Friday, July 26, 2019

Libertarianism, soft determinism, and hard determinism

When people hear the term "soft determinism" it sounds as if we are determined more softly on soft determinism than on hard determinism, but this is not the case. Indeterminism is the view that given the past, there are two possible outcomes. However, even with indeterminism there are things that can influence the will, but they don't determine it.  A hard determinist can agree that the immediate cause of a person's action is their motive for their action, but then they point out that the persons state of motive is also an event that is caused by previous events, and that these events go back before the agent was born. A soft determinist will agree, but soft and hard determinists differ on the originating cause of the action is relevant to moral responsibility, or whether we should just look at the immediate cause and leave it at that. 
Imagine two possible worlds.
World 1) Smith contemplates murdering Jones, but thinks better of it and refrains.
World 2) Smith murders Jones. 
If indeterminism is true, then the difference between World 1 and World 2 is a matter of the undetermined choice on the part of Smith. Given the past, prior to the decision, Smith can choose to murder Jones or choose not to murder Jones. 
If soft determinism is true, the difference between World 1 and World 2 does not occur when Smith makes his choice. Something prior to the choice (the laws of nature and the facts concerning the position of the atoms in the world, or maybe something God decided to do before the foundation of the world) guaranteed that Smith would murder Jones. But, soft determinism says that in spite of this, in World 2, Smith is to blame for murdering Jones because the immediate cause of Smith's action is his own desire to kill Jones. The soft determinist points out that the murder didn't take place against Smith's will-he wasn't forced to do it. Hard determinists and indeterminists say point out the fact that his action is still the inevitable result of past circumstances outside his control. The soft determinist says "So what?" 
If Hard Determinism is true, then the difference between World 1 and World 2 is some event or set of events outside the control of Smith, AND that, once we realize that, we must realize that Smith is not really responsible for committing the murder. We may need to modify his behavior, but the idea that there is some retribution that he deserves, either in this world or in the next world, is an idea that makes no sense.

4 comments:

StardustyPsyche said...

"A hard determinist can agree that the immediate cause of a person's action is their motive for their action, but then they point out that the persons state of motive is also an event that is caused by previous events, and that these events go back before the agent was born."
No, determinism progresses at the most fundamental physical level, quantum fields or whatever it turns out to be.

"AND that, once we realize that, we must realize that Smith is not really responsible for committing the murder"
Right, responsibility, like human rights, is a social construct.

"We may need to modify his behavior, but the idea that there is some retribution that he deserves, either in this world or in the next world, is an idea that makes no sense."
The desire for revenge is a personal emotion, not a well thought out rational argument.

The assertion of hell is a particularly despicable aspect of religion.

David Brightly said...

I have never understood the hard determinist argument. To say that Smith in ordinary circumstances is not responsible for his behaviour is surely to vitiate the concept of responsibility. Yet we already recognise a useful distinction between responsibility and non-responsibility. There can be abnormal circumstances---cases like that of Phineas Gage perhaps---where Smith lacks responsibility. Perhaps the hard determinist is looking for responsibility at the wrong scale and thus failing to find it.

In fact, the 'We may need to modify his behavior' rather gives the game away. Our talk of responsibility, retribution, desert, etc, forms part of the apparatus we have for achieving such modification. And again, we know from the Gage-like cases that sometimes modification is impossible.

StardustyPsyche said...

" Yet we already recognise a useful distinction between responsibility and non-responsibility."
Responsibility, like human rights, is a social construct arising from a convention between many individuals each with the personal sensibilities of responsibility and rights.

Determinism acts at the most fundamental physical scale, which is how everything acts. But, we are able to recognize large scale organizations of material for which we can form imperfect approximate models that turn out to be useful for us.

David Brightly said...

I think that the problem with the HD position as expressed here is the weasel word 'really'. Either

a) the HD is denying that there is any such thing as responsibility at all, in which case he rubs up against the fact that we take responsibility very seriously indeed, or

b) the HD reckons he knows what 'real responsibility' is and why in this case it doesn't apply to Smith.

Either way, the HD has some explaining to do.