Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Punishment, freedom, and determinism

This post was prepared for my ethics course.

This section is devoted to two topics: One is freedom and determinism, and the other is criminal punishment. Although the issues seem to be very separate, I have put them together for a reason. One significant motivation for criminal punishment has been the issue of desert. That is pronounced like dessert, but it comes from the same root word as the word deserve. Now there are other reasons, perhaps, for criminal punishment (deterrence, protection of society, etc.), but some people think criminal punishment is first and foremost about giving people what they deserve.




On the other hand, we might ask why one person is virtuous and the other vicious? How did Mother Teresa end up the way she did, and how did Jeffrey Dahmer end up the way he did? Are they both simply the inevitable products of heredity, environment, or even (if you believe in God), God's predestination, or fore-ordination of all events before the foundation of the world (a belief held by Calvinists even today). Is it possible that if Jeffrey had had Teresa's heredity and environment, he (she?) would have been virtuous, and if Teresa had had Jeffrey's heredity and environment, she would have been a serial killer? This is the thesis of determinism, and some people have the inclination to withdraw claims of desert when they start thinking things through from a deterministic perspective. The line of thought leads us to think that the very idea of one person deserving one outcome, and another deserving another outcome, doesn't make sense. But this is a difficult conclusion to accept, it is the idea that in the last analysis, nothing is really anyone's fault, since their actions are the inevitable result of what came before.



There are a couple of ways of responding to this. The first approach, taken by philosophers such as Moritz Schlick and J. J. C. Smart, suggests that what moral responsiblity is all about it finding the right behavior to modify. They maintain that the very idea of deserving punishment is a barbaric notion we need to just get over.



The second approach is to say that looking all the way up the causal chain and seeing someone's actions as the result of past causes obscures the most important fact, and that is the fact that the person not only performed the act, but wanted to perform the act. It wasn't as if Jeffrey Dahmer wanted to be virtuous, but some alien power forced him to commit murder against his will. No, these crimes were willed actions, however inevitably they might have followed from past events.



The third option is the option of libertarian free will. When we act, we can do otherwise. Perhaps this kind of free will is a gift from God. Even the physical world, if we accept what modern physicists tell us, isn't strictly determined. So, perhaps, our actions aren't strictly determined either.



So, I would ask two questions: Can we talk about what people deserve? To do so, do we have to reject determinism? If we can deserve something good for doing something good, and deserve something bad for doing something bad, should that be the primary basis on which we determine how criminals should be punished? And does it provide a basis for the traditional doctrine of eternal hell?

35 comments:

Steven said...

I'm wondering what you think about the account of moral responsibility Fischer gives in his The Metaphysics of Free Will and in his article in Four Views on Free Will.

Victor Reppert said...

I did some looking up on Fischer, but what I didn't see was what he's packing into the idea of moral responsibility. Are we talking about some kind of cosmic justice, or are we talking about what we need to do for social purposes?

Louis Pojman has argued that the who idea of desert has largely been eclipsed in contemporary social thinking, and he thinks this is too bad. Of course, I don't think it can drop out of Christian thought. But if you aren't dealing with a Christian philosopher, you have to take a hard look at the conception of moral responsibility that he is using.

My incompatibilism says that if you are assessing desert, you have to go back to the causal source. But I also think that, apart from some metaphysical view like Christianity, we can understand why concern about desert might lose its urgency.

For this reason, I think going from secular compatibilism to a justification for eternal retribution is to jump the tracks and take the secular compatibilist's argument to a place he never intended to go.

Steven said...

Well I don't imagine I am going to expound the guy's views with any accuracy and precision and clarity in a few paragraphs on a blog post, so I'm not going to bother, but I think what he suggests is compatible with an everyday notion of moral responsibility: being the appropriate subject of blame, disapproval, praise, etc. Maybe that's desert?

I'll instead ask: what do you think about Frankfurt cases?

Victor Reppert said...

Do we have an "ordinary" conception of praise and blame? One that is not metaphysically laden, that is neutral between Christian theism and philosophical naturalism? I have doubts about that, especially since a lot of social theory involves "living without desert."

As for Frankfurt counterexamples, they gain their force as intuition pumps because they don't involve causal determination, and then we are asked to extrapolate to cases of causal determinism. So, if I go in with a bludgeon determined to deny moral responsibility in all Frankfurt cases, I get told that this is implausible because the controller isn't doing anything. A Calvinistic God, on the other hand, is doing plenty. He is predestining the outcome of each and every action we perform. So the very force of the Frankfurt counterexamples requires the controller to not to do what a Calvinistic God does, and so they don't do Calvinism any good.

