Physical (including biological/genetic/neurological)
D\u2019Holbach is a hard determinist; he believes thatev erything we do is caused by
things beyond our control. \u201cMan\u2019s life is a line that nature commands him to
trace upon the surface of the earth\u2026he is unceasingly modified by causes,
whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control\u2026\u201d (p. 281)
We are motivated by the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure, but we
can\u2019t help what gives us pain or pleasure. And even if we choose to seek pain or
to avoid pleasure, perhaps so that we can prove to ourselves that we are free to do
so, we can\u2019t help being motivated to prove this to ourselves, so our \u201cchoice\u201d to do
so is actually outside of our control. No matter what we do, the chain of causes
and effects that lead to our doing it is inevitable; it is never true that we \u201ccould
have done otherwise.\u201d The example of the poisoned water (page 282) shows that
whatever we do, we do for reasons \u2013 and these reasons are ultimately
modifications in our brain that make us to choose what we choose. (Since we
can\u2019t control the modifications in our brains, and they cause our actions, then we
can\u2019t control our actions.)
D\u2019Holbach says that \u201cThe man who drinks the poisoned water appears a madman, but the actions of fools are as necessary as those of the most prudent individuals\u201d (p. 282) We\u2019ll be talking about this kind of issue again when we discuss free will and ethics.
decide. But D\u2019Holbach says that this is just the effects of two opposite motives
acting on us at the same time. \u201cBut even in the time of deliberation, during the
comparison [of the two motives], during the comparison, pending these
alternatives of love or hatred the succeed each other, sometimes with the utmost
rapidity, he is not a free agent for a single instant\u201d (p. 283). So, we believe we
that allow us to \u201ccheck [our] mot unruly desires\u201d (p. 283). For example, we may
really want to go to a movie, but remember that we need to study. This memory
allows us to overcome our current desire (even if it\u2019s really strong). But
D\u2019Holbach points out that we can\u2019t control our memory; it, too, is governed by
forces beyond our control.
\u201cBut I can move my hand\u201d (p. 285)\u2026 A person can defend the claim that she has free will by choosing to move \u2013 or not to move \u2013 her hand. But D\u2019Holbach says that whatever she decides she wants to do, she wants to do for are as o n (in this case, to prove that she has free will), so the action is not free.
Why D\u2019Holbach is a hard determinist: \u201cWhen it is said that man is not a free
agent, it is not claimed to compare him to a body moved by a simple impelling
cause. He contains within himself causes inherent to his existence; he is moved
by an interior organ that has its own peculiar laws and is itself necessarily
determined in consequence of ideas formed from perceptions resulting from
sensations that it receives from exterior objects\u201d (p. 285). That is, we do have
will, and we do determine and decide and act on the basis of our decisions. BUT
that does not mean that we are free, it just means that some of the causes of our
actions are internal to us (e.g. motives, desires, beliefs). (\u201cIn man, free agency is
reading). A hard determinist believes that free will and determinism are
incompatible, thus our will can\u2019t be free. We\u2019ll compare this later with soft
Finally, D\u2019Holbach says that the reason that wethink that we\u2019re free (that we feel
like we make our decisions freely) is simply that we\u2019re not aware of the chain of
cause and effect that determines our decisions. The causes and motives that
determine our actions are too complex for us to be able to understand them. \u201cIt is
only upon his own ignorance that [man] bases the profound yet deceitful notion of
his free agency\u2026\u201d (p. 286)
Hospers argues that all of our actions are determined by our characters, but that our characters are shaped by forces beyond our control. He also examines the implications of this claim for our moral judgments.
He starts with some (hypothetical) examples of people whose actions seem to be
caused by factors they can\u2019t control (e.g. the criminal, the sick grandmother).
\u201cLet us note that the moreth oro u g h ly and in detail we know the causal factors
leading a person to behave as he does, the more we tend to exempt him from
responsibility\u201d (p. 289). So, having a bad childhood means that the parents are to
blame\u2026but the parents\u2019 actions are also determined by actions beyond their
control, so they can\u2019t be blamed either\u2026
One possible objection: some people come from bad backgrounds but become
successful; this shows that it\u2019s possible to overcome adversity. So, why should
we excuse people who don\u2019t? Hospers replies that if we look more closely at the
two cases, we will see differences that explain why one person becomes, for
example, a crook, and the other becomes (Hospers\u2019s example) a bank president.
\u201cNeurotic behavior\u201d \u2013 Hospers was writing in the 1950s, when psychoanalysis
was very fashionable. We don\u2019t tend to give as much weight to this type of
explanation now, though there are lots of pop psychology and self-help books that
show that we still want to explain peoples\u2019 odd personality traits and habits. For
our purposes, though, it\u2019s more important that Hospers acknowledges (p. 290) that
more than the neurotic one has caused his own character, which makes him what
he is\u201d (p. 290). Even when we can change our behavior on the basis of rational
considerations, that\u2019s just makes us lucky. \u201cThose of us who can discipline
ourselves and develop habits of concentration of purpose tend to blame those who
cannot and call them lazy and weak willed\u2026We cannot with justification blame
them for their inability, any more than we can congratulate ourselves for our
ability\u201d (p. 290). (See also page 291: luck vs. effort.)
Someone might object that itis deterministic to say that we don\u2019t determine our characters and our characters determine our actions. This seems to imply that we ultimately don\u2019t determine our actions.
Hospers replies that: (1) To say that nothing could be otherwise [which a
determinist would certainly want to do] is misleading. It \u201cinvites the question,
\u201cNo? Not even if you want to?\u201d So, Hospers seems to be saying here that if we
wanted to do otherwise, we could have. (2) To say that we couldn\u2019t have acted
otherwise is \u201csimply not true.\u201d If circumstance had been different, specifically if
our desires had been different, we could have acted differently.
But, since we don\u2019t determine our characters, it seems that Hospers is committed
to the idea that our desirescouldn\u2019t have been different. So in what sense could
we really have done otherwise? Hospers really does seem to be a hard
determinist, after all.
Now bringing you back...
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