Sunday, March 31, 2019

Hard and soft determinism

Neither soft nor hard determinists believe that we are the original sources or causes of our actions. My act may be caused by my choice, but what caused my choice? That needs a cause, too. In determinism, causes are events which are temporally prior to the action. And those causes need causes, and therefore a chain goes back in time prior to when any of us were born. Given conditions millions of years ago, you could not have done otherwise that write this e-mail you just wrote me. Assuming that everything is material, for example, given the state of the material world 4 million B. C., and given the laws of nature, everything has to happen just the way it does. 

What soft determinism actually says is not that we are originating causes of our actions. What it says is that even though we aren't the originating causes of our actions, we can still be responsible for them just in case the immediate causes of our actions are our own will. There is a difference, for example, between consenting to sex and being raped, in that the consensual partner wanted the sex to occur, while the rape victim did not. Freedom, says the soft determinist, is the ability to do what we want to do. The fact that we were caused to want to do it doesn't affect our responsibility for our actions. 

The hard determinist, and the libertarian, look instead at the fact that we are not the ultimate source of our actions, that a number of things in place before we were ever born guaranteed that we would do what we did. Given this fact, the idea that we can deserve something bad for doing something bad, if determinism is true, doesn't seem right. 


Starhopper said...

I recall reading a science fiction short story (I think in ANALOG magazine) some decades ago, in which a future society had accepted the supposedly scientific fact that no one was responsible for their own actions, and the Supreme Court then ordered all the prisons to be emptied, since no one was at fault for whatever they did.

One Brow said...

Even if no one is responsible in the sense of free will, there are still the concepts of correction and safety. Hard determinism doesn't end the need for prisons, although it changes the purpose thereof.