Steven said...

As for Frankfurt counterexamples, they gain their force as intuition pumps because they don't involve causal determination, and then we are asked to extrapolate to cases of causal determinism. So, if I go in with a bludgeon determined to deny moral responsibility in all Frankfurt cases, I get told that this is implausible because the controller isn't doing anything. A Calvinistic God, on the other hand, is doing plenty. He is predestining the outcome of each and every action we perform. So the very force of the Frankfurt counterexamples requires the controller to not to do what a Calvinistic God does, and so they don't do Calvinism any good.

Well now we're making a big jump from Frankfurt cases to Calvinism--I didn't say anything about Calvinism, just about Frankfurt cases.

I don't know whether you think the agents are morally responsible or not--you didn't really say one way or the other--but assuming you do, (and assuming indeterminism is true in the Frankfurt case), what is it about them that makes them morally responsible, do you think? If you don't, what is it about them that precludes the moral responsibility?

J said...

Incompatibilism would hold only if you assume dualism holds, or establish it in some sense--and then you are faced with the problem of interaction (some Mind if it's knocked out by a few shots of cuervo)-- which is to say, "ethics", including issues of punishment,etc follows from the ..ontology for lack of a better term.


Freedom itself a misleading term. You might be free, or at liberty to some degree to choose where you will go for lunch (tho' constrained by budget, etc)--burgers, OR soy product..--you're not free NOT to be hungry...your apparent choice results from pre-existing conditions (ie biological need for food), which is to say determined, for the most part.

Steven said...

Incompatibilism would hold only if you assume dualism holds, or establish it in some sense--and then you are faced with the problem of interaction (some Mind if it's knocked out by a few shots of cuervo)-- which is to say, "ethics", including issues of punishment,etc follows from the ..ontology for lack of a better term.

Why is this true? PvI is an incompatibilist and not a dualist.

Victor Reppert said...

I did some stuff on Franfurt counterexamples a couple of years ago. The first step in the process would be to try to say "PAP is true, therefore, the agents in the counterexamples are not responsible. Screw your intuition pump!" What you invariably get back when you say something like that is something that makes the controller case different from either naturalistic causal determinism or a Calvinistic God. The claim is that the controller isn't doing anything. But that's just the point. The lack of an actual causal role is what is driving these counterexamples. Once you see that, then you realize that they can't possibly justify compatibilism with respect to determinism, because their very force as examples relies on determinism being false. In cases where antecedent actual causes (as opposed to would-be causes), divine or otherwise, are the basis for denying PAP, Frankfurt counterexamples don't work.

J said...

incompatibilists who uphold freedom, morality, intention so forth generally want to imply an immaterial soul--ergo, dualism.

the naturalist "incompatibilist" on the other hand doesn't really say people are free, but just denies mind/freedom/choice altogether more or less. Are the Churchlands incompatibilists? no, just determinists.

There may be a few naturalist incompatibilists, but they generally misread popular treatments of quantum physics--a few subatomic glitches have little or nothing to do with human brains. What's more even if some event was not determined by physico-chemical factors (extremely rare) that doesn't thereby mean someone's free...and for that matter the pre-existing factors/causes are mostly unknown to the agent anyway (ie was it..twinkies, or poor toilet training from 20 years ago, or maybe poverty, genetic factors??/)

See Honderich's page for some non-dogmatic approaches to this issue. The compatibilists (even the dastardly Hume) were mainly in the right, tho' their knowledge of cogsci/brain science was limited

Steven said...

Well, I don't mind if the incompatibilist responds as you did--"screw your intuition pumps, PAP stands"--but that's not where the intuition lies. You can hold on to PAP all you want, but intuitively, the folks in Frankfurt cases are responsible despite having no AP. Lots of people attest to this, and if you are so stuck in your ways, "blinded by the god of the incompatibilist world" that you won't give up on PAP, then I don't know if we can have any discussion.

But here is my second point. If they are responsible, yet have no AP, what is it that makes them responsible? Furthermore, if they don't have to have AP to be responsible, what exactly is the problem with causal determinism anyway? People don't like determinism because it rules out AP--but if we don't need AP, why not determinism?

Still, I don't know how you respond. You're not really telling me.

Steven said...

incompatibilists who uphold freedom, morality, intention so forth generally want to imply an immaterial soul--ergo, dualism.

