Lecture 13 Notes

Introduction: Freedom and Determinism

    1. There seems to be a clash between a modern account of thought on the one hand, and free will, human agency and moral responsibility on the other.
    2. We will set out the problem and some proposed solutions by considering the argument for hard determinism.


The Argument for Hard Determinism

    1. Premise 1: Universe Governed by Deterministic Laws
      1. Matter obeys causal regularity and laws.
      2. There are no uncaused events.
      3. There is the potential for exact predictability.  Imagine a demon (Laplace's Demon) or a super-computer that knows the complete state of the matter in the universe and all of the laws that govern matter.  On the basis of this information, it could predict every future event.
      4. Note: We Should Be Thankful That the Universe is Deterministic In This Way.  We could not function in a world that did not allow for some degree of predictability. 
    2. Premise 2: We are Part of this Deterministic Universe
      1. Plausibility of Physicalism
        • According to Physicalism, Mental Processes = Brain Processes.  Recall the arguments against dualism.
        • There is no evidence of neurological anomalies; the brain is governed by the laws of physics.  (In other words, there are no neurological gaps as would be expected on dualism.)
      2. Note: Even Property Dualisms Admit That Behavior is Governed Solely By the Brain!
    3. Conclusion 1: Therefore, Human Actions are Determined.
      1. If the universe is governed by deterministic laws and we are part of the universe, then we are governed by deterministic laws.
      2. Importantly, our brain is governed by deterministic laws and human action is determined by brain activity.
      3. Brain activity is governed by interaction of genetic endowment, environmental stimuli (prior and current), and the laws of physics and chemistry.  All of these process are deterministic.
      4. The Brain is an Organic Computer
        • The brain is governed by complex but determined programs.
        • The programs have potential for manipulation.  Consider the Sphex Wasp.  The Sphex Wasp exhibits behavior that looks complicated but isn't.  It kills its prey (a grasshopper), takes the grasshopper to the edge of its hole, checks the hole, then enters with the grasshopper.  This appears to be sophisticated behavior but the Sphex Wasp is really just following a program.  If you move the grasshopper away while the Sphex Wasp is checking the hole, it will drag the grasshopper back and check again.  It just follows a program.  In the same way, we are Sphexish though we follow more complex programs.
      5. Note: Determinism is Not the Same As Fatalism
        • Determinism=There is one path from x to n: x causes y which causes z which causes n.
        • Fatalism=There are many paths from x to the fated event n: x could go via y and z to n, or via a and b to n, or via c and d to n, etc.
    4. Conclusion 2: Therefore, We Aren't Really Free.
      1. According to Hard Determinism, freedom requires the ability to do otherwise (given certain background conditions).
      2. We lack the ability to do otherwise (because we are determined--see conclusion 1).
      3. Therefore, we aren't free.  Freedom is an illusion (like a train that thinks it "chooses" to go down a certain path.)
    5. Conclusion 3: Therefore, We Don't Have Moral Responsibility
      1. Ought Implies Can
        • To say that you ought to do otherwise, we must assume that you can do otherwise.
        • Determinism denies that you can do otherwise.  (See Conclusion 2)
        • Therefore, it is wrong to say that you ought to do otherwise.
      2. Responsibility Requires Freedom
        • Comparing Different Cases: Psychopath vs. Stroke Victim
        • Suppose that a car swerves to hit children waiting for a bus.  If it swerves because the driver is a psychopath and wants to harm children, then we hold him morally responsible because he was free to do otherwise.  If it swerves because the driver has a stroke, then we do not hold him morally responsible because he was not free to do otherwise.
Citation: Ramsey, W. (2006, September 19). Lecture 13 Notes. Retrieved April 23, 2014, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.nd.edu/philosophy/introduction-to-philosophy-1/lectures/lecture-13-notes.
Copyright 2012, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License