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PH1102E Week 2 Determinism and moral responsibility

I. Review of key concepts A. Moral responsibility B. Determinism 1. Versus fatalism 2. Laplaces demon II. Strawsons argument A. Overall argument B. Is determinism compatible with moral responsibilty? 1. Argument for determinism/responsibility incompatibilism 2. Humean objections, Strawsonian replies C. Is indeterminism a red herring?

I. Moral responsibility and determinism A. Moral responsibility Definition: You are morally responsible for doing X if by doing X, you give others a GOOD reason for thinking well or ill of you. Notice the word good. (Even if the Gestapo officer thinks well of you for turning over the Jewish family, he has no good reason to think well of you; his reason is the bad one that your action facilitates the Nazi program of genocide.) B. Determinism 1. Definition Every event has a prior cause (except for the very first event, if there was a first event). 2. Contrast with fatalism Determinism and fatalism have this much in common: according to both, your present and future behavior is decided in advance by factors out of your control. (For determinism, these factors are past states of the universe combined with the laws of physics. For fatalism, the deciding factor is Fate.) But determinism and fatalism differ in one very crucial respect. According to fatalism, your future behavior is decided by forces that will make you do the things you will do regardless of whether you want to do them. But according to determinism, your future behavior is decided by forces that will make you do the thing you will do by making you want to do them. Fatalism is a cosmic conspiracy theory. Determinism is not. Determinism says that a thousand years ago, it was already inevitable that you would enroll in PH1102E, because it was already inevitable that you would desire to enroll in PH1102E, and inevitable that nothing would prevent you from acting on that desire. Fatalism says that a thousand years ago, it was already inevitable that you would enroll in PH1102E even if you had no desire to do so, and even if you had a strong desire not to enroll, and even if I had no desire the offer the module. 3. Laplaces Demon Lets assume, for the sake of argument, that we live in a deterministic universe. In our universe, then, one thing follows from another in a strict causal sequence. This means that if you know the position of every ball on a pool table, and know the precise strength and angle at which the player will strike the que ball, you can, in theory, deduce exactly how all the balls on the table will move, as well as what their final resting position will be. You could deduce all this using Newtons laws of motion.

Likewise, if you could somehow learn the exact location and momentum of every molecule of in a drop of ink that you let fall into a glass of water the moment before it enters the water, and the location and state of motion of every molecule of water in the glass, you could predict, with perfect accuracy, exactly what the cloud of ink would look like one second, two seconds, three seconds, ten seconds, a minute, an hour later. Likewise, if you could somehow figure out the exact present location and state of motion of every molecule in the Earths atmosphere, and the exact physical relationship between each of these molecules and the particles making up the Earths oceans and land masses, as well as the Sun and the moon, you could, in theory, by applying the laws of physics, figure out exactly where each of these molecules would be one day, or one week, or one hundred years from now. You would be the ultimate meteorologist. Likewise -- still assuming the truth of determinism -- if you knew the exact current position and trajectory of every particle in the universe, including the atoms that make up living things like us, you could use the laws of physics to predict, infallibly, the exact location and trajectory of all these particles one second from now. And then you could apply the same laws again to predict the location and motion of all the matter in the universe two seconds from now, and then three seconds, and so on and on, as far into the future as you like. In a famous thought-experiment, Pierre-Simon de Laplace asks us to imagine that there really is a being who knows the location and state of motion of every particle in the universe. This has come to be known as Laplaces demon, although theres nothing particularly demonic about it. Anyway, suppose that this demon has existed for a very long time -- thousands of years. Thousands of years ago, it knew the position and state of motion of every particle in the cosmos. By successive applications of the laws of physics, the demon was able to predict -- with complete accuracy -- the position and state of motion of every particle in the world today. In particular, the demon has known for thousands of years, and knows right now, exactly what the particles making up our bodies are going to do two minutes from now. And what makes it possible for him to know this is determinism. He can predict what our bodies will do a minute and a half from now, simply because given the events that are taking place in our bodies and environment at this moment, and given the laws of physics, it is inevitable that we will be doing certain things a minute from now. 4. An experiment Lets do a quick experiment. In a moment, Im going to count to three. When I say three, I want each of you to raise a hand -- either your left hand or your right hand. The Laplacean demon already knows which hand you are going to raise (or that you arent going to raise a hand, or that you are going to raise both of them, if you choose not to cooperate). He has known it for thousands of years. Creepy, isnt it? OK, are you ready? Have you decided which hand to raise? 3