Can you name some incompatibilists who want to uphold freedom, morality, intention, so forth, and think that this requires the existence of an immaterial soul?

I can see J.P. Moreland, but can you name others, more renowned?

J said...

Kant, for one. Freiheit vs Natur

Next?

Steven said...

Okay, when I understood you to say that incompatibilists require dualism, I thought you meant incompatibilists who get published in contemporary journals and who have jobs at quality American (or British) universities, not incompatibilists from 300 years ago. I haven't read any Kant so I don't know what to say about that.

J said...

well, one should start with the models, like Kant (200 years ago, anyway), right, before the latest cutting-edge thinker. Either way there are at least two types of incompatibilists (as even the garden of forking paths hacks agree)--the Determinists, and the shall we say metaphysicians (ie Kantian). Personally I think the incompatibilist/compatibilist jargon itself misleading--how can it be incompatibilism if you deny that Mind/Freedom/choice exists? That's just ...determinism-- strict, or not-so-strict determinists VS libertarians works just as well, or better

Kane's another example--a libertarian-incompatibilist who wants to affirm Mind/Freedom/morality ie immaterialism.

Strawson also suggested something like what I say--the libertarian-incompatibilist implies...agent dualism of some type

Steven said...

Kane's another example--a libertarian-incompatibilist who wants to affirm Mind/Freedom/morality ie immaterialism.

Kane is not an "incompatibilist who wants to affirm Mind/Freedom/morality ie immaterialism", so far as I can tell. In his A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, he makes the point that dualism doesn't help the libertarian in response to the Rollback argument.

"For reasons such as these, placing the agent's thoughts and deliberations in a disembodied mind or soul does not solve the problems about an undetermined free will. Dualism simply transfers these problems to another level, from the physical sphere to the mental... [A]ppealing to a mind or soul separate from the body will not by itself solve the problem of free will, as some people have believed" (p. 42).

Kane may be a dualist, but it is not because he thinks incompatibilism requires. Though, I think Kane is a phsyicalist.

But all this is besides my original point--that of, why libertarianism requires dualism?

There are big-name libertarians like Peter van Inwagen who make the point Kane does--immaterialism doesn't help at all in understanding free will. So I think your original statement was false.

J said...

maybe because Freedom, Mind/intentionality/morality are not apparent in the neurology of the Brain?? That science cannot show where acts, or supposed acts/agency start? Even BF skinner & pals were aware of that (not that behaviorists were correct..but one should know something about ones enemies, whether behaviorist, or Kantians). When X says he makes a decision, the brain scientist/biologist points to neurological stimulus, etc

Kane may say that but he's usually siding with the theologians and libertarians. So I would say if he affirms freedom, or intention, thinking of some type AND he wants to hold to physicalism he would thereby suggest a type of immanentism, vaguely spinozaistic or something

Steven said...

I don't know what you're talking about any longer.

J said...

That's because you don't understand the scientists/behaviorist's critique of those great concepts "freedom," "intention",
"morality", etc. Are they on the periodic table? Can you point to them? What we take to be a "decision" doesn't manifest itself--maybe on an MRI, a slight disturbance of something. But merely a word for a physical process, say determinists.

Maybe read Wm James on freedom/determinism as well.

Steven said...

Okay, I see what you're saying now.

I don't know how incompatibilists like van Inwagen or Kane would respond to what you're suggesting. Perhaps you do?

J said...

I have read a few things of Van Inwagen online, and get the sense that he's a libertarian-incompatibilist, NOT the hard-determinist incompatibilist, YET he sort of waffles by saying free will remains a mystery (thus pleasing the religious people--for if G*d existed, obviously He's the determining cause of all, right). So I don't think he resolves the issue, and still leans toward metaphysics of some sort.

IN brief, here's my not-quite-strict determinist hypothesis ( or neurologism in a sense). First off, organic creatures like humans, or cats, or even birds are not billiard balls--that's one of the faulty assumptions of strict determinists.
Consider a tomcat learning to hunt. When he starts to hunt birds, he's not good--we could watch his first attempts, and he's clumsy. His timing's off. Yet he catches a few sparrows--that's certainly some type of...directed behavior, even intention in a sense--a tomcat's not just an automaton (is he??). He gains skills, forms habits--good hunting skills--he is conditioned to be a better hunter (or he fails). I would say that skill is part of his brain--it's realized cortically. SO he doesn't really have choice per se, but does advance in some sense--a birder-cat increases his ability to "direct" his acts, more or less.

