Soft-determinism


compatibalism

SECTION TWO: THE CASE FOR SOFT-DETERMINISM.

Well, if you're like me, you don't want to be fixed or junked, especially through brain-washing and neuro-surgery. Of course, the hard-determinist will say that, "These methods are the most efficient and produce the desired ends quickly, and since there is no such thing as moral responsibility, only causal responsibility is left. As androids who desire the best world, we should be willing to be reprogrammed or fixed for the good of society and ourselves." But, do you buy this argument? Scares me. There's got to be some way to get moral responsibility back into the picture so that we aren't left with the "fix-it" horrors of hard-determinism.

The soft-determinist attempts to do just that, make determinism and moral responsibility compatible. Here's how he argues.

1. Determinism is compatible with a specific meaning of freedom.

Determinism is true. Everything is determined by antecedent causal events. What occurs now is determined by past events.

Moral responsibility is a usable social concept. It has social worth as a principle of regulating behavior.

Words can have meaning and refer to something in the world or to a fictional item. For example the word 'unicorn' has meaning, but does not refer to an existing thing, whereas 'apple' does. The word 'freedom' has meaning, but doesn't refer to an indeterminate mysterious power called free-will. Rather, 'freedom' or 'free-will' has meaning through reference to a type of deliberation that goes on in the agent who does the action. Again, there is no thing or power called free-will; 'free-will' does not refer to any power which is other than or separate from the determinate powers of the universe.

When someone says he has made a free-will choice, he means that his choice is determined, but refers to a process that we would want to say is a free. A choice which is free meets the following conditions: a, the agent knows that he is doing the choosing; b, he has deliberated over the options of choice; c, he was not coerced internally or externally by causes which would force him to choose one option over others; and d, he made the choice given his criteria of making a choice --his criteria led him to choose this particular option over the others.

Thus, by a "free-choice" is meant that the above processes occurred. The choice was determined by antecedent factors, the criteria used by the agent to pick the option were determined but, so what? The fact that the agent made his choice through his deliberations is precisely what is meant by "free-choice." That being the case, the agent can be open to moral critique.

Consider the following example. I decide to make a spelling mistake in this sentince. I made the mistake under the following conditions. I knew what I was doing. I was not coerced by anyone to make the error, nor was I compelled by some psychological disease to pick out "sentence" and intentionally misspell it. I typed the error having deliberated over whether to do it or not. I decided that such an example would be a good one. Given the preceding list, this process is precisely what we mean when we say someone did something of his own free-will. We refer to the events involved in the decision and action, all of which were strictly determined.

2. Even though determinism is true, there is moral responsibility.

What the soft-determinist says is that we should not worry so much about whether or not some sort of magical indeterminate power of free-will exists, but whether the term 'free-will' has a useful meaning. And, says the soft-determinist, it does. What it means is everything that we ordinarily mean when we refer to the process of choosing among options. A person is said to have made a free-choice and is morally responsible for his action when he has complied with all the conditions of free-choice. He has deliberated over the options. He is not coerced internally or externally; no one or thing forces him to choose one option over another. And, he makes the choice given the criteria that are his own. When all those conditions in making a choice are met, that's what we mean by and refer to in making a free-choice. Of course, the outcome of choice is determined by the criteria used by the agent, but those criteria belong to the agent. What else can we mean by making a free-choice except that we were not forced to choose one option and that we deliberated over the options using our own criteria? That being the case, we can hold people morally responsible for their actions. So, determinism and moral responsibility are compatible given this meaning of freedom. Soft-determinists, needless to say, are often called "compatibalists."

So, to review. Determinism is true. All events are determined, including the processes in our brains that end in decisions. Moral responsibility is a meaningful and useful concept; it is true. But, there is no such thing as free-will in the sense that something different could have happened than it did. Our choices are our own, but they are determined by the way we are "set-up."

"Look," the soft determinist says. "Basically human beings are organic robots with hardware that is programmed through various experiences and the way the hardware (brains and nervous systems) is (genetically) set up to deal with those experiences. Hardware and software are in a way unique to a person --no one is genetically identical to another person, but have many universal, shall we say components. (Brains are like PCs; though the motherboards are different, they process the information in similar ways.) How our organic hardware deals with stimuli and is changed by the stimui, creates the OS of the person. So, a person makes his/her own decisions, but they are the result of the way his OS ,up to that moment, deals with (and is modified by) stimuli. A choice through deliberation is the output of the person's OS. And that output is determined, just as the output of the words I am typing is determined. But, since I am doing the typing, I make the choices. Those choices have moral relevance because they meet the conditions of what we mean by 'free choice.' Yes, I'm an android and, again, my choice is determined by my OS, but as my choice, I am morally responsible for it. Yet, that's okay, for that's what we mean by making a free-choice."

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