Sunday, July 26, 2015

Determinism and responsibility

If determinism is true, then given the past, you could not have done otherwise from what you did. If you committed a murder, it is because, given the actual past, you could have done nothing other than commit that murder, and the past stretches back before you were born. If you bravely save people from a burning building, then given the past, which you did not control, you could have done nothing else. Ultimately, if determinism is true, whether we are virtuous or not is a matter of happening to be on the end of a good or bad causal chain. If that's true, how can anything really be anyone's fault, or to anyone's credit, any more than winning or not winning the lottery is to anyone's credit or discredit? 


John Moore said...

Exactly. Nothing is to anyone's credit or blame, but on the other hand good and bad outcomes still exist. So-called punishment is simply a bad outcome, and a so-called reward is a good outcome. Getting rid of free will doesn't change morality in any practical sense.

William Campbell said...

Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

Victor Reppert said...

That argument doesn't exactly get to the issue of blame. It just says the maker of the object has the right to do as he chooses with the object. If this passage from Paul is pushed far enough, it wipes out the problem of evil completely.

Tim said...

Victor, please expound your argument, I'd like to hear your reasoning. Thanks.

B. Prokop said...

What far too many people who quote that particular passage of Romans seem to fail to realize, is that Paul is speaking of nations, not individuals. It has nothing whatsoever to do with free will, but with the differing roles of Peoples (nations) in history.

Read it carefully. The only thing being discussed is nations. It has no bearing on this discussion.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Victor Reppert said...

If we accept as a principle that whoever creates something has the right to do as he pleases with that which he has created, then the fact that God made us means that there is nothing wrong with creating us entirely for the sake of inflicting infinite pain on us. If God created the world in such a way that he gave us no evidence whatever of his existence, and then threw us into hell because we didn't believe without adequate evidence, that would be justified on the grounds that a deity can do as he pleases with his own universe, and has no obligations to that which he created. That may conflict with your intuitions about what a good God would do, but so much the worse for those intuitions.

Jakub Moravčík said...

B. Prokop:
The only thing being discussed is nations.
Interesting but bold interpretation. Which arguments would you offer which would exclude the interpretation that individuals are not meant here?

Jakub Moravčík said...

Ad Victor´s last comment:

Interesting. But it seems to indicate that humans have any natural rights before their Creator. Yeah, I would be absolutely happy if something like that was true. But God´s treatment with A+E in Eden was, it seems, exactly in the spirit of principle "whoever creates something has the right to do as he pleases with that which he has created". WHy? God deliberately placed the tree of knowledge of good and bad into the garden, deliberately told A+E that it has the fruit and what the fruit is about, and deliberately banned them to eat it. And why he did all this? He deliberately didn´t tell. Is it anything else than treating according to the principle "I can do anything with my creation because I am its creator and absolute owner"?
In other words, God placed into human a desire to be like Him and immediately after that, he banned the human to have that desire.

B. Prokop said...

Which arguments would you offer?"

"Arguments" per se are not really necessary - just read the passage. Pretend you've never seen it before, and have never heard a single commentary on it. What immediately jumps out at you? This does:

The chapter starts out with Paul in anguish over the unbelief of his kinsmen (Romans 9:1-5), i.e., the Nation of Israel. He then proceeds to lay out in the remainder of the chapter how God has different purposes for different peoples. In only a single instance does Paul write anything here that could conceivably be concerned with a single individual - Pharaoh. And even there, Pharaoh is simply a stand-in for the nation of Egypt, just as Jacob and Esau are for the nations that are descended from them.

Note that this is done all the time in the Psalms, as in for instance, "Thou art my King and my God, who ordainest victories for Jacob." In this case (and in many, many others), "Jacob" is shorthand for the Nation of Israel.

The subject matter of Romans Chapter 9 is "Why are the heirs of the Promise not believing in Christ?" In answer (in the following chapters), Paul lays out God's plan for the Gentiles. No individuals involved here in the slightest.

"Interesting but bold interpretation.

Interesting, yes. But not bold at all.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Jakub Moravčík said...

What immediately jumps out at you? This does:

Bobo, definetely not. As far as I know myslef - and believe that I know myself for years - 9,17-21 would strike me in "individualistic", voluntaristic manner as a cannonball and I would immediately forget everything about nations.

B. Prokop said...

Like I said, Pharaoh equals Egypt - not a person.

B. Prokop said...

Oh, and one more thing, Jakub. If your interpretation were correct (that verses 9 through 21 refer to individuals), then Paul has made a most awkward, indeed bizarre, transition from asking why the nation of Israel has not responded to the Gospel with the gratuitous non sequitur of how individuals might behave. It would be the most egregious example of Argument by Changing the Subject ever. (Is there a Latin phrase for that? If not, there ought to be!) It would amount to Paul dodging the question and covering his tracks by answering a question that hadn't even been asked. (For more examples of such behavior, simply watch any random American politician talking to the press!)

Jezu ufam tobie!

Tim said...

Prokup, I think you may be reading your theology into the text rather than reading the text in context. It seems a far stretch to force the text to speak of nations rather than individuals considering the previous chapter and proceeding verses.

B. Prokop said...


We'll just have to agree to disagree.

To me, the "far stretch" seems to be having Paul suddenly shift gears without warning or even the least transitional passage from discussing the fate of Israel to individual free will (or otherwise). Like I've already posted, how on Earth is a discussion of the role and fate of individuals at all relevant to the matter at issue? It's even worse than irrelevant - it's dodging the question. But by bringing in God's purposes for the Gentiles, Paul sticks to the subject and answers his own question. Paul thus underscores his theme of the universal nature of the Redemption, that Christ is the Savior of all mankind - not just his kinsmen. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

(How interesting that I read your link, and interpreted every last one of the author's 12 points completely opposite of how he did. And I can confidently answer all his objections. Not only did his arguments not persuade me, but thinking through them, I am now more convinced than before that this passage in Romans is focused like a laser beam on the role of nations, and on God's purposes for them.)

Jezu ufam tobie!

Jim S. said...

It would be the most egregious example of Argument by Changing the Subject ever. (Is there a Latin phrase for that? If not, there ought to be!)

Non sequitur?

DougJC said...

"How can anything really be anyone's fault, or to anyone's credit, any more than winning or not winning the lottery is to anyone's credit or discredit? "

A deterministic view is less about crediting or faulting and more about owning one's moral character as revealed by one's self-determined decisions. I want my decisions that matter to be entirely determined by myself: genes, neural networks, environmental affects, memories, experiences, consciousness, soul, spirit, everything that can possibly make up a self. Then, finding that it is I who truly made the decision, the decision necessarily exposes the moral quality of who I was as a being at the time of the decision. Understanding my moral quality as revealed through past decisions allows me to own my character and seek to improve it so as to not make bad decisions in the future. In this view, determinism forces me to take responsibility for who I am and drives me towards self-improvement.