[‘Determinism’ in this case is the idea that everything, including your thoughts and actions, is causally determined by everything that happened prior. The philosophical opposite of free will, in other words.]
Amusingly, the article is even titled “Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It’s the Only Choice.” Blah, blah, blah.
Do you believe that you have free will? That your actions aren’t governed by anything other than your mind and your conscience? You’re wrong, and I’ll prove it: if you have free will then stop reading this post RIGHT NOW.
Okay, just kidding.
Basic scenarios on offer:
“1) In this deterministic universe, is it possible for a person to be fully morally responsible for his actions?
2) This year, as he has often done in the past, Mark arranges to cheat on his taxes. Is he is fully morally responsible for his actions?
3) Bill falls in love with his secretary, and he decides that the only way to be with her is to murder his wife and three children. Before leaving on a trip, he arranges for them to be killed while he is away. Is Bill fully morally responsible for his actions?”
So who’s morally responsible, and who isn’t? Wouldn’t you say that if one is then all are? I would. Still, the study’s respondents disagree, apparently: “Most respondents will absolve the unspecified person in Question 1 from full responsibility for his actions, and a majority will also give Mark a break for his tax chiseling. But not Bill. He’s fully to blame for his heinous crime…”
It goes on to suggest that the disparity is due to a lingering belief in free will, and not to the respondents simply exercising moral judgment. But notice that the more heinous (and specific) the crime, the less likely respondents are to buy the no-free-will argument to excuse it. Doesn’t that imply some kind of moral reasoning on their part? Yes, it does. Seems like the writer wasn’t thinking very hard.
Moving on, we’re treated to some studies that show people more willing to commit minor unethical acts after being “exposed beforehand to arguments against free will”, thus showing that belief in free will is central to moral agency. Et cetera. Whatever.
Bottom line: the existence of free will is irrelevant. It’s simple: if Bill, Mark, and the unnamed abstract person cited above aren’t morally responsible, due to a lack of free will, then I am not responsible for my judgment of them and their actions for the same reason. Neither are you. The argument that ‘they don’t really have free will, so they aren’t really responsible’ doesn’t prevent us from disapproving or from sanctioning the malefactors because if they don’t have it, neither do we. So you might as well quit trying to figure it out, okay? You’re just trying to make yourself look smart and it’s not working.
Yes, yes, you can’t help it. I know.
Disagree? Got a problem? Think I’m a lousy writer? Hey, not my fault.
That’s right, I linked my own post. It’s recursive blogging. I invented that. Whatcha gonna do about it?