Sunday, August 02, 2020

Soft Determinism: The key difference

The key difference between soft determinism and the other views is the definition of freedom. For them, freedom means being able to carry out your will. But, you will is just as strictly determined on soft determinism as it is on hard determinism. The question is, if your will is determined by past causes, but you can carry out your will, do you have an excuse if you act wrongly. You did what you wanted to do, but, given the past, you could not have done otherwise from what you did.



David Brightly said...

Do you have an excuse if you act wrongly? No. An excuse is an explanation of a misdeed that might mitigate punishment in part or whole. To say that because your will is determined by the past you could not have done otherwise is to seek complete mitigation. But this plea could apply to any misdeed at all---it mentions nothing specific to any wrongdoing. If it were accepted it would deny punishment for every misdeed. It would obviate the principal tool we have for maintaining a convergence of moral standards, whether the will is determined or not. The latter seems to me an undecidable metaphysical question, but the effectiveness of punishment is perhaps more readily understood if the will is so determined.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, you are getting to the central claim of my master's thesis, which I wrote in 1984. IF what you mean by moral responsibility is knowing who to apply a motive to, in other words holding someone responsible in order to produce utilitarian benefits to society, then sure, determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. No problem.

But to do that takes Desert out of the equation, and reduces punishment to a matter of behavior modification, and then you have to live with the consequences of that. (See C. S. Lewis's The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment for an indication of what those consequences are).

But desert-based punishment does seem unfair if determinism is true. So determinism doesn't eliminate punishment, but it changes its character.

David Brightly said...

I don't see how desert can be taken out of the equation. Desert concerns the proportionality of punishment to offence. If this were not taken into account, say punishments were assigned randomly, then there would be a 'might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb' effect and punishment would become ineffective even for purely utilitarian purposes.

I appreciate Lewis's concerns. They are also the concerns of Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange, written in the early 1960s. But we have made no steps towards medicalising sinfulness in the succeeding sixty years. Perhaps a drug might be found that stimulates the neural pathways that give rise to the moral sentiments, just as anti-depressants act to alter mood. But, fortunately, we don't yet have to answer the moral questions this technology would raise.

Returning to the argument against soft determinism. We might set the question in the context of the Manifest/Scientific Image distinction. Free will, moral responsibility, fairness, are all MI terms. Determinism is a SI term. We can see how the near determinism of large scale ensembles of particles in the SI corresponds with the world of everyday inanimate objects of the MI. What I don't see is how this determinism gives rise to the unfairness of deserved punishment in the MI. Fairness concerns equality of person to person treatment. We might personify the world and extend fairness to the distribution of desirable characteristics like intelligence, strength, beauty, etc, that the world makes. How can we even talk of fairness with regard to the way in which the reality of the SI supports the reality of the MI? After all, it applies to us all, equally!