However primitive or unsavory it seems, that's not so far from humans. We are given parameters (our human brains--a bit more powerful than cats'), but the child must learn skills--children are conditioned, form habits, get "good" at arithmetic, or playing marbles, or chatting with girls, whatever. So a child learns to hunt, really. Perhaps not conditioned at the level that Skinner and Watson claimed, but to some extent--largely conditioned, tho' with adaptive cognitive skills.

What appears to be free decisions are generally habit formation, a matter of conditioning--ie responses to environmental and bio-economic factors--by and large, and our sense of "moral" responsibility more like a recognition of skill, of the person's ability to direct acts to some specific goal or another (which I would call a type of volitionism in a sense, not pure "freedom").

And intuitively that seems right--the young perp has not generally succeeded at say learning mathematics, whereas other students have...

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Victor Reppert said...

The "screw your intuition pump" is a step in the process, an attempt to see what it is that the example has going for it.

What the PAP attempts to do is identify the source of the causal chain. In typical cases, where someone or something is the source, there are alternative possibilities. What Frankfurt examples do is point out that even where the agent is the causal source, there could be something ready to wipe out the alternative possibilities if the source doesn't do what it's supposed to do. The controllers are never the causal source of the action, although they are the guarantors of the action.

If there is a causal source that is outside the agent's control that guarantees the action, then the kind of responsibility that justifies judgments of desert goes up the causal chain to the source. Puppets, even conscious and willing puppets, are not proper objects for assessments of desert. We can praise blame the causal source if the source was aware of the effect. The presence of alternative possibilities is a typical symptom, but not an essential requirement, for moral responsibility.

J said...

identify the source of the causal chain.

bad conditioning? parents? grandparents? the US Army? napoleon? a monkey's uncle???

that usually can't be done in any precise sense (as Hume knew)--it's merely a philosopher's conjecture, as is the usual "could you have done differently?" hypothetical. That doesn't imply non-determinism. It means the typical philosophical jargon doesn't really engage the real problem; ie how human actions/decisions originate from bio-chemical factors, or social-economic factors for that matter...

Steven said...

If there is a causal source that is outside the agent's control that guarantees the action, then the kind of responsibility that justifies judgments of desert goes up the causal chain to the source. Puppets, even conscious and willing puppets, are not proper objects for assessments of desert. We can praise blame the causal source if the source was aware of the effect. The presence of alternative possibilities is a typical symptom, but not an essential requirement, for moral responsibility.

You grant AP are not necessary for moral responsibility. Causal "sourcehood" is. Okay. You would grant, then, that someone whose whole life was a series of Frankfurt-style scenarios was still responsible for what he did some of those times.

In the first place, God's creating the world knowing that VR would X at t if he did so is sufficient for VR's X-ing at t--and that is entirely outside of VR's control, because VR didn't even exist when God created the world. Yet presumably you are still responsible for some of the stuff you do. So there is a counterexample.

And there are all kinds of causal conditions necessary for our committing any particular act that are entirely outside of our control and power: like the sun's not exploding, my not being hit by a comet, my not being abused terribly by my parents when I was young and helpless, etc. These can be multiplied endlessly.

If there is no problem or harm done to moral responsibility when there are countless necessary causal conditions of our choosing one thing or the other which are entirely outside of our control, why should causally sufficient conditions be much different? If there is an endless list of things completely outside of your control which are necessary for your choice to even be made, and yet this does no damage to your being responsible, why are causally sufficient conditions any different? What's so special about them?

There is a tremendous amount of luck involved in VR's being the way he is today. The fact that you weren't beat to the point of not developing as an agent while you were a child, that you didn't fall on your head to bring about permanent damage, that your mother didn't smoke so much as to cause trouble while she was pregnant with you, etc.--all of these things are entirely out of your control, and because of these things, you are the way you are today. What difference would some causally sufficient conditions make, as opposed to only these causally necessary conditions?

Victor Reppert said...

Apparently those considerations were serious and weighty enough so that God didn't exercise the option of creating the world in such a way that everyone desires to do, and therefore does, what is right. Free in the compatibilist sense but not in the libertarian.

More seriously, just because God isn't insane enough to leave everything up to me doesn't mean that he shouldn't leave anything up to me.

J said...

Searle says something like VR, I believe. Given determinism based on "causally sufficient conditions" , deliberation and thought itself would seem pointless--a gap exists between conditions and act. We don't know all the causal-conditions (even if they existed, somehow).

