I know this has been discussed before, but I have read Sam Harris' book Free Will and Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain, and I must say that I agree with both authors. Studies show that our brains make a decision on an unconscious level three tenths of a second and sometimes more before we even consciously know we're going to act. To take a short quote from Shermer's book: "The neural activity that precedes the intention to act is inaccessible to our conscious mind, so we experience a sense of free will. But it is an illusion, caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our intention to act".
I'd argue the distinction between ethical action and ethical responsibility. I think we need to prevent people from certain types unethical action for the sake of others and society - but that doesn't mean they are "ethically responsible" in the sense that they are "blameworthy" or "deserving" in any way that suggests they could have done otherwise.
This type of responsibility is the type we assign to a rabid dog or a hurricane. Yes, we need to pinpoint the rabid dog or hurricane, and if we can prevent or mitigate against the dangers of such we can. But I don't think anyone places ethical responsibility on either. That is not to say they are not "responsible" in the sense of being the "body" that causes the problem.
Is someone with a brain tumor causing them to act unethically "responsible" when they do -- in the sense we think? They are only in that we should still prevent them from such an act, regardless if they are not "ethically responsible" after the fact. ;-)
How are we responsible for our particular "subjective awareness" when it could not have been differently than what it is? :)
It differentiates us, but not to a degree of being more "ethically" responsible (we don't assign ethical responsibilities to calculators even if one messes up and gives us the wrong response which happens to cause some tragedy)
If I have a chip in my brain that is being controlled by a scientists. The scientist is able to change the chemistry and spark various parts of my brain to choose X over Y. I'm entirely aware of my choice and I feel as though I'm making the choice of X over Y. Rather, however, it is the chip that is causing that particular "awareness" and that particular "response for X over Y.
The appeal to awareness is what guides Jeremy Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation, when he argues for four aspects in the consideration of legal punishment. This is undoubtedly based on an ethical consideration, since Bentham is a Utilitarian. This is almost universally believed, as evidenced by the insanity defense or the difference between first degree and manslaughter that exists in most legal codes. Awareness is the factor in morality: the reason we don't assign ethical responsibilities to calculators is because calculators lack awareness; if calculators had some kind of agency to produce wrong answers by its own purpose, then it would be held morally responsible.
Note that this agency does not rely on free will, in the sense that the calculator had a choice between alternative actions, because free will, in this sense, does not exist. The calculator is logically caused to act, and it is awareness of the act that gives it responsibility.
If we accept that free will doesn't exist, then we must accept that human consciousness is determined by external forces (even if said external forces themselves are uncaused) to our control. Thus, we should either concede that no human can be morally responsible, or that morality isn't a function of choice. If you had a chip implanted in your brain, and maintained full awareness of your actions, then we should logically conclude that you possess either full moral responsibility, or partial on account of the scientists. Actually, these two are practically the same, because if a person only takes partial responsibility due to being caused, then no one can ever take full responsibility for anything.
Einstein was a hard determinist, but at the same time he believed that we should act as though we had free will. That society should behave as it has been, and that we should still punish people for their misdeeds in order to have... Well, "control" is not the word I'm looking for, obviously, but to not give way to complete chaos, anarchy, etc.
Of course, I don't think anyone would deny that socieities are in need of some heavy reformation and perhaps even a little anarchy could be a good thing, maybe.
So, there seems to be a way to reconcile these points-of-view when it comes to managing a society. Just because everything is determined doesn't mean we should act according to determinism and say, "Okay, this person obviously had no control of this act of murder, it was determined therefore this immoral act requires no punishment." We could still act as though we have free will, while still maintaining the truth that we do not (if you grant that determinism is truly the case, for the sake of argument).
If you are proposing "punishment" in some retributive sense I'd disagree. If we are looking at the utility of creating deterrence I agree.
I disagree with Einstein if he believed we should act as if we had free will. The idea of free will has caused great harms in the world. It grants people a pass to allow for large inequalities and point to people as being "deserving" or "to blame" for where they are in life and what they do. When people believe they and others could have done otherwise, a whole slew of important topics get embedded with this false notion of free will. Everything from our society, economics, criminal system, religion, ethics, how we think about and treat others, and so on are effected by this falsehood - and not in a good way.
So though we "could" still act as though we have free will or we "could" still act as if the god of the bible was real...it would be better if we change our thinking on these matters. Or that's how I see it.
Well, I think Einstein's point is what you initially typed here in this post. It's punishment not in the retributive sense, but in the utility of creating deterrence. In other words, we must as act as though one does possess "free will" to not abdicate responsibility for one's actions.
Otherwise, if we tried to build a philosophy purely around determinism, then obviously one's misdeed would not be seen as their doing. And so, of course, we couldn't pour responsibility towards their action. In other words, a murderer would go unpunished if we purely looked at it from a deterministic perspective. Ramesh Balsekar gives an interesting example, and I'll post it below.
Otherwise, if we tried to build a philosophy purely around determinism, then obviously one's misdeed would not be seen as their doing.
I don't think we need to see it as "their doing" to recognize that they are an important part of the cause that creates the output of the misdeed. If we could incarcerate hurricanes we would, even if there were other factors that caused the hurricane. ;-)
In other words, a murderer would go unpunished if we purely looked at it from a deterministic perspective.
The only reason to create punishment, even for murderers - is to deter people from the act. Even if they don't deserve punishment, another person doesn't deserve to be a victim of such. It's with that understanding that we should incarcerate, rehabilitate, and perhaps punish (to prevent further harm to other people who don't deserve to be a victim)....and that is looking at it entirely from a deterministic perspective (cause - effect).