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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I do not see as 'illusion of free will" is interchangeable with 'illusion of god'. But I actually outlined the parallel with Pascal myself.

I actually believe that the idea of "God" precludes free will as much as determinism does - just in a different way. After all - if god is omniscient, omnipresent, and all powerful - then god is, ultimately, responsible for everything that happens - regardless of the circular logic that many Christians babble on about the subject.

True free will would require true nonsense to exist. Both theism (ironically) and determinism prohibit the existence of nonsense. The first because god is 'perfect' and the 'originator of all' and the second because 'everything leads to what follows and follows what led to it.'

This is not a cost/benefit analysis. Indeed, there may be great comfort in NOT having free will as there may be distress in the idea that something could happen for no reason whatsoever. I am not advocating a position - I am exploring possibilities.

So, to paraphrase - the determinist does NOT take personal responsibility for his actions because he HAS NO REAL CHOICE as to the actions he takes.
sure... you could say that. Think of it like, say, a christian would say someone is a 'messenger of god.'

If you are the messenger of god, your message is not your own. You are simply acting out of the will of someone else. However, you can still choose to feel good about responsibility if you want to. Feeling good about an accomplishment, well... feels good. It is an evolutionary trait too, so no use in destroying it completely.

Now, hate doesn't feel good. Grudges don't either. It is more comforting to know that the murderer can't help it than to think that that man is responsible. I think I might do something drastic or cruel in retaliation to that murderer if I wasn't balanced by the reasoning of determinism.

of course, with the knowledge of determinism, we still have to pick out how much we let it effect us. There's no point in looking at your child's proud face at an accomplishment and saying "eh... it's not much. you aren't responsible." treating him like this has new effects and starts to mimic fatalism.

Praise the good, ignore the bad. Praise makes the other feel good. Feeling good and maintaining the feeling throughout your life is one of our many impulses. Praise and feeling good has plenty of deterministic logical merit. What good are grudges and hate? well... perhaps they benefit us sometimes in small quantities, but too much of anything like that isn't good.
*sigh*, thank you... I struggled with explaining these themes a bit, but I haven't hit a lightbulb yet. Maybe you organized it in a more accessible way.
If Free Will is an illusion (which I heavily suspect barring any future evidence in the realm of quantum physics to the contrary), it is an illusion I am happy to take part in. Self Responsibility is my creed and my law. ^_^
ah, but that's where you misunderstand if i get you right. I have a different take.

When people engage in devious behavior fully aware of the consequences, they aren't responsible at all. It's not their fault. They should not be "punished" in the revenge sense of the word.

Something has happened. Someone was murdered. No use crying over spilt milk. No choice was involved.

However, punishment should be enforced because other potential murderers will view the behavior and will make their own decisions based on the knowledge that punishment will be enforced.

Punishment should be meant to be a deterrent of future crimes, not a revenge for past actions where the murder is treated like he is at fault.
um... well first we have psychological studies, and since I don't want to find them, just think about it!!!

We use the anticipation of consequences to deter our actions. Ever not taken that extra helping of desert because "oh... I'll get fat...?" Ever not...say... had a party when your parents were gone because "oh... what if they find out? I'll get punished this way..." That is the best reason that you would go to work: because if you don't, you fear the penalty of poverty.

How you teach your kids and, indeed, how society teaches its individuals how to stay in line is a fine line between the seeking of rewards and the fear of punishment. There are PLENTY of studies on that. You shouldn't have any problems finding one. Wiki "Operant conditioning." You'll learn all you need to know.

Our experiences with punishment in the past gives us reason to believe that if we step out of line, if we go too far, there WILL be consequences. I don't think there's any arguing with that. You have a sexual urge? you don't rape the woman because of the consequences of the law and of your moral code that would make you feel guilty for hurting another person.

The proof is right there in your own mind if you look at it. You can go look for a study if you want.