That may not refute determinism, but suggests in many real-world cases a decision does not depend upon, or follow a long sequence of causes. One gets new information, or confronts a new situation--say in workplace, or military, or romance, etc.

....say Doc Searle comes home early from class one day--which he had never done before--finds his wifey in the arms of a linebacker from the Cal football team--Johnny! (and after a few moments of hysteria...calls his attorney, etc). One might say "it was meant to be". But his act was very unusual. There's really no good reason for the agent (Doc Searle) to say his discovery of Ms Searle, and LeRoy was meant to be. That's a matter of chance, to all people concerned...

In regard to human actions, strict determinism cannot be proven, and seems to be counterintuitive--we value deliberation, application of skills, rational decision making, even if those follow from antecedent conditions (education, family background, social-economic factors, etc.)

Steven said...

More seriously, just because God isn't insane enough to leave everything up to me doesn't mean that he shouldn't leave anything up to me.

I'm not sure how you mean to reply to what I said. Can you explain this a bit more?

Victor Reppert said...

Well, it's just the basic principle that a puppet, however conscious and however willing, cannot deserve anything, because the ultimate determinants of his actions lie outside of himself entirely. If determinism is true, then what makes this a world in which I do X instead of do Y is something that happened at the foundation of the world, or even before the foundation of the world. Our ordinary recognition of legitiate excuses for behavioral failure is testimony to this fundamental principle. Frankfurt counterexamples only create hypothetical borderline cases which make it difficult to apply the basic principle in practice, but do not undermine its fundamental legitimacy.

Steven said...

Well, it's just the basic principle that a puppet, however conscious and however willing, cannot deserve anything, because the ultimate determinants of his actions lie outside of himself entirely.

This sounds so close to begging the question, I want to call it on you.

If determinism is true, then what makes this a world in which I do X instead of do Y is something that happened at the foundation of the world, or even before the foundation of the world.

That's true if God has infallible beliefs about the future, too, which you do believe, don't you?

Our ordinary recognition of legitiate excuses for behavioral failure is testimony to this fundamental principle. Frankfurt counterexamples only create hypothetical borderline cases which make it difficult to apply the basic principle in practice, but do not undermine its fundamental legitimacy.

I don't think Frankfurt cases are "borderline cases". I think they are clear cases in someone is responsible and lacks AP.

And did you ignore everything I said about necessary/sufficient conditions for our committing some acts?

J said...

"Steven" tends to conflate the supposed theological issue and the strictly ...philosophical one (assuming philosophasters...are even qualified to discuss the issue...).

Searle may be a bit obvious but he (like most in compatibilist tradition) realizes, one, the antecedent conditions of about any specific act cannot be know with any certainty, or are sort of trivial, if not whimsical. (ie the earth's orbiting the sun would be one necessary condition...as is, being able to breath, needing food, water, etc.).

For that matter many decisions (like Searle's voting scenario) seem prima facie to involve deliberation (or applications of skills, rationality, volition, etc), which fly in the face of strict determinism...not fancy, but at least the strict determinist should address it...

At most the "necessary conditions", apart from the obvious, would be something like "proximate cause" that law shysters discuss--whether twinkie defenses, or Doc Searle discovering his wifey in the arms of a linebacker, etc. Or, in a sociological sense, poverty, coming from abusive environment, etc--the desert question (or punishment) matters once we consider the skills or deliberation--ie, for strict determinism would seem to preclude punishment...

Steven said...

I am not really sure what you're on about, J.

"Steven" tends to conflate the supposed theological issue and the strictly ...philosophical one (assuming philosophasters...are even qualified to discuss the issue...).

What's the strictly philosophical issue, and what's the theological issue, and how am I conflating the two?

[Deliberation] may not refute determinism, but suggests in many real-world cases a decision does not depend upon, or follow a long sequence of causes. One gets new information, or confronts a new situation--say in workplace, or military, or romance, etc.

How does the fact that people sometimes deliberate over what to do suggest that "in many real-world cases a decision does not depend upon, or following a long sequence of causes"? I don't see it--why can't the agent just have been causally determined to deliberate and then come to a conclusion at a later time?

For that matter many decisions (like Searle's voting scenario) seem prima facie to involve deliberation (or applications of skills, rationality, volition, etc), which fly in the face of strict determinism...not fancy, but at least the strict determinist should address it...

I don't know what a "strict determinist" is--a hard determinist? causal determinist? theological determinist?

Victor Reppert said...

VR: If determinism is true, then what makes this a world in which I do X instead of do Y is something that happened at the foundation of the world, or even before the foundation of the world.

