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Responsibility and Determinism

  1. Jul 24, 2006 #1
    Our naïve intuition about responsibility is that we cannot be held responsible if we do not have free will. Under this naïve intuitive account, if I could not have done otherwise than what I did, then I cannot be held responsible for what I did. Such an account is clearly incompatible with determinism, hence the oft-quoted mantra “determinism entails that I am not responsible for my actions”.

    I wish to challenge this naïve intuitive view of responsibility. The view I shall put forward is broadly based on the Frankfurt-style cases investigated by John Fischer and Mark Ravizza, and on work further developed by Susan Hurley (http://www.warwick.ac.uk/staff/S.L.Hurley/papers/rria.pdf [Broken])

    According to Hurley, what really matters for responsibility is whether we would have done otherwise, if we could have done otherwise. This counterfactual perspective means that if person A, in performing act X, would not have done otherwise (even if she could have done otherwise) then A is responsible for X whether or not she actually could have done otherwise. In other words, the ability to do otherwise (the existence of genuine alternate possibilities) is a red-herring in the assignment of responsibility. The only thing that matters is whether A would have done otherwise, and it is irrelevant whether or not she could have.

    Such an account of responsibility is completely compatible with determinism.

    I would be interested in the views of other members.

    Best Regards
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 24, 2006 #2
    What is the difference between would and could? May you please elucidate?
  4. Jul 24, 2006 #3
    I could have done X = it was physically possible for me to do X (but it does not follow that I necessarily would have done X)

    Example : Fred was holding a gun, and it was possible for him to shoot John. But though it was possible that Fred could shoot John, shooting John is not something that Fred would (want to) do.

    I would have done X = Doing X would be my choice, if I had the choice to do X (but it does not follow that I necessarily have the choice; it does not follow that it is physically possible for me to do X)

    Example : Fred is forced, against his will, to shoot John. Fred maintains that he did not want to shoot John, he would have chosen NOT to shoot John if he could have had the choice. But he did not have the choice. Thus Fred is not responsible for shooting John (because he would have chosen not to shoot him, given the choice).

    Best Regards
  5. Jul 24, 2006 #4
    Can one truly be forced to commit an act against another, against one's own will? Is not to be forced to do an act, an act of giving in? Therefore an act of one's own will... since out of one's own will one has decided to submit to another's will. In spite of everything... it IS one's decision.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
  6. Jul 24, 2006 #5
    If one is physically incapable of doing what one wants to do, yes one can be forced to commit an act against one's will. The classical example is given by so-called Frankfurt-style cases. Here is one example (from Fischer):

    In the above case, Jones would thus have ended up voting for Kerry no matter what he (Jones) wanted to do.

    Best Regards
  7. Jul 24, 2006 #6
    So isn't would eradicated from the equation altogether now? If one is truly being brain controlled... then one wouldn't know the difference in the aftermath of the decision that he had made unless someone told "one" that one was being directed by a mind control interface device. All one knows is that one's decision is as is... one is not aware that one is being mind controlled... it appears to one to be his own will in action. When one's decisions are taken over by an outside source or albeit some other "power" by manipulation of the "natural" means in which one's brain functions, then in one's existence, one's own will now becomes unforced from his own personal perception. Therefore one cannot decipher the "would" of the situation. One experiences the happening as if one has made one's own decision.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
  8. Jul 24, 2006 #7
    In the example given, Jones is not aware, but Black is aware. From Black's point of view (and anyone else outside of Jones who knows the facts), it is possible to say whether Jones was responsible for the act or not - because responsibility follows from what Jones would have done if he had been given the choice (whether or not he actually had any choice), and not from what he actually did.

    Indeed, Jones could also be made aware of the outcome subsequent to the episode (Black might tell him what had happened), in which Jones would also then be aware of whether he was responsible for his decision or not.

    Best Regards
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
  9. Jul 24, 2006 #8
    Is a natural yet artificially produced choice not one's will?
  10. Jul 24, 2006 #9
    isn't an "artificially produced natural" choice an oxymoron?
  11. Jul 24, 2006 #10
    I think anything dealing with the term "artificial" should be obliterated :) All things are natural. To answer your question... natural by means of energy... artificial meaning; being that is controlled by an "outside" source.
  12. Jul 24, 2006 #11
    ok - but you introduced the term "artificial" into the discussion!

    are you suggesting that something which is "controlled by an outside source" (ie external to the person) would still count as part of the person's will?

