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Free will and determinism

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1 Free will and determinism
Michael Lacewing

2 Determinism defined Syllabus: ‘the belief that a determinate set of conditions can only produce one possible outcome given fixed laws of nature’ Universal causation: every event – everything that happens or occurs – has a cause Even if we don’t know the cause, we don’t allow that something ‘just happened’ Causal necessity: given the total set of conditions under which the cause occurs, only one effect is possible

3 Physical determinism Everything that happens in the physical universe is causally determined by the state of the universe + laws of nature. E.g. every decision is determined by the previous state of my brain If we could know the position of every particle in the universe + the laws of nature, every future physical event could be predicted in principle. E.g. every movement of your body

4 Actions as events Our actions are events. Therefore, they have causes.
Given the causes they have, no action is possible other than what we actually do. If we couldn’t do any other action, then we do not have free will, e.g. to choose between doing different actions.

5 Psychological determinism
Comes in degrees Strong: every psychological event is causally determined by previous events + laws of psychology But (almost) no strict laws of psychology have been discovered Weak: patterns of psychological events, including decisions, are determined by previous experiences Many influences on our decisions are outside our control

6 Character determinism
Many traits of character are not chosen; but traits of character allow us to predict what people choose. Not being able to predict what they do doesn’t make them more free. Aren’t people most free when they act ‘in character’?

7 Prediction and freedom
Being able to predict what someone will do isn’t enough to show that they aren’t free. Preferences Character traits It depends on whether the basis for prediction rules out the possibility the action can’t happen.

8 Actions, events and bodily movements
There is an important difference between how we explain what we do (actions) and things that just happen (natural events). Compare explanations of crop circles – how and why We also contrast actions with unintentional bodily movements Compare pushing someone and accidentally falling into them With actions, we cite reasons rather than causes.

9 Reasons and causes Causes precede their effects in time. Reasons do not need to. If I give money to charity because it helps the needy, ‘charity helps the needy’ is not something ‘occurs’ before I give money (it doesn’t occur in time at all). Reasons can cite purposes – ‘in order to…’. But a causal explanation cannot cite a purpose.

10 Reasons and causes Reasons can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Causes cannot.
Not anything can be a (good) reason to act in a certain way: ‘I hit him because his socks are purple’. Anything can be a cause of anything, logically speaking. When we identify a cause, then the effect must exist. When we identify a reason, the action it is a reason for does not have to have occurred. ‘The cigarette caused the fire’ v. ‘Keeping warm is a reason to start a fire’

11 Actions and bodily movements again
Actions are not bodily movements. Bodily movements are identified physically, and can be given physical causal accounts. Actions are identified by reasons. What action a particular bodily movement serves depends on the context. Raising one’s arm Many different bodily movements may serve the same action Paying a bill

12 Moral responsibility Intuitively, we only blame someone if they could have refrained from acting as they did. If you cannot save someone drowning, you are not morally responsible for not helping. If determinism is true, can we have moral responsibility?

13 Ought implies can If there is something that you ought to do, then you are able to do it. So if you ought to have acted differently, then you could have acted differently. If you could not have acted differently, it makes no sense to say that you ought to have acted differently.

14 Compatibilist defences of moral responsibility
Accept that ought implies can and argue that there is a relevant sense in which a person could have acted differently, even though determinism is true, and so they are morally responsible. Argue that issues of determinism and ‘ought implies can’ are irrelevant to moral responsibility. Reject the ‘ought implies can’ principle, so the fact that a person cannot do anything else does not mean that they are not morally responsible for it.

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