Um... I support a government that penalizes murderers. I don't know about you. If I have any serious problems with the government, I'll loudly voice my opinions and if it fails to represent my interests, I'll move.
there is risk analysis in all punishment.

everything you do is an "is it worth it?" factor.

obviously those who break the laws/norms/punishment systems either take a risk analysis and figure that they won't get caught or decide that the punishment is worth it.

why do you speed? would you speed if you KNEW a cop was there? obviously not. would you eat that cake if you didn't care if you got unhealthy? obviously you would.

risk assessment and 'is it worth it?" make sense?

for the scientist, their pursuit of knowledge was worth the risk of death and/or persecution.

also you can't rule out the unintelligent decisions. obviously they just have no cause except retarded lapse in judgement due to peer pressure, underanticipating consequences, etc etc.
I'm not sure if I'm getting this right but isn't it more important to note that we as humans do not have the capacity to fully observe a deterministic chain of events so far as to satisfy that determinism is true to every unique situation in the whole of reality? Certainly believing in cause and effect is basic science and a good way to get to the bottom of any problem.

To me this is a little like asking what does air taste like? If we breath in through our mouths we can just barely get an idea of what sort of tastes are in the air but our taste buds allow us only a very limited experience. In the same way our minds can search out and find cause and effect, through both effort and instinct but no matter how smart we are we'll never see one billionth of these chains in our lifetimes.

In essence, we percieve our own will and on some level recognize that many things are beyond our control. I percieve life changing when I chose to conduct myself differently and this alters life for other people in a spectacular variety of ways. Reverting to previous behavior yeilds very similar results achieved previously and so I percieve a free will.
Just to put this one this page - Johhny and I hashed it out pretty well - if determinism is right, it doesn't matter what we understand. Whether we can taste the air or not, a storm will come tomorrow or it won't - but it will surely come when it comes because the dominoes are falling and the 'die is cast'. The deck is shuffled and all the cards are in order - because they are 'ordered' by previous causes which were once previous effects.

So, on an absolute level - you are going to do what determinism determined you will do - not what you determined you will do. Therefore, regardless of what you can parse about the absolute picture, you will do exactly what the multi-linear chain of cause and effects determines you will do. It cannot be altered.

However, because you can't see this absolute picture and can't be 100% sure there are no nonsense events (causeless effects, causeless causes, or events without effect) - then we act as if our choices aren't already set in stone - even if they are.

Only the existence of nonsense events would allow the 'wiggle room' for even the smallest amount of free will. And nonsense events cannot be tested for. If we ever see an event that doesn't appear to have a cause, we will automatically decide we simply didn't see the cause, not that there wasn't one. Both atheists and theists have this problem - the 'before the big bang' or 'before god' problem. Even the 'steady state' or 'god is eternal' answers are simply an end around the nonsense problem.
now, even the existence of nonsense events can not justify free will.

I'm not sure how other determinists came up with their theories, but I came up with mine by studying psychology. The only think I absolutely know so far in my limited study of Psychology and determinism is that there is no possible way that the human mind can act in a non-deterministic way. Everything that you do is a response to a stimulus based on previous stimuli and your genetics. If there is a truly random event in the universe, your mind would react to it still in a deterministic way. I’ll say again that determinism is a useful analysis only of the past based on experiences with it.

Even if (i don't know much about this) there were such things as random numbers, random occurances, etc. the mind would respond to these and react to them in a deterministic way. Everything. Everything that you do or think is a response to a stimulus based on your experience with past stimuli. I can't speak for random variables in the universe (another reason to reject fatalism) but I know for a fact that human psychology is absolutely deterministic. We are talking about choice here, not the universe. That's not my area of study.
Everything that you do or think is a response to a stimulus based on your experience with past stimuli. Except for those cases where the stimulus is something you haven't experienced before. Granted, these are probably rare because most stimuli are pretty similar to the other, recent stimuli but not necessarily. You will have a response because that's what S/R is all about; but there'e nothing to guarantee that your response is what that you've ever had before. And since the brain is only loosely a closed system, the response you have can act as another stimulus -- maybe yet another one you haven't experienced.
ok, good point. let's go ahead and put that in there.

something you haven't experienced before...say... a UFO?

when you haven't experienced something before, you still revert back to your animal instincts. you have had experiences in the past with 'new and strange' experiences and will act accordingly.

What do you do when you're investigating something new or strange? You are likely cautious, curious, and jumpy. These are all animalistic traits mixed with experience. When you were little, you trusted everything. Maybe one day you touched a hot stove and realized that you should be cautious with new things. This realization was likely reinforced throughout your life. You will react to the new and strange thing similarly.

If you don't learn from past experiences, you will trust everything and die. This is darwinism.

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