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Free will & Determinism notes

What is Determinism?
In the syllabus, determinism is defined as- “the belief that a
determinate set of conditions can only produce one possible
outcome, given fixed laws of nature”
It holds that:
1) Every event has a cause- universal causation
2) Given the total set of condition under which the cause
occurs, only one outcome is possible- causal necessity.

The views reflect our common-sense notion of causality, and
are supported by the way science investigates the world.
Universal Causation
Why do we think every even has a cause? It is not an empirical
discovery, as we don’t know the cause of every event.
However, science has progressed to explain more and more
events, so we may believe we could always, in practice,
discover the cause of an event. To think an event has no cause,
would be to give up on science. Universal causation is a
commitment of science.
Causal Necessity
Our idea of causality includes the idea of regularity- the same
cause will operate in the same way on different occasions. If on
one occasion I drop a glass and it is fine, and on the other it
smashes, we assume there is something different between the
two situations. The floor is harder, or I drop it out of ten storey
window. A particular situation determines a unique effect.
These two ideas give us determinism.
Determinism and human action

and the chemicals and neurones which govern our brain are subject to the same scientific laws. Our brain is part of the physical world. Human action as subject to natural laws Our actions are subject to the same physical laws as nature. and can be applied just as much to human beings as it can physical objects. Unlike natural events. Action and causation All our actions are caused by our motivations. this is not an objection to determinism. The reason we do not predict something correctly. But it could be argued we make too much of these distinctions.Determinism is a completely general doctrine. Psychological determinism claims a person’s psychology. Psychological causes are different to physical causes. Given the causes our motivations have. we don’t talk about desiring and believing. Determinism claims that we could predict everything in principle. Determinism as distinguished from predictability Just because we can get scientific prediction wrong. With physical explanations. We are not free to choose anything other than what we actually choose. Therefore all our actions have causes. This is physical determinism. our actions don’t just happenwe have reasons for doing them. the prospect for psychological determinism isn’t good. no other action is possible other than what we do.their mental states and experience. causally determines what they will do. An important contrast There is however a distinction between our actions and physical causation. Given the complexity of people.our actions are physical events. This is how determinism threatens free will. is that we do not know everything about .

but we are able to refrain from acting on them. but this does not mean they are caused. to predict what they will do. we could. determinism must be false. For this argument about the nature of will. Desires can feel like causes. Objections to libertarianism Feeling free is not good evidence for free will. Libertarianism claims that when we choose to act in certain way. Determinism doesn’t claim we can know all a persons mental states and experiences. Alternatively. They would believe they are free. The goes for choices as well. we do not have free will. nothing causes us to cause these events.the laws and determinate set of conditions that lead to the effect. However it claims that if we had this knowledge. because we have free will. they could reject that uncaused choices must be random. What is free will? Free will as requiring indeterminism Hard determinism and libertarianism The position that regards free will as incompatible with determinism is called incompatibilism. Suppose someone has a brain tumour causing them to drink. they must be random? The libertarian could respond the cause of our action is our selves. If our choices aren’t caused. Hard determinism holds that. it is important that we feel free. Our choices can be influenced by our desires and reasons. but they would not be.they are ordered and regular because they respond to . Libertarianism holds that. because determinism is true. and believe they are doing this of their own free will.

libertarianism could be true. My action is caused by my choice. A drug addict may feel they have to have a hit. they have acted of their own free will? Alternatively. and this is what makes me free. something happens that does not have a cause. This is compatible with determinism. Compatibilism 1: voluntary action as defined by the type of cause from which it is issued. But aren’t reasons causation? We can have no concept of causation without causal necessity. The opposite of free is constrained.reasons. according to the determinations of the will. but were they free to do so? Compatibilism 2: Voluntary action as causally determined. unless it was constrained. Therefore just because someone’s action is caused does not mean it wasn’t free. Hume said that free will is “a power of acting or not acting. Examples where your action is constrained: .they cannot choose not to. Compatibilism is the view that although determinism is true. we can still have free will.” Free will is simply my choice to cause the action. Hume said that if someone can define a cause without a necessary connection to its effect. but distinguishable from psychologically or physically constrained action Another form of compatibilism argues opposing free will with causation is a confusion. There is no scientific evidence that when we make a choice. We can object this too weak a notion of free will. However given that they choose to. consider the example of the brain tumour causing someone to drink. It doesn’t matter if my choice was in turn caused by other events. The opposite of caused is uncaused. They would choose to drink.

