What Theory Best Explains Moral Responsibility
In the past, asking the question: what theory best explains moral responsibility? I think we could get mostly theoretical answers. When getting theoretical answers, we get a conceptual framework based on facts and experiences (Henslin, 2011). In the case of philosophy and moral responsibility, I think we get a theory more based on experience alone, human experience. If we look at descriptions of positions on hard-determinism, libertarianism or compatibilism we get descriptions of a person’s experiences, describing what they think to be the case for morality, freedom and determinism. These answers are reasonable because what else do we have to go off? Studying morals and human freedom is not easy. Compatibilism is the best explanation for the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom and determinism. It is the most comprehensive in including the undeniable fact that both a determined mind and a state of human freedom and morals exist.
Determinism is real; if you sit down and ask yourself why you did something and think about it, you can probably find a few previous causes for your behavior. From our text the determinists argument is that every event is causally determined (Lawhead, 2013). Additionally, human thoughts, choices and actions are events (Lawhead, 2013). Therefore, human thought, choice and action are causally determined (Lawhead, 2013). To deny this would be to deny universal causation, which can easily be proved by physicists, evolutionary biologists and psychologists. For example, if you get divorced, a psychologist would ask, and most likely find that your parents had been divorced and their parents had been divorced (Henslin, 2011).To deny this and say that we were free to divorce would be to say that humans, for some reason, are the exception in all of nature and that something about humans are overtly special and possibly even divine. This is fine, many theists say God has given us free will. We cannot prove this though. Determinism is real and is an important part of being compatible with human life studies.
Free will is “real” too. Free will and determinism exist side by side, therefore Libertarianism is incorrect. For example, although Jean-Paul Sartre puts up a good case for what it is like to be human and what we believeto be free-will, he points out a case for determinism in his Being and Nothingness. In the first sentence from our text, Sartre says: “Thus, there are no accidents in life;” (Lawhead, 2011) this is a fine way of saying that our choices are solid ones and since we “choose” to make them, then there can be no accidents, if it seems as one; it is the result of our choice, that we chose. I think this is a fair analysis. From this self- analysis, I will go onto support determinism. If there are no accidents because we have made a choice, then have we not determined something? Sartre uses such drastic examples of choice like those between war or suicide (Lawhead, 2011). Surely these choices require a high level of decision making but they also represent strong causes acting on an individual. Why would an individual choose war over suicide? One, because they care for their nation and their patriots. Another cause would be, they don’t want to die; this is a trait of evolution and our innate will to survive. This is a genetic cause that can be traced back millions of years, if not more. The rest of this passage by Sartre goes on much the same way, spilling numerous causes for his choice to go to war; they include: inertia, cowardice in face of public opinion, values, and even more blatant a cause as family’s opinion (Lawhead, 2011). Sartre continues in this fashion, beautifully describing the what it is like being human, a complex and free experience indeed. Libertarianism is incorrect however because it denies determinism. As humans, free will is real; nature and time let us have that. The causes of our choices are too vast to say otherwise; especially when we are rightin the midst.
The true nature of moral responsibility is that it exists. We can break down the human experience to its very fundamental sense, i.e. determinism; but the fact that we are even conflicting over the existence of morals means that they do in fact exist. If they didn’t then there would be no conflict here. Morals exist just as much as our free will does. Compatibilism does the best job of defining the true nature of moral responsibility as it applies to free will and determinism. The reason is that compatibilism sets up a system for free will and determinism to work together. In result, we place moral responsibility on individuals. From our text, compatibilists one: believe that we are determined and two: that these determinations are internal to an agent and when we act from these internal determinations we are doing so voluntarily and freely (Lawhead, 2011). The police officer beating the man to do something is a mark against his morals; he is to blame. His free will caused another’s to be infringed upon. Morals exists even if we are to say from perspective points that Hitler killing millions was right to him and Mother Theresa helping millions was wrong to Hitler, those are still morals based on perception. They exist and compatibilists are right in finding a place for them next to our determined lives.
Compatibilism describes the nature of moral responsibility in relation to free will and determinism best; obviously, it finds room for both. Science undeniably supports determinism. We are, until further notice, determined at least to some extent. With the help of a scientific board of analysis of any individual, we may find this even truer than most would think. We are also free, although we are determined, our determinations are internal and represent ourselves and thus, to avoid conflict or lack of order, we must be held morally responsible, even if we are being held responsible for robot behaviors we cannot control, we must be blamed or praised for our robot, rewarded or jailed. Morals exist and they have arisen out of a need to form order between more sophisticated animals.
Lawhead, W. (2011) A Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach, McGraw Hill, NY
Henslin, J. (2013) Essentials of Sociology: A Down to Earth Approach, Pearson, NJ
Baumeister, R. (et al.) (2016) The New Science of Morality, Edge Seminar, Edge, https://www.edge.org/event/the-new-science-of-morality