Theres still time to change your mind. Of course, if you do change your mind now, that too is something that Laplaces demon has foreseen. After all, he knows exactly what is going to happen in your brain too. He has also foreseen that you would change your mind again at the last second in a pointless attempt to falsify his prediction, if thats what you are in fact going to do. Let me give you a little more time. If you want, you can flip a coin and let that decide which hand you raise: heads right, tails left. Naturally, Laplaces demon knows exactly how the particles constituting the coin are going to behave, and so already knows that the coin is going to land heads (if that is indeed how it is going to land). Alright. Here we go. On the count of three: ONE. TWO. THREE! OK, very good. Whatever you did -- including not doing anything, for you metaphysical rebels out there -- you were destined to do it in advance, since long before you were born. You were destined to do it, in the sense that your action and the deliberation and choice leading up to it had to take place just as they did, given that things were as they were thousands of years ago. At least, this is true if we live in a deterministic universe. However, none of this changes the fact that which hand you raised depended on which one you chose to raise. Suppose you raised your right hand. Well, determinism doesnt change the fact that if you had chosen to raise your left hand instead, thats what you would have done. Its just that you were destined to choose to raise your right hand, just as much as you were destined to raise it. II. Strawsons argument A. The overall argument S1. If we live in a deterministic world, we are not morally responsible for anything we do. S2. If we live in an indeterministic world, we are not morally responsible for anything we do. S3. We must live in either a deterministic or an indeterministic world. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------S4. Therefore, we must not be morally responsible for anything we do. (from S1, S2, and S3)1

For an explanation of the format of this argument (all the S1s and S2s, etc.), see the lecture webcast and powerpoint slides.

S3 is true by definition, since indeterminism is just defined as the negative of determinism: determinism says that every event has a prior cause, indeterminism says that not every event has a prior cause. (Note that this is different from saying that every event does not have a cause. Indeterminism is the view that some events are uncaused, not that all events are uncaused.) So lets focus on S1 and S2. If Strawson is entitled to these premises, then he is entitled to his striking conclusion as well. B. Is determinism compatible with moral responsibility? (I.e.: is S1 actually false?) Some philosophers -- very many, actually -- believe that determinism and moral responsibility can coexist. These philosophers are aware that at first glance, determinism seems to leave no room for moral responsibility, but they argue that if you think it through carefully, youll see that theres really no conflict between the two. Strawson disagrees. He thinks that there is an irreconcilable conflict between determinism and moral responsibilty. His argument for this is as follows: 1. Argument for determinism/responsibility incompatibilism Here is an argument that S1 (the first premise of Strawsons overall argument) is true: C1. If we live in a deterministic world, then each action we perform is an effect of events that occurred before we were born, and over which we had no control. C2. We are not morally responsible for the effects of events that are out of our control. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------S1. So, if we live in a deterministic world, we are not morally responsible for anything we do. (follows from C1 and C2) C1 is uncontroversial; it more or less follows from the definition of determinism. But why should we accept C2? David Hume, for one, thinks we should not accept it. (And many philosophers following Hume have agreed with him that C2 is false, or at least doubtful.) 2. Humean objections/Strawsonian replies Humean: The fact that we live in a deterministic universe doesnt mean that we never have desires or make choices. Desires and choices are events that take place in our heads (or minds). Like other events, they have causes (assuming that we live in a deterministic world), but that does not call their existence into question. 5