1) You trip and fall. If you are tied to a chair. you continue to smoke. 3) You are a smoker who wishes to quit. For example. All action is similar to tripping and falling. you cannot be blamed for not helping someone drowning. they acted freely. Your actions are physically and psychologically constrained. If we would blame someone for what they did.you had no choice over it. One way to defend the distinction is to ask whether threats or argument would change what a person does.the word “ought” implies this. they are constrained. but due to your addiction. Your action was physically constrained. addiction. they will not. But how can we blame someone for doing something without first referring to free will? The implications of determinism Determinism as undermining moral responsibility Our idea of moral responsibility seems to depend on the idea that someone could have acted differently.whether it is gravity. The hard determinist would argue there is no real distinction between caused and constrained action. But hardened criminals will not respond to threats. You have a kind of choice. But your action is very constrained by coerciona psychological constraint.you could rob the shop or be killed. as our actions are natural events. If the action is constrained. However the hard determinist claims. does this mean they are not free? A second way to defend the distinction is in terms of praise and blame. no one can ever do . The only change is how the action was caused. If we would not. 2) Someone puts a gun to your head and tells you to rob a shop. threatening someone with a gun to their head will change nothing. or a neurological process in the brain. knocking someone over.

we can defend moral responsibility in terms of the positive actions that come from blaming someone for their actions. had they chosen differently. Determinism as undermining rationality Determinism can be seen as undermining reasoning: -If (hard) determinism is true. Is this idea really moral responsibility anymore? Morality seems like nothing more than a system for controlling people’s behaviour. The whole idea of reasoning disappears. we cause more people to do good actions in future. they are simply causally determined to have this belief. Is this right? In development. If there’s something you ought to have done. We can respond this definition of free will is not enough for moral responsibility. Ought does not imply can: If we argue that ought does not imply can. So no one is ever morally responsible for what they do. . Compatibilists have two main options: Ought implies can: The first variety of compatibilism argues that free will means that someone could have acted differently. no one ever believes anything is true freely. People enjoy praise and dislike blame. Incompatibilists will usually accept this principle.consider an addict or someone with a brain tumour. there is an argument considering determinism and ‘ought implies can’ as irrelevant to moral responsibility. So by praising someone for a good action. you were able to do it. Implications of the view that ‘ought’ implies can This argument turns on the principle of “ought implies can”.anything other than what they actually do. We also need to say that someone could have chosen differently.

atomic level is indeterminate. For example.so determinism is false. there is no such thing as reasoning. Causal chain The strongest statement of determinism is that from the very first moment of the universe. if you could know the exact physics by which a dice was rolled. This conclusion only works if determinism is incompatible with judgement. Alternatively. we must take into account all other things. these arguments show that there is such a thing as reasoning. can be explained at another. . and argue the apparent indeterminacy is due to our inability to make measurements. But can chance happen at a physical level? Quantum mechanics This is the theory that what happens at a sub. The universe was causally fixed from the first moment. we may argue what is chance on one level becomes determined on the next.-This can be turned into an objection. Chance as compatible with determinism If something happens by chance. it would undermine the idea of causal necessity. If the arguments for determinism are true.what happens next can only be measured with a degree of probability. However what happens by chance at one level. no other events other than what has actually happened are possible. you could accurately predict which number it would result in. Compatibilists will reject this. Development What is determinism? The state of the universe To capture the idea of causal necessity. However. Some scientists disagree with this.the ‘state of the universe’.

you have a choice whether to punch them or not. Predestination is a religious doctrine that claims god has already decided who will be saved and who will be damned. Our own efforts to achieve salvation are pointless. Psychological determinism Strong determinism According to this. For example. if you are angry with someone. On the basis of knowing someone’s character. However if you have a bad temper and an aggressive personality.Determinism distuinguished from fatalism and predestination Fatalism is the idea that whatever we do. Psychology has no strict laws. where the necessity of what happens comes not from the laws of nature. Fatalism usually recommends some kind of resignation. Weak determinism Weak determinism claims that patterns of our actions are determined by our genetics and experiences. predestination is the view that everything happens in accordance of the will of god. In a wider sense. If we knew everything about this. we may be able to predict what they are going to do. aspects of our character are determined. environmental states and laws of psychology. So there is no point in trying to achieve one thing over the other. just rules of thumb. we could accurately predict what someone will do. In this way. This is a kind of “divine determinism”. However is our character completely determined by past experience? People can undermine their character . However there is little evidence to support this. you may struggle not to. And you cannot choose not to have a bad temper. the outcome will be the same. but from god’s will. everything we do is determined by our genetics.

