Hard Determinism

[A] Terminology Determinism/Hard Determinism Indeterminism/Libertarianism Compatibilism/Soft Determinism [B] Types of Determinism Physical (including biological/genetic/neurological) Psychological Sociological Theological [C] D’Holbach D’Holbach is a hard determinist; he believes that everything we do is caused by things beyond our control. “Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to trace upon the surface of the earth…he is unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control…” (p. 281) We are motivated by the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure, but we can’t 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’t help being motivated to prove this to ourselves, so our “choice” 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 “could have done otherwise.” The example of the poisoned water (page 282) shows that whatever we do, we do for reasons – and these reasons are ultimately modifications in our brain that make us to choose what we choose. (Since we can’t control the modifications in our brains, and they cause our actions, then we can’t control our actions.) D’Holbach says that “The man who drinks the poisoned water appears a madman, but the actions of fools are as necessary as those of the most prudent individuals” (p. 282) We’ll be talking about this kind of issue again when we discuss free will and ethics. Deliberation: We feel like we have free will because we deliberate and then decide. But D’Holbach says that this is just the effects of two opposite motives acting on us at the same time. “But 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” (p. 283). So, we believe we

have free will because we choose, but even what we will (choose) is determined by causes other than ourselves. Memory: Others have said we have free will because we can remember things that allow us to “check [our] mot unruly desires” (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’s really strong). But D’Holbach points out that we can’t control our memory; it, too, is governed by forces beyond our control. “But I can move my hand” (p. 285)… A person can defend the claim that she has free will by choosing to move – or not to move – her hand. But D’Holbach says that whatever she decides she wants to do, she wants to do for a reason (in this case, to prove that she has free will), so the action is not free. Why D’Holbach is a hard determinist: “When 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” (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). (“In man, free agency is nothing more than necessity contained within himself” (p. 286, last line of reading). A hard determinist believes that free will and determinism are incompatible, thus our will can’t be free. We’ll compare this later with soft determinism/compatiblism. Finally, D’Holbach says that the reason that we think that we’re free (that we feel like we make our decisions freely) is simply that we’re 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. “It is only upon his own ignorance that [man] bases the profound yet deceitful notion of his free agency…” (p. 286) [D] Hospers 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’t control (e.g. the criminal, the sick grandmother). “Let us note that the more thoroughly 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” (p. 289). So, having a bad childhood means that the parents are to blame…but the parents’ actions are also determined by actions beyond their control, so they can’t be blamed either… One possible objection: some people come from bad backgrounds but become successful; this shows that it’s possible to overcome adversity. So, why should we excuse people who don’t? 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’s example) a bank president. “Neurotic behavior” – Hospers was writing in the 1950s, when psychoanalysis was very fashionable. We don’t 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’ odd personality traits and habits. For our purposes, though, it’s more important that Hospers acknowledges (p. 290) that all behavior can be explained by our circumstances. (…the normal person no more than the neurotic one has caused his own character, which makes him what he is” (p. 290). Even when we can change our behavior on the basis of rational considerations, that’s just makes us lucky. “Those 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…We cannot with justification blame them for their inability, any more than we can congratulate ourselves for our ability” (p. 290). (See also page 291: luck vs. effort.) Hospers claims that he is not a determinist… “I want to make it quite clear that I have not been arguing for determinism” (p. 292) Someone might object that it is deterministic to say that we don’t determine our characters and our characters determine our actions. This seems to imply that we ultimately don’t 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 “invites the question, “No? Not even if you want to?” So, Hospers seems to be saying here that if we wanted to do otherwise, we could have. (2) To say that we couldn’t have acted otherwise is “simply not true.” If circumstance had been different, specifically if our desires had been different, we could have acted differently. But, since we don’t determine our characters, it seems that Hospers is committed to the idea that our desires couldn’t have been different. So in what sense could we really have done otherwise? Hospers really does seem to be a hard determinist, after all. The issue seems to be the way he’s defining “could.” “I would not want to say that I should have done differently even if all the conditions leading up to my

action had been the same (this is generally not what we mean by “could” anyway); but to assert that I could have is empty, for if I did act differently from the time before, we would automatically say that one or more of the conditions were different…” (p. 293) Free will and responsibility (pp. 293-4) Hospers suggests that when we talk about morality, and in particular about responsibility for actions, we operate on two levels. At the first (upper) level, the level of actions we talk about “can” or “could” and also about freedom. At the second (deeper) level (the springs of actions) we talk about the motives for our actions. Here there is no freedom or responsibility or right or wrong, there is just the explanation of why we are the way we are. Study questions 1. What is hard determinism? 2. What is indeterminism? 3. What is compatibilism? 4. What kinds or levels of determinism are there? Briefly explain each. 5. What does D’Holbach say motivates our actions? 6. What does it mean to say we “could have done otherwise”? 7. What does D’Holbach say about deliberation? 8. Why does D’Holbach say that our memory of past events does not make us free from our current desires? 9. Why does D’Holbach say that we think our will is free? 10. Explain what Hospers says happens when we understand the reasons for someone’s (immoral) actions. 11. Explain why, according to Hospers, two people can come from disadvantaged backgrounds and turn out very differently. 12. Why does Hospers say we can’t take credit for our ability to be persuaded by rational means? 13. What does Hospers say we mean when we say that someone could have done otherwise? Is this what we normally mean when we talk about free will? 14. Explain the difference between the “level of actions” and the “level of the springs of actions”

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