears the concept of choices is part of a pre-wired cognitive framework, so our interpretation of what we observe may be a case of translation of an unknown script by assuming its contents must be the same as the only English passage we happen to have on hand.
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#10
RE: Is Moral Responsibility Compatible With Determinism?
(May 29, 2019 at 10:20 am)Anomalocaris Wrote: Simple property of material objects is an artifact of the laws of physics.   It may be a complex emergent artifact of the laws of physics, but nonetheless directly outgrowth of those laws.

This is untrue because evolution depends on chance and large numbers. Evolution is not determined by the laws of physics, only limited by them. Again, determinism is not a law of physics.

(May 29, 2019 at 10:20 am)Anomalocaris Wrote: Observing people making choices is nonsense.   We interpret what we observe to be the making of choices.   But the interpretation is untestable.   The mechanism underlying the observed phenomenon is not understood, so the grounds for the interpretation is wholly absent.   Furthermore it appears the concept of choices is part of a pre-wired cognitive framework, so our interpretation of what we observe may be a case of translation of an unknown script by assuming its contents must be the same as the only English passage we happen to have on hand.

Observing that human choices reduce to the laws of physics is nonsense. You are making an unwarranted extrapolation based on an argument from analogy. As you admit, appearances are on the side of free will. Interpretation or not, we actually observe ourselves and others make choices. That's why this is still an open issue.
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