S: That's true if God has infallible beliefs about the future, too, which you do believe, don't you?

VR: Your statement would be true if people like Bill Hasker are right and, say, the Molinists are wrong about foreknowledge and free will. The whole Molinist claim is that God's knowledge of our choices doesn't make it the case that they exist, and they think there are possible worlds which God didn't have the power to actualize, including that wonderful world of Mr. Rogers where everyone freely does what is right. I don't have strong views on this either way, but with a gun to my head, I go Hasker's way toward open theism.

Frankfurt cases deny a basic assumption that we ordinarily make when we make decisions, namely, that we can carry out the choices that we are considering. They are essentially intuition pumps, which means that they deal with intuitions. Every time I ask why I should give a verdict of "responsible" in those cases, I get back disanalogies between those cases and determinism. There has to be some step in the direction of the opposite choice to prompt the controller to act, so it looks like it is possible to do something otherwise from what you did. You just couldn't carry out the action.

Steven said...

Well I am not sure what "make it that case that" means, especially with regard to counterfactuals of freedom, because it seems nothing
"makes" those the case.

But something's being causally sufficient for your X-ing is not the only sort of impediment that can be put on your AP. God's believing 100ya that you would X at t doesn't "cause" you to X at t, but it still leaves you no AP.

If you are going to accept Open Theism, alright, that saves your AP.

J said...

A hard, or mechanical determinism view does not seem that close to a theological determinist view, ala Calvinism or whatever.... I assume you were discussing the problems of a hard, or mechanical determinism vs. compatibilist and libertarian views of one sort of another, not what "G*d" would have decided upon, or what that entails.

And that's basically what Searle discusses in "Free Will as a Problem in Neurobiology."

Those who don't think Mind is realized neuro-biologically, ie in the brain will probably not accept any of Searle's points--as I said, if you are suggesting cartesian dualism or some metaphysical view, there's not much to say...

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/dfwVariousHonderichonSearle.htm


(I don't agree completely with Honderich here (or elsewhere) but an interesting discussion ...).

At least the punishment issue seems to hinge on...agency (which would include deliberation, knowledge of some type, proximate cause, mitigating factors, so forth). The law itself certainly posits a decision-making ability (for people competent to stand trial, at least)--thus, "Perp X could have done differently--he didn't have to rob (murder, rape, etc)". That doesn't seem to jibe with the behaviorists' views. Perp X couldn't have done differently, so why is he held guilty? why are the people in courthouse crying/ enraged?? If the law's just crowd control of a sort...then...it's fairly meaningless, if not...arbitrary .

Similarly for voting--given hard-det. what's the difference between..Searle's vote, and say a retarded person who just marks his vote with the vote-punch..... one could think of other examples (why praise a person who wins at chess, if all determined? losing the same as winning...)

(and humans' sense of retributive justice also would be determined).

I nearly agree with the older writers who claimed hard-determinism becomes merely a type of fatalism (Fischer I think touches on this, but reading Fischer I sense he may do a great deal of research but not a whole lot of...original thinking,--possibly misreads Searle as well)

Victor Reppert said...

I think there is a profound problem in the discussion of freedom and moral responsibility because I think the idea of desert fits in well with a religious world view like Christianity, and is in fairly serious danger from a secular perspective, which is something worth noticing when you read Lewis's essay on the Humanitarian Theory of Punishment.

But even if Desert drops off the table, if you have a serial killer running around killing people, you want him to stop doing it, you want to deter others from doing the same, and if perchance it is possible to make him a productive member of society, you want to see that happen, too. You also don't want angry people in the community. You have a batch of utilitarian considerations that will probably result in our doing, in many cases, the same things to the person that would have been done if you thought the person was really morally responsible. It's not like we would say "Sorry to see you're killing people, but it isn't your fault, so I guess we've got to leave you alone."

Chesterton wrote: The determinist does not believe in appealing to the will, but he does believe in changing the environment. He must not say to the sinner, "Go and sin no more," because the sinner cannot help it. But he can put him in boiling oil; for boiling oil is an environment.

But, so is saying "Go and sin no more." But as a revelation of some truth about the sinner, I think Chesterton is right.

In a consistent secular world-view, following that view down the path of materialism/naturalism, I think the whole idea of desert can't be sustained. But there can and will be a lot of conduct on our part that looks and sounds like we're holding people morally responsible. But on close examination, the heart of moral responsibility, an assessment of desert, drops out of the picture.