My class in ethics will be covering the free will problem next week, so I am doing a series of posts on it. This is just to introduce a couple of the central concepts:
I’m somewhat frustrated with the textbook’s (Thiroux's) treatment of the freedom and determinism question, so I am going to present some of my own ideas on the subject. Well, for the most part I’m going to be following the chapter of William Hasker’s book Metaphysics: Constructing a World-View (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983) ch. 2.
First of all, what kind of freedom is involved in the freedom and determinism problem? The answer has to be the kind of freedom that is necessary for moral responsibility. The idea of moral responsibility implies that we can deserve something bad for doing something bad, and deserve something good for doing something good. For example, it is a commonplace idea, which seems to make sense, that one should not be blamed for the color of one’s skin, and that it is unjust to give advantages to one person over another simply on the basis of race. What underlies this conviction? Is it not the fact that persons do not choose their race; that one happens to be black, or white, or red, or yellow, and that it’s impossible that one’s race could be either merited or demerited.
What at least appears to threaten this conviction is the thesis of determinism. I think that because the concept of causation is not as clear as it might be, the textbook's definition of determinism as the thesis of universal causation is inadequate. For example, we often say that smoking causes cancer, but it does not necessitate cancer. Smokers do sometimes live cancer-free lives. Hasker provides some more clarification when he defines determinism as follows:
Determinism: For every event which happens, there are previous events and circumstances which are its sufficient conditions or causes, so that, given those previous events and circumstances, it is impossible that the event should not occur.
On the other hand, for Hasker, libertarianism is the thesis that:
Libertarianism: some human actions are chosen and performed by the agent without there being any sufficient condition or cause of the action prior to the action itself. (Thanks, Dennis for the correction).
Now the notion of a cause being sufficient is very important here. It is a necessary condition for me to buy your car that you offer it for sale. But your offering it for sale is not sufficient cause of my buying the car; I may choose not to buy it.