I will be concerned with the problem of determinism and free will. In particular, I will be addressing Ayer’s argument that we cannot be held morally responsible for our actions. Ayer’s argument can be summarised as:
P1. All human actions are governed by causal laws, or they are not.
P2. If they are, then they are necessary.
P3. If they are not, then they must occur by chance.
P4. If they occur by chance, we are not acting freely.
C. We cannot act freely. (Ayer 1963, 255)
I will argue that P2 and P3 are problematic as they do not acknowledge alternative positions on the subject. I will weaken his thesis by establishing the plausibility of compatibilism and libertarianism. I hold that we are morally responsible for our actions.
In this paper, I will firstly adopt a compatibilist stance. Compatibilists hold that freedom is possible in a deterministic world. Adopting this conception of freedom will refute P2. I will secondly argue the plausibility of libertarianism. Libertarians believe that we are free agents and that the universe is not wholly deterministic. The issue of determinism and free will is important because it deals with the moral responsibility of our actions. Van Inwagen implied that free will will forever remain a metaphysical mystery (Van Inwagen 1998, 374). With this in mind, my endeavour will be a cautious one. I will not set out to prove anything; rather I will establish the possibilities of my theories. I will begin the discussion by introducing soft determinism.
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Subscribing to soft determinism will attack Ayer’s premise that determinism is not compatible with freedom. He assumes an incompatibilist stance by stating causal laws nullify freedom. An incompatibilist stance is one that asserts free will cannot exist in a deterministic world. I hold that by ignoring compatibilism, he has left P2 vulnerable. I will expose this by validating the possibility of compatibilism. This inquiry will be driven by Hume’s notion of soft determinism, as I believe it to be the most prominent compatibilist argument.
Hume holds that freedom is possible in a deterministic world. He challenged his contemporary philosophers, believing they laid in a “labyrinth of obscure sophistry” (Hume 1748, 54). He believed part of the dispute stemmed from a common misunderstanding between determinists and libertarians. This could be resolved by marrying the two factions together. To be free, he argued, we require necessity (Hume, 66). A common view of liberty is the cessation of an act neither being caused nor necessitated. I find this grossly problematic. If an act is not determined, it is merely an act of randomness. By rejecting necessity, Libertarians are inflicting self-harm. If our actions were not determined, they could only have been derived from chance (Hume, 66). To Hume, this is a fatal flaw in libertarianism.
While rejecting liberty, Hume also attacks hard determinism. He proposes that freedom should be defined as unimpeded actions that are guided by our desires. Even though our desires are determined, they are caused by our desires (Hume, 66). Acts are effects of will, thus we are morally responsible for willing the determined acts. This is contrary to Taylor (1963 43) who states that we should not be held responsible for our acts, as we could have willed differently. In short, we are free agents because we are free to act in the confines of determinism. If we grant Hume’s concept of freedom, P2 of Ayer’s argument can be rejected. The difficulty, however, is establishing how this weakened form of freedom permits moral responsibility. I will now critically assess criticisms to Humean compatibilism.
Critics will contend that Hume’s conception of free will negates moral necessity. This view is widespread among incompatibilists (i.e. hard determinists and libertarians). They hold that freedom cannot suffice in a deterministic world. Granted determinism is true; our freedom is confined to a fate which we cannot avoid. We are free to act, but not to choose. For example, I fed my dog at 6:00pm tonight because of the antecedent variables that guided my decision at 6:00pm. What if, however, I asked myself at 6:00 “my mind is telling me to feed the dog now, but I will deliberately feed her at 6:01, as to avoid making a determined choice”? If I did that, it would have already been antecedently calculated into the determined variables in guiding my decision.
Hard determinists also like to ascribe a logical precondition to determinism. If a past event showed Þ â†’ x, then Þ was always to be x (Aristotle Accessed 8/9/2010). This is like saying as I fed my dog at 6:00pm; I was always going to feed her at 6:00pm. This outcome was true tonight, just as it was true millennia ago or millennia from now. Looking back, granted determinism is true, was I still free even though it was logically impossible for me to feed her at different time? Hume would argue that the decision at 6:00pm was an act of the will, therefore I did have freedom. Conversely, it seems irresistible to attack the fact that I was inexplicably fated to act the way I did. Nonetheless, I hold that I acted freely at 6:00pm.
