If you are a strict determinist, what is your stance on personal responsibility?

There are some lively discussions on determinism (every effect has a cause and every cause an effect - or something like that) that end up with the idea that 'free will' is an illusion.

Not to get to far into it here (because we will - oh, we will) but, basically, since every event (action) that occurs is simply the result of a previous event, at some level, everything is predetermined by what happened before. And, it follows that, on an absolute level, everything is absolutely predetermined. Therefore, even our thoughts and choices are the result of some precursory string of cause and effect. Therefore, we have no real free will.

So, given that line of thinking, does it follow that we have no personal responsibility for our actions since we had no real control over them?


In an effort to reframe this disussion, make continuing discussion more digestible (smaller chunks), and help everyone who wishes to continue to take another stab at organizing the various poistions in their minds (so to speak, I am closing this discussion - in one hour. It is now approximately 10 am est U.S.) At 11 I will close the discussion and link to the new one I have started if that works.
I am now closing this discussion - go to http://www.atheistnexus.org/forum/topics/the-illusion-of-responsibi... for a new take.

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One could argue that philosophical determinism is true, but that practical determinism can't be fully encompassed by sentience, and that's where free will kicks in. I, for one, don't see determinism and free will as incompatible. Although pure fatalism and free will certainly are.
practical determinism can't be fully encompassed by sentience

Very true, Jaume. As you've pointed out in the past, we do not have the benefit of complete awareness, therefore our understanding will be incomplete as well. I don't see this as reason to suggest that the causes aren't there. This is what science does- closes the gaps in understanding.

I don't understand how free will can exist outside of the deterministic system that we're a part of. Maybe the Searle video will help. Here's something from the Wikipedia page on Searle:

First, he argues that reasons don't cause you to do anything, because having sufficient reason wills (but doesn't force) you to do that thing. So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions. For example, when we decide to vote, we do not simply determine that we care most about economic policy and that we prefer candidate Jones's economic policy. We also have to make an effort to cast our vote. Similarly, every time a guilty smoker lights a cigarette they are aware of succumbing to their craving, not merely of acting automatically as they do when they exhale. It is this gap that makes us think we have freedom of the will. Searle thinks whether we really have free will or not is an open question, but considers its absence highly unappealing because it makes the feeling of freedom of will an epiphenomenon, which is highly unlikely from the evolutionary point of view given its biological cost. He also says that all rational activity presupposes free will.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Searle
I'll try to look at the video this evening.
So in any decision situation we experience a gap between our reasons and our actions.

I'm convinced this is the case with our illusion of free will. There are many factors that lead to decisions or actions - moral convictions, societal constrants, economic considerations , emotional content, self preservation and etc. All of these factors play into the ultimate action, however, the sorting process occurs at such speed we don't preceive the gap between the presentation of the option and the choice we make. That gap is where the free will illusion occurs.
oh no absolutely not.

Some psychological ideas/studies for you consider and to look up:

Operant conditioning, Classical conditioning, the Nature/nurture debate.

Read up on all three of those, apply them to determinism, and what you have is psychological science that there is no such thing as free in the human mind bar the idea of souls.
that really doesnt matter. even if we can't prove all things are from determinism, there is more proof of determinism than, say, evolution and there is absolutely no shred of evidence for the contrary theory.

do you believe in evolution? of course! we can't have been there to see all of them evolve one by one though. we have tons of evidence and even though there are factors (transitional fossils) not yet discovered in certain family trees, we have enough evidence to assume a relative fact.

now, we have no evidence of anything like...say... a sudden bang of animals exactly the way they are today to imply creationsim. this is much like choice.

we have tons of evidence to support determinism and although we can't know everything, there is evidence for it. Just like proving the heliocentric theory negates the geocentric theory (exclusive opposites) it is absolutely nearly 100% safe to assume that determinism rules out the mutal exclusive of free will in the material world.

make sense?
there is more proof of determinism

You can't prove determinism any more than you can prove materialism, optimism or existentialism. It's not a scientific theory, it's a philosophical stance.

we have tons of evidence to support determinism and although we can't know everything, there is evidence for it.

We also have tons of evidence for what you call the illusion of free will (whatever that means), and we can't fully explain that 'illusion' in deterministic terms - that was my point. Of course you can still dismiss free will on deterministic grounds, but that's not the same thing.
We also have tons of evidence for what you call the illusion of free will (whatever that means), and we can't fully explain that 'illusion' in deterministic terms - that was my point. Of course you can still dismiss free will on deterministic grounds, but that's not the same thing.

Then there are scientists that claim to have found the part of the brain where free will "resides". That's about as ironic as it gets.
It is the ability to see (more like imagine) the consequences of our actions which give the appearance or illusion of choice. But the vision we see as a consequence is part of the domain of determinism, brought there by past experience, thus giving the illusion of choice.

Personal responsibility is thus in the domain of determinism.
Only the illusion of personal responsibility.
I don't think I'll ever come to a concrete decision as to whether or not 'free will' exists.
And I'm beginning to seriously doubt it, because it doesn't make logical sense to me.

HOWEVER, on the contrary- and this could even be seen as a little hypocritical- it honestly suits me that the world operates as if free will DID exist, and that people assume personal responsibility.


So, for instance, there is a murderer. And, due to my experiences and the chemicals in MY brain, prefer the concept of life, over that of death. This is subjective, but a majority of the world holds the same preference, and many deem it a 'value' of theirs. While, assuming Free Will doesn't exist, the murderer's actions are a result of causes and effect, and I therefore can't BLAME him/her, I'm still consolled by the fact that the murderer is restrained from murdering others, as I prefer the concept of life over that of death.


So no- I suppose, were there no free will, personal responsibility couldn't exist. But, that doesn't mean that consequences for particular actions, predetermined or not, have no place in life.
No. But, if there is no randomness (which is what saying 'every cause leads to an effect and every effect becomes a cause' basically sets out) then, ultimately, everything is set and your 'preference' isn't significant because it is simply the result of a system of cause and effect, and the 'consequences' are of no consequence - there of sequence, and the murderer is or is not restrained depending on the preset chain of causation - unaffected by anything other than what was preordained by the causal chain ... etc.

However, I mentioned before - if you ARE a determinist - life is like watching a movie. One frame leads inexorably to another in a predetermined fashion, but, since we don't know what happens next, and while we appear to be interacting with it, we can enjoy the ride.

And don't let anyone tell you I'm conflating determinism with fatalism. I don't believe we are outside of the overall system. Causes and effects operate through us as well. But we do not affect outcomes - we are simply part of a causal chain, shuffled into the deck with the rest of the cards - unless there is nonsense somewhere in the mix.
Causes and effects operate through us as well...

We are ourselves the sum of our genetics and experience.

But we do not affect outcomes...

We most definitely are causes affecting outcomes. As you correctly state, we are not outside of the "overall system". We are both cause and effect.

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