Thursday, November 12, 2009

Determinism and Necessity (Chapter 1.4)

Robert Kane asserts that the "free will problem" arose when human beings evolved enough to begin reflecting on the world and on themselves and their own behavior and came to realize that many factors influenced if not caused that behavior. This led to doctrines of physical, logical, theological, biological, psychological, social, and other kinds of determinism. But, says Kane, the "core idea" of all deterministic doctrines is:

An event (such as a choice or action) is determined when there are conditions obtaining earlier (such as the decrees of fate or the foreordaining acts of God or antecedent causes plus laws of nature) whose occurrence is a sufficient condition for the occurrence of the event. In other words, it must be the case that if these earlier determining conditions obtain, then the determined event will occur.

Kane points out that while determinism is "a kind of necessity," it is a "conditional necessity" in that a determined event is inevitable only if the proper conditions arise to determine it. For example, John did NOT have to go to Samarra no matter what the preceding conditions were. Had those conditions been different, he might have been determined by THEM to go to Damascus instead. But they were such that he was determined to go to Samarra.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Responsibility (Chapter 1.3)

In my previous entry we considered Robert Kane's preliminary analysis of freedom as it pertains to the free will vs. determinism issue or what we'll henceforth call the "free will problem." Today, let's see what Kane has to say about the notion of responsibility.

Kane writes that when we consider the free will problem, not only are we concerned with whether and to what degree people are free to do what they will and will what they do, but we also want to know whether and to what degree we can credit or praise them for the good things they do and blame them or hold them "accountable" or "responsible" for the bad things they do.

Kane invites us to imagine that we're attending the trial of a young man charged with robbing and beating someone to death. As the facts of the crime emerge, we feel very angry toward the defendant, but as we hear about the terrible physical and sexual abuse and parental neglect he suffered as a child, some of our anger shifts from him to his parents and others who neglected and abused him. We think that they too bear responsibility for this young man's awful crime.

But how much responsibility do they bear? How accountable should we hold them? We all realize that people are influenced in their choices not only by what happens to them in life but also by such factors as their genetic predispositions, physical and neurological functioning, and psychological condition, but do they also bear some residual "ultimate responsibility" for their actions that is the result of their own "free will"?

As Kane puts it in his hypothetical scenario of the young man on trial:

To what extent is he responsible for becoming the sort of person he now is? Was his behavior all a question of bad parenting, social neglect, social conditioning and, the like, or did he have any role in choosing it?

In my next entry, we'll consider what Kane has to say about "determinism and necessity."