This is a redated post also.
Hasker provides a definition of compatibilism or soft determinism
There is no logical inconsistency between free will and determinism, and that it is possible that human beings are free and responsible for their actions even though these actions are causally determined.
Of course, for it to be soft determinism, as opposed to compatibilism, it must be the case that determinism is true.
One thing a lot of people get confused about that they typically suppose that soft determinism as opposed to hard determinism is a different type of determinism—that our actions are determined in a different way depending on which type of determinism it is. That’s false. Soft determinism and hard determinism do not differ with respect to how the actions are determined. The difference is that hard determinists bite the “hard” bullet and accept the idea that moral responsibility is an illusion, while soft determinists do not.
The soft determinist position is an initially appealing one, and the textbook author (Thiroux) defends it. However, Hasker presents what I think is a powerful attack against it.
To get soft determinism off the ground, you need a concept of what it is to act freely which doesn’t conflict with determinism. According to compatibilism a free action has three characteristics:
1) It is not caused by compulsion or by states of affairs external to the agent. A compelled action would, for example, be an act performed at gunpoint. The robber says “Your money or your life!” and most people (Jack Benny excepted, who in the famous comedy sketch had to think it over), even though they desire to keep their money, give it to the robber to protect their own lives.
2) Instead the immediate cause of the action is a psychological state of affairs internal to the agent—a wish, desire, intention or something of that sort.
3) The situation is one in which it was in the agent’s power to have acted differently, if he had wanted to.
Hasker presents a refutation of compatibilism or soft determinism which to my mind is very forceful. He uses as his example the case of Max, a 17-year-old high school dropout, who was caught stealing hubcaps. He wasn’t forced to steal them, he stole them because he wanted new ones to replace his old hubcaps, which were scratched and rusty. There is, according to soft determinism a sufficient condition of his taking them—such that, given those events and circumstances, it is impossible that he should not steal the hubcaps. He calls these set of events and circumstances the proximate cause. In this case the proximate cause is his desire for new hubcaps and the belief that he could get them only by stealing them. Since these are internal states of Max, according to the compatibilist, this makes his action free and responsible.
But, Hasker says, this is an illusion. Soft determinism earns a appearance of legitimacy so long as we pay attention to the proximate cause and ignore what he calls the prior cause. The prior cause is the set of events a circumstances which together constitute a sufficient condition for the occurrence of the proximate cause, and if determinism is true, then there is a set of circumstances sufficient for the occurrence of the proximate cause all of which occurred before Max was conceived or born.
The problem if this: Max is clearly not responsible for two facts, which jointly entail that Max will steal the hubcaps.
1) The prior cause, which occurred at a time when Max did not exist.
2) The fact that if the prior cause occurs, Max will steal the hubcaps.
1) existed before Max did, and 2) is a necessary consequence of the laws of nature (or the eternal decrees of God, if God exists).
“The act of stealing is causally necessitated by the events and circumstances of the prior cause, to which Max contributed nothing at all. And given that the prior cause did occur, Max could not more prevent its inevitable outcome—the stealing of the hubcaps—than he could stay the planets in their courses or stop the crustal plates of the earth in their relentless march across the ocean floor. So determinism and moral responsibility just are incompatible, and that is that."