as hard determinism suggests. When we make a choice. so it can be free. Dualism claims that something non-physical (our will) causes something physical (our bodies to move). But if we don’t have free will.traits. Dualism could also be challenged by psychological determinism. What is free will? Human decision making as occupying a special place outside of the natural order In the first section. How is this possible? To make anything physical move requires energy. Free will requires a gap in universal causality Free will and quantum theory Free will as compatible with determinism .this breaks the law of conservation of energy and is still at odds with science. this experience is an illusion. it does not feel like we have to to just one thing. One way to defend this is with dualism.the belief that we have a non-physical mind. And because someone is acting in character. We could point out that this is just one of the illusions we suffer from.for example. this doesn’t make them not free? The experience of free will as an illusion We feel we are free. muller-lyer lines. we said libertarianism is in conflict with the project of science. or the gambler’s fallacy. Our will does not fall under the laws of nature.

Free will is about your will being free. In order for our will to be free. because there is no such thing as causal necessity. does Frankfurt’s view answer the challenge of determinism? When I will what I want to will. We can object that causation does involve necessity by the way science proceeds. Causes don’t compel their effects.to listen to music or eat a sandwich. This demonstrates our idea that there must be only one possible effect.nothing else is required.what about the addict who is happily an addict? Frankfurt could say yes because he is willing what he wants to will. Our first order desires are things that actually motivate us to do something.all we can say is that on each occasion. or we aren’t at sea level. but not want to want a cigarette. ‘Second order’ desires are desires about first order desires. I must be able to will what I want to will. but want to want to revise. We cannot draw any conclusions about necessity. For example. Or Frankfurt could say no because he is only free if he can bring his will into line with what he wants it to be. If we heat water to 100 C and it doesn’t boil. But. . I could want a cigarette. Water boils at 100 C at sea level. we assume something is different. ‘First order’ desires are desires to do things. Regularity and necessity A different defence of compatibilism argues causation doesn’t rule out free will.perhaps it isn’t pure. it is this one effect that occurs. Secondly.Frankfurt: Second order desires Harry Frankfurt argued we should define our will in two orders. but can I choose what I want to will? Frankfurt may argue this is true but irrelevant. could I have acted otherwise? I can will otherwise. Or I could not want to revise.

they are responsible agents. But is this the right standard of rationality? It fails to take into account people as persons. Strawson objects to determinism in that.The implications of determinism Strawson: ‘Reactive attitudes’ Strawson argued the practices of praise and blame are a system of ‘reactive attitudes’. These things are never responsiblethey are not moral agents. Furthermore this attitude makes all normal human relationships impossible. The hard determinist could respond it is rational to take the objective attitude. then we take the ‘objective’ attitude. if it implies we should take the objective attitude to all human actions. The reason we don’t blame someone for not being able to different than what they did. leaves intact our attitude to them as people.the attitude we take to natural events.such as gratitude. is quite different to the reason we don’t blame volcanoes and computers. Objections Moral responsibility and persons . and irrational to take the objective attitude. If someone is not a responsible agent. and they distinguish our reactions to people from our interactions with animals/ natural events etc. part of a community of moral agents. These are responses to people as moral agents. love and hurt. “It is useless to ask whether it would not be rational for us to do what it is not in our nature to do”. The absence of reactive attitudes is not humanely possible. Not blaming someone on a particular occasion. The issue of moral responsibility is settled from within the perspective of reactive attitudes. resentment.someone with a brain tumour. which is self-contradictory. this makes the abnormal case normal.determinism is irrelevant.

we can see this. A reason doesn’t need to. The argument for compatibilism . We can only make sense of what someone did if we talk about it. A cause cannot. He says a person is someone who can ask the question “Do I really want to be what I am now am?” We can then resolve to change who we are.it doesn’t need to ‘occur’ at all. Someone moving their queen to checkmate their opponent only makes sense in relation to the rules of chess. Because people are responsible in this way. To explain an action by giving reasons why a person did it is logically different to explaining it as an effect of a natural cause. but at the level of social interaction. we talk of reason and intention. The distinction between action and bodily movement From these differences. it makes sense to praise and blame them. Likewise. is not to say they moved their queen. 2) A reason can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. not at the level of chemical exchanges in the brain and bodily movements. someone emiting the words “I do” is not say they got married. 1) A cause precedes an event in time. This depends on rules. Describing the physical sequence of someone moving a piece of wood on a board. When we characterise something as an action.Charles Taylor gives a different way of defending moral responsibility. The distinction between reasons and causes Another argument for compatibilism develops the distinction between reasons and causes further.

But we cannot do this. .The compatibilist can argue that the determinist is trying to reduce everything to the language of cause and effect.