So the fact that we have desires and make choices (mental decisions, etc.) is fully compatible with the fact (if it is a fact) that we live in a deterministic, clockwork universe. Whats more, determinism is also compatible with the fact that these desires and choices often cause us to act in certain ways. For instance, a little while ago, you had a desire (and made a choice) to raise your right hand; this desire or choice caused you to raise your right hand. The choice was the cause, the action was the effect. Determinism doesnt conflict with this, any more than it conflicts with the fact that the motion of the moon causes the tide to rise or fall: cause -- effect. So even in a deterministic universe, we can do things because we want to do them and choose to do them. Well, what more do you want? Surely, if we have the ability to do things out of choice or desire, we have the ability to do things for which we are morally responsible -- things that might give people good reasons to think well or ill of us. I conclude that C2 is false. We are morally responsible for some effects of events that took place before we were born. This is because some of the effects of such long-ago events are also effects of our own choices and desires, and, as such, are things for which we may bear moral responsibility. Strawsonian: I agree that determinism is compatible with the existence of desires and choices. I also agree that determinism is compatible with the fact that we often act out of desire or choice. But I dont see how this alone is enough to make us morally responsible agents. The bird who stole your fruit, after all, acted on its desire to eat the fruit. But you dont think it is morally responsible for its action. Humean: I grant that the capacity to act on ones desires is not enough to guarantee a capacity for morally responsible behavior (the bird is a case in point). Not just any desire- or choice-driven behavior with a good outcome merits praise, and not just any desire- or choice-driven behavior with a bad outcome deserves blame. The agent must also intend the good or bad outcome; he must believe and desire that his action will have the outcome. But if an agents action is backed up by an intention (as opposed to a mere urge, as in the case of the bird), then we may hold him morally responsible for his action. Strawsonian: So your view is that a person can be morally responsible for something he does, provided that what causes him to do it is one of his own intentions. Humean: Yes. Strawsonian: But when a person forms an intention to do something, he is already performing a kind of action: an inner action of intention-formation. Humean: True. Strawsonian: But then, according to you, he is morally responsible for forming this intention -- for performing the inner act of intention-formation -- only if he forms the intention intentionally. That 6

is, he is morally responsible for intending to do X only if he intends to intend to do X. By the same token, he is responsible for forming this second intention (the intention to intend to do X) only if he forms it intentionally; i.e., only if he intends to intend to intend to do X. And so on, ad infinitum. Hume: Yes, this is an impliction of my view. Strawson: But no one can form an infinite number of intentions! In fact, most people cannot even form an intention to intend (much less an intention to intend to intend). Humean: Well, we might not be able form these kinds of higher-order intentions explicitly, but we do sometimes form them implicitly, for example when we choose role-models. If I choose, say, Ghandi as my role-model, my intention is to live like Ghandi. And living like Ghandi involves, among other things, adopting a pacifist world-view, which one can adopt only if one desires, chooses, and intends not to promote political ends by violent means. So, by choosing Ghandi as my role model, I do, in effect, intend to intend to avoid violent solutions to societys problems. Strawsonian: OK, maybe I was too hasty when I said that we cannot form second-order intentions. But still, even if I can form a second- or even a third-order intention in the way you suggest (by choosing a role-model, or a religion, or a group of friends), theres really no way that I, or any other human being, can form an 18th-order intention, and no way that any being can form an infiniteorder intention. Humean: Thats true. Strawsonian: But then, at some level, every one of us has intentions that he or she does not intend to have. In fact, if you think about it, all of our actions are ultimately grounded in intentions (of some order) that we do not intend to have, and for which we are not, according to you, morally responsible. Humean: Yes, thats correct. Strawsonian: But then how can we be responsible for the actions that flow from these intentions? How can it be reasonable to think ill (or well) of someone for an action that ultimately results from historical factors over which he has no control, and that would have taken place regardless of his intentions and desires? Humean: The fact that all human action has its ultimate sources in events that predate the human race doesnt mean that we cant hold people responsible for what they do. It can be reasonable to praise people for the good they do, because that can encourage them to do more good. And it can be reasonable for blame or chastise people for the harm they do, because that can discourage them from doing more harm. This is perfectly consistent with determinism. Strawsonian: Certainly it is consistent with determinism. But the question of whether people are morally responsible for their actions is not the question of whether we have good reasons to praise