I will argue that incompatibilists undermine the importance of freedom of actions. They do this by granting undeserved authority to freedom of choice. Freedoms of actions, I hold, are the main protagonists of free will. To establish this point I will go against the “external constraint” hypothesis found in many incompatibilist arguments. As Campbell puts it, a robot would not be held morally responsible for its actions (Campbell 1957, 158). To him, the robot analogy is analogous to humans if determinism is true. This is because he believes necessity eliminates moral responsibility, because like robots, would be programmed to follow our antecedental path. I constructed this common incompatibilist argument as:
P1. Determinism is true
P2. If P1, all outcomes are products of antecedental causes
P3. If P2, there is no freedom of choices
P4. For moral responsibility to exist there must be freedom of choices
C. There is no moral responsibility if determinism is true
While this argument seems plausible, I believe that it is ignorant.
Moral responsibility does not require the freedom of choices. It is problematic to ascribe this precondition to free will. The term “freedom of choice” looks to be an appealing prerequisite for free will but it is really quite a mischievous term. This term negates necessity, as the causal function would be disproved. Without necessity, the only plausible output is chance. Compared with necessity, chance is a far less consistent foundation to build moral responsibility. With determinism, our actions are based on our willings. Without determinism, our actions are based on randomness. This is why I hold P4 to be fallacious. I stand with Hume in the view that determinism actually privileges freedom. Proving it plausible to reject Ayer’s argument on P2, I will now attack P3. Interestingly, the villains in this previous passage are now the heroes. I will be concerned with the arguments for liberty.
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Ayer states that if human actions are not causally determined, then they must occur by chance (P3). Libertarians contend this by arguing that the universe is not wholly deterministic, thus there is a margin for freedom to exist. The difficulty, however, is establishing how there is a mechanism of freedom which operates in this margin. As Ayer implies, outcomes can only be a product of either necessity or chance (Ayer, 255). If we reject this, we must find a different input altogether. This input must be plausible and a source of responsibility. Though this seems like a daunting task, some have heroically taken this path.
Libertarians hold that the world is not wholly deterministic. They also believe that Þ did not have to x. It is not because of chance that Þ did not have to x, but because of an effort of the will. Campbell coined the term “moral effort” in establishing that Þ does not always x (Campbell, 164). These inner acts, which are needed to extrapolate moral effort, are based on first-person experiences. Furthermore, they are derived from conscious awareness. According to Campbell, some situations necessitate moral effort. For example, if I told my mother a lie about my whereabouts last Saturday night, this would constitute an act dictated by my inner self. This is because I am theoretical agent as I am a practical one (Campbell, 169). Taking this approach, however, is questionable. Campbell also claims we only need a small metaphysical niche to obtain free will. This claim is also open for scepticism. I will deal with these objections next.
One possible criticism of Campbell is how he distinguishes practical beings from theoretical ones. Using my lying analogy, the determinist could reject this by stating that the antecedental conditions made me lie. There was no need for me to possess a “theoretical” cognitive capacity. The determinist would argue that the reflective sense-making can be explained via antecedental means. This objection, however, is taken from a third-person stance. Campbell could respond by claiming that my decision was an act of my inner self, and only I could comprehend the moral effort contained in the act. There is no evidence to support Campbell but there are also no grounds to refute him on through empirical means. When I told the lie, I was the “sole author,” and, according to Campbell, I am the sole reader too (Campbell, 159). His claim that free will can be verified by a metaphysical entity is also debatable. Even if we grant the existence of such a thing, how could it escape predetermination and chance? And why should we exhort moral effort rather than withhold it? Campbell concedes that the nature of making choices is inexplicable (Campbell, 169). The mysterious nature that he ascribes to choice is quite useful. Although Campbell’s argument is far from imposable, it is quite tricky to dismiss entirely. It’s resistance to scientific scrutiny is why it can be deemed plausible at the very least. This being said, P3 of Ayer’s argument is certainly disputable.
In conclusion, it can be seen that P2 and P3 of Ayer’s argument are open to objection. We have observed that compatibilism contends Ayer’s premise that necessity diminishes freedom. From a Humean perspective, we saw that the concept of freewill was actually privileged by existence of necessity. This was because the view of freedom without necessity was seen to be unintelligible. By redefining freedom, we can see how free will can exist in a deterministic world. Contrary to popular belief, I argued that this revised concept of freedom was not undermined in any significant way. This is because “freedom of choice” is an overrated and problematic phenomenon. My second attack was on Ayer’s premise that necessity and chance are the only possible inputs for outcomes. Guided by Campbell’s view of libertarianism, I established the possibility of actions being guided by my inner consciousness. This inexplicable concept is embellished in a mysterious metaphysical nature, which is difficult to comprehend. While the determinist may contend that these “inner acts” are really forecasted acts, it is possible that I am also a theoretical being thus I evade the principles of physicality. While it has been observed that both my endeavours were conflicting one another, my aim was to undermine Ayer’s argument by any means necessary. If we grant the plausibility of these theories, we grant the plausibility of moral responsibility.
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