    Best Regards
  13. Jul 24, 2006 #12
    Yes, I did... poor verbal/written responsibility.

    I am saying that the brain is being controlled... yet manipulated by natural means... well, all things 'are' existing by natural means. I think it's a quandary to have such technology. Haha. Give me some time to deliberate on this, Finger.
  14. Jul 24, 2006 #13
    I think that he is somewhat mixing emergent layers.
    What happens on the physical level of any choice, is not the same as what happens in an agents mind, we need to seperate the two.
    That's why people who are allegedly "insane" are relieved of their jailtime and rather sent into some institution for the mentally ill, because they were insane and had no choice.
    Great simplification aside, my point is that we have created our own world, our perceived world, and this is really all that matters.
    Even if someone would prove that "hey guys we are all robots following the physical laws" wouldn't you still feel responsibility inside if you killed someone?
    Wouldn't you even ask yourself "did I have a choice?"

    The most likely answer from anyone would be "yes I did have a choice!"

    I know it's not exactly what you were saying, but I have a feeling that "could" is physical, and "would" is a mental option.
  15. Jul 24, 2006 #14
    OK, will do.

    Best Regards
  16. Jul 24, 2006 #15
    I disagree.

    Necessary conditions for responsibility are (a) that one can reasonably anticipate the consequences of one’s actions, and (b) that one possesses an understanding of right and wrong.

    An insane person, just like a very young child, may not be able to satisfy conditions (a) and/or (b) – and that is why we allow that an insane person, or a very young child, is not responsible for their actions – not because “they had no choice”.


    Agreed. This is exactly what I mean when I say that responsibility depends on what we would do (if we had a choice), not what we could do.

    Of course we think we had a choice. That is not disputed.

    Would does not entail could. We can always ask “what would I have done if X?”, even if X is not a physical possibility. We can never know whether unrealised alternate possibilities were genuine possibilities or not (or just illusions of possibilities), but that doesn’t prevent us from saying “if I could do X, then I would do X”.

    Best Regards
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2006
  17. Jul 24, 2006 #16
    This compatiblist argument falls to counterexamples where the individual's
    desires are artificially implanted.

    "However, if John were to hypnotise James into being a willing and eager slave whose only desire was to do John's bidding, Hobbes -- but few others -- would say James was free, since he was doing what he wanted. Hobbes' theory seems to miss something, the ability to *choose* what one wants".

    No, because to counter the argumetns form hypnosis, brainwahsing,
    etc, an individuals wants have to originate within themselves,
    and such origination (naturalistically) require uncaused caused,
    i.e. indeterminism.
  18. Jul 24, 2006 #17
    One doesn't have a single desire at a time. If someone
    points a gun at your head and makes you rob a bank,
    you are doing something against one desire
    (the desire to be law-abiding) but in favour of another
    (the desire to continue living).

    According to one plausible analysis, one's "true" desire
    is the one backed up by other, higher desires, desires.
    So the dieter has a desire to scoff the cake, but their
    desire -- they desrie they want to have -- is the desire not to scoff it.
  19. Jul 24, 2006 #18
    How can a "want" that originates in indeterminism be the basis for responsibility? By definition, I am not in control of such an indeterministically caused want, therefore cannot be held responsible for it.

    Best Regards
  20. Jul 24, 2006 #19
    How can a want that originates in determinism be a basis for responsibility?

    You are probably appelaig to the "do not pass go" argument, the
    idea that there is nothing to an indeterministics choice except
    whatever process gernerated it. I my model, choices genreated
    by the RIG have to got through the SIS, which is where control lies.
  21. Jul 24, 2006 #20
    Precisely in the way that has been described here.

    If I do X, whilst believing that Y is an alternate possibility (ie I believe that I could have done Y if I had wanted to), then I am responsible, as long as I can claim that "I would still have done X, even if I could have done Y".

    Whether Y is a genuine alternate possibility or not is irrelevant to responsibility, as long as I believe it is an alternate possibility.

    The outcome of your model is either deterministic (it is in control) or it is random (it is not in control), depending on the parameters you choose for the model. It has nothing to do with free will.

    Best Regards
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