them or blame them. Nor is the question whether it is reasonable for us to hold people responsible for their actions, in the sense of punishing or rewarding them for what they do. When it comes to moral responsibility, the question is whether we have good reasons to think well or ill of people for their actions -- to think well or ill of them, not necessarily to speak well or ill of them, or to threaten them with punishment, or to promise them rewards. And it seems to me that as long as peoples actions arise from factors that they cannot control, I have no good reason to think well or ill of them for what they do, even though I may still have good reasons to praise, blame, reward, or punish them for what they do. Think of it this way: it is reasonable to prune and fertilize trees because doing so discourages them from producing bad fruit, and encourages them to produce good fruit. But this does not make it reasonable to think well or ill of the trees. I fail to see how people are different from trees in this respect, if determinism is true. Humean: Dont I have a good reason to think well of someone who intentionally does good things, if thinking well of him will incline me to promote his interests, and therefore encourage the further production of good acts? And dont I have a good reason to think ill of someone who intentionally does bad things, if thinking ill of him will incline me to thwart his bad-act production? Strawsonian: If thinking well or ill of his trees inclined a farmer to cultivate them in the most productive manner, would that give him a good reason to think well or ill of them? Would it give him a good reason to resent it when his trees didnt produce as much fruit as he expected, or to feel grateful to them when they did? Humean: Maybe it would. Strawsonian: You might as well say that he could have a good reason to let himself slip into madness. But Im afraid we are losing sight of the central issue here. Personally, the more I see a persons behavior as having causes beyond his control, the less I am prepared to think ill, or well, of him, and the more I tend to think of him as a problem to be dealt with, or a resource to enjoy. If he does minor harm, Ill think of him as a pest rather than a jerk; if he does major harm, Ill think of him as a public health hazard rather than a moral monster. And to the extent that he tends to give others pleasure and happiness, or to relieve their pain and suffering, Ill think of him as a natural blessing, rather than as an object of admiration or gratitude. Faced with harmful human behavior, I wont get mad, and I wont have a desire to get even; Ill just do what I can to stay out of harms way, and maybe deal with the person as I would a dangerous wild animal (but using more subtle forms of behavior control). Humean: But you admit that when you are confronted, in real life, with an actual instance of a person inflicting intentional harm, on a child, say, your reaction is quite different from what it would have been had the harm resulted from some factor not backed up by intention. You admit that you 8

react to a situation in which a child gets killed by a virus differently from how you react to one in which a child gets killed by a violent pedophile. Strawsonian: Yes, I admit it. But these reactions come in the heat of the moment. Later, when I can reflect calmly on my reaction to the pedophiles harmful behavior, I judge it (I mean, my reaction) to have been unwarranted. In light of philosophical reflection, I see that my reaction to the pedophile ought not to have been so very different from my reaction to the virus. Humean: Maybe you should put more faith in your initial reactions than in your after-the-fact philosophical assessment of them. Strawsonian: We seem to be reaching an impasse. As a last attempt to move forward, let me ask you to consider a thought-experiment that might change your mind. Humean: OK, Im listening. Strawsonian: Consider the case of Mr. Smith. At first, theres really nothing special about Mr. Smith; hes just your ordinary nice guy -- he has his faults, but nothing major, and certainly nothing that hints at criminal or psychopathic tendencies. He is a person very much like you or me. Now, suppose that one day a mad scientist somehow secretly installs remote-controlled electrodes into Smiths brain. (Neither Smith nor anyone else is aware of this.) These electrodes allow the mad scientist to stimulate Smiths brain in such a way as to cause Smith to have any desire that he (the mad scientist) wants to Smith to have. Its not that the mad scientist has any direct control over Smiths muscles: the scientist cannot manipulate Smiths body like a marionette. All he can do with his remote-controlled electrodes is to cause various desires and other psychological states to arise in Smith. One day, Smith goes for a walk along a secluded beach. As he walks along, he encounters an unattended child. Normally, Smith would stop and ask the child if it was OK, where its parents were, etc. But on this occasion, the mad scientist remotely activates an electrode in Smiths brain that causes Smith to have a sudden strong desire to strangle the child to death. Supposing that he acts on this impulse and kills the child, are we really to say that Smith is morally responsible for what he has done? Humean: Surely it is the mad scientist who is to blame in this scenario. Strawsonian: Undoubtedly the mad scientist bears a heavy moral responsibility for his nefarious actions. But that by itself does not absolve Smith of responsibility -- at least, not according to your way of looking at things. After all, Smith murdered the child intentionally: he knew what he was doing, wanted to do it, and did it because he wanted to do it. If acting on an intention is, as you have claimed, enough to make a person a responsible agent, then it seems we have no choice but to say that Smith is to blame for murdering the child.

