Obstacle to Ethics: Determinism
by Gordon L. Ziniewicz
DETERMINISM: Our choices and actions are the result of pre-existing conditions. We do not have free will or the capacity to choose between alternatives. We are not responsible for our actions, cannot be blamed or praised for them, because we cannot act "against" or contrary to the forces or pre-existing conditions that compel us (psychological, social, economic, environmental, genetic). Since we could not have done otherwise, it is pointless to grant rewards or impose punishments.
SCIENTIFIC DETERMINISM: The notion that every event in nature, including human choice and action, is the result of and can be explained in terms of antecedent or preexisting causes or conditions. Scientific determinism includes both --
- ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS, or forces outside of individual persons, such as climate (hot or cold, rainy or dry, etc.), culture (custom and language), history, and technology AND
- PSYCHOLOGICAL CONDITIONS, inner forces or conditions operating within the person's own "psyche" (unconscious or subconscious drives - Freud), behavior ("operant conditioning" or behaviorism - Skinner), or genes.
FREE WILL: This is the human capacity to think or imagine alternatives and choose between them without compulsion from inner psychological forces or outer natural, social, and economic factors. Free will is the capacity to act on our own and "against " conditions. Free will should be distinguished from FREEDOM, which is simply the absence of things getting in the way of what we are compelled to want and do. The prisoner loses his "physical freedom" when he or she is imprisoned.
LIBERTARIANISM: This is the view that our choices are free, and that we can control our lives. It maintains that, although people do not always control their lives, they are at least capable of doing so. We are responsible for our actions, because we could have chosen or acted otherwise. According to this view, we are AUTONOMOUS; that is, we are self-ruling or self-moving agents of our own lives. We need not be ruled or moved by things outside of our own will. According to Iummanuel Kant, moral responsibility implies or presupposes free will. He stated: "Ought implies can."
FATALISM: This is the position that everything that happens is destined to happen the way it does. Existence is like a book that has already been written. All we can do is passively turn the pages of each chapter. Destiny or fate or cosmic rules make everything happen the way it does. The die is set in advance. What we think are free choices between alternatives are really fixed and unalterable results. PREDESTINATION also holds that everything has been fixed in advance, but it adds the personal notion of a god or providence whose knowledge in advance makes things happen the way they do.
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