Thursday, November 20, 2014

Determinism, Fatalism, and Libertarian Free Will

Victor Reppert says:
Soft determinism is still determinism. And it's really not a different type of determinism. It is, rather, drawing different conclusions from determinism, or rather, not drawing the conclusion that we are not free and not morally responsible for our actions.
Despite the awkward wording, Victor is quite correct. Determinism (regardless of whether you call it soft determinism) does not imply either a lack of freedom or a lack of moral responsibility.

Freedom must be understood in the sense that we make our own deliberative choices, without having our hands forced or our options limited.  So we are free to choose one way or the other, but the deliberative process is still influenced by the history of events that has led up to the moment - our experiences and propensities, what we know and what what we feel.  This may be regarded as our own nature, which is unique to each person.  All those influencing factors guide us through the deliberation, whether or not we are aware of it.  Determinism is simply the acknowledgment that there is causation.  Like everything else, our thoughts and choices are caused by something.  Freedom means we are free to act in accordance with our own nature.  Libertarian free will, on the other hand, implies the denial of causality for our thoughts and actions.

Given that we make our own choices, we are responsible for those choices.  Those choices have consequences, and they become part of the matrix of causality that determines future events.  If we make a bad choice, it has bad consequences.  I think many people believe that determinism implies a lack of responsibility because they confuse determinism with fatalism. 

Fatalism is the incoherent notion that the choices we make don't matter.  It is the belief that outcomes are fixed, and we can make no choice that will change what is predestined.  This is obviously false.  Everything we do has some effect on future events.  That's causation.  Fatalism, like libertarian free will, denies causation.  Both are incoherent.

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