Yet it seems to me that this is the wrong thing to say. And if it is the wrong thing to say, then it is equally wrong to say that an ordinary murderer (one who is not in the grips of a mad scientist) is to blame for his homicidal acts. At least, it is wrong to say this if determinism is true. For if determinism is true, then the ordinary murders desires and intentions arise from forces beyond his control, just as much as Smiths do. It is just that in Smiths case, these forces take the form of a mad scientist, whereas in the ordinary murderers case, they take the form of physical laws combined with events in the distant past. But this is not a morally relevant difference -- at least, not as far as the question of responsibility for strangling the child is concerned. Humean: I think you are moving rather too fast. I mean, I admit that, on my view, not only the mad scientist is responsible for wrongdoing. I admit that someone is to blame for strangling the child, since someone intentionally strangled the child to death. But why should we say that this someone is Smith? Smith would never have done such a thing. To begin with, it is completely out of character for Smith to have a sudden desire to kill a child (or anyone else for that matter). Furthermore, if he did somehow find himself having such a desire, he would suppress it, as would any normal person of good character. Strawsonian: Well, we can suppose that the mad scientist also has the ability to shut down Smiths capacity for desire-suppression. Humean: You can suppose that if you like. But now we have even less reason to think that the person who strangles the child is Smith. It seems to me that what the mad scientist succeeds in doing in this case is to take the good, kind Mr. Smith, and scramble his mind to such an extent that Smith ends up getting replaced by a murderous villain who just happens to inhabit the body that Smith once inhabited. And this new (and dangerous) inhabitant of Smiths body is, I say, morally responsible for the childs murder. Strawsonian: It seems the issue here is one of personal identity. How far can the mad scientist go in manipulating Smiths beliefs, desires, choices, etc., without destroying Smith and replacing him with another person? Who is the real Smith? Humean: Whoever he is, it seems pretty clear to me he was not at the scene of the crime, in your example. Strawsonian: I suppose that we wont be in a position to settle this matter until we look into the question of personal identity. Ive heard that Pelczar is going to cover that later in the semester. Humean: Perhaps we should sit in on those lectures.

C. Is indeterminism a red herring? The next time you are trying to decide what to order off of a menu, try to think of your deliberations -- everything you are thinking, feeling, and doing at the time -- as all being the effects of events in 10

the distant past. Certain events occurred long, long ago, before you were even born, and these events have had many effects in the past, and they are having many effects now, including your act of trying to decide what to order; and your act of reflecting on the fact that your decision, whatever it turns out to be, will have among its causes events that occurred before you were born; and your act of focusing on the inner monologue in which you are having all these thoughts; and -- if you can pull it off -- your act of focusing on your act of focusing... Its not an easy exercise; it can induce a sort of vertiginous and as it were out-of-body experience. It is hard to see oneself as a product of forces beyond ones control. It is even harder to see oneself as unresponsible for any of ones actions (as convenient as such a self-image would sometimes be). And, as we have just seen, there are reasons -- not decisive reasons, perhaps, but reasons worthy of serious consideration -- for thinking that we are not responsible for our actions if, as determinism implies, everything we do results from forces beyond our control. Taken together, these considerations make it tempting to try to salvage moral responsibility by rejecting determinism. This is the strategy of Jean-Paul Sartre and other proponents of what Ive called the Radical Will Theory. According to this theory, when I do something for which I am morally responsible, my action proceeds from an act of will that has no causal history -- an act that is original-with-me in the sense of having its origins entirely within my own psychology. Determinism seems to pose a threat to moral responsibility because it implies that everything we do is caused by events that took place before we were born. This makes it tempting to think that we could rescue moral responsibility, if only we could find a way to argue that our actions do not result from events that took place before we were born. But this is a mistake. Why does the fact that our actions arise from long-past events seem to absolve us of responsibility? It is because we have no control over events that took place before we were born. So it is our lack of control over various causes of our actions that seems to preclude moral responsibility. (I say seems to preclude. Whether it really does preclude it is another issue, over which Hume and Strawson obviously disagree.) But -- and this is the crucial point -- even if our actions or choices are undetermined, they still arise from events over which we have no control, namely random events. So it turns out that indeterminism is no different from determinism, in terms of the prima facie threat it poses to moral responsibility. It is in this sense that indeterminism is a red herring in the debate about free will and moral responsibility. It is a red herring, in that it holds out a false promise of allowing us to construe our actions as events over which we have a kind of ultimate control -- a kind of control that determinism rules out.

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