More on moral responsibility and free-will

Another way of seeing that we are not morally responsible is to ask the question “Why do we choose what we choose?”.


The position I take regarding the free-will debate is that free-will is an impossible thing. It doesn’t matter whether or not determinism is true. If determinism is true than we do not have free-will and if it is not true than we still do not have free-will.


The kind of free-will I am talking about here is the kind of free-will that is required to fairly send someone to hell. The kind that justifies praise and blame. For it to be fair to send me to hell for ever then I must be responsible for my choices and actions. I and I alone must be responsible. This is just not the case.


Back to the question: “Why do I choose what I choose?”


There are two possible answers to this question.


      1. There is no answer; it is a random process.

      2. There is an answer; it is a determined process.


Now I’ve been told that this is a false dichotomy. I haven’t been told why it’s a false dichotomy but I assume they might be thinking that it’s because there could be a mixture of these two that generates free-will. As if magically by putting a duck egg and a piece of poo in a cauldron I could get the Taj Mahal.


I personally think that a kind of determinism is happening in our decision making. If you look at the deliberative process – all you have to do is look inside when you deliberate and see what you are doing – you will see that you are recognizing multiple courses of action. You evaluate each course of action; which is to say you anticipate in your imagination what will result from each course of action and see which result you like the best. And then you act accordingly.


Do you choose to prefer the result you prefer? If so when? But if you don’t then you are not the only cause for your decision. You are the sole immediate cause but you yourself – or rather the decision making apparatus of your mind – was determined by something that wasn’t you. That thing could be nothing – you’re the result of chaos – or something – like a god, something spiritual or physical processes. In either case you are not responsible! (BTW I believe Moksha is realizing this)


Of course not everyone is so rational. Most people just react instinctively without thinking through their options. A kind of knee-jerk reaction. But choices made in that way are rarely if ever seen as being more free than choices made as a result of deliberation.


One thought on “More on moral responsibility and free-will

  1. “The kind of free-will I am talking about here is the kind of free-will that is required to fairly send someone to hell.”

    That specific version of “free-will” was invented to keep God from going to hell. If God is omniscient, then, unlike us, he knows definitely what the results of his actions will be. If God is omnipotent, then, unlike us, he is capable of creating everything in such a way that it all works out well in the end, for everybody. With such powers, God becomes the ultimate responsible cause of everything that follows from his actions, including all the evil that humans do. Therefore, if you’re into retributive punishment, the more severe penalty would go to the guy most responsible for the harm that followed as a direct result of his own deliberate actions.

    Lucky for God, this guy Jesus came along and convinced us that retributive punishment was not such a good idea. Instead, we should forgive, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us. And he also taught us that we should go out of the way to redeem our “lost lambs” and to welcome our prodigal sons back home with celebration.

    And in our prisons we provide opportunities for redemption, like getting a GED diploma if you dropped out of school, or taking college courses (do dig Paul Simon’s “Songs from the Capeman”, but warning: mature language), or halfway houses.

    But redemption means learning to make better choices. And making choices means we have free will.

    Free will has never really been exempt from cause and effect. The whole concept of rehabilitation rests upon being able to effect better choices by intervening with education, counseling, and so on. We are both the products of a deterministic universe and active causal agents choosing for ourselves what we will cause to happen next.

    The idea that we must choose between determinism and free will is an illusion. Free will requires a deterministic universe to exist. Otherwise what is a “will” for, if not to determine what happens next.

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