Human Being Morally Responsible For Their Actions
Nov 23rd, 2017
Word Count: 1436
In this essay I will be addressing whether or not human beings are morally responsible for their
actions. For one to be morally responsible for his/her action they must take into account that the
decision being made was from their own free-will. Leading us now to whether human beings
have free will or is it determined. If we were to say determinism is true, then no individual
should be praised or punished for their actions due to the fact it was not based on their own free
action. If free-will applies, he/she who commits an act practicing their own free-will deserves to
be praised or punished for such an act.
First I will shortly take a look at what moral
responsibility consists of and the criteria for one to be held morally responsible. I will then
explain how this relates to determinism and free-will.
determinism believes that behaviour is determined by an external and
internal forces acting upon the agent. An example of an external force could be parents
supporting a type of behaviour thereby encouraging it. On the other hand an internal force would
be driven by hormones. Free-will believers assume that things are a bit difficult. They
acknowledge that there is internal and external factors, but yet they still believe that humans are
free to choose their own behaviour.
It could be argued that due to determinism people are not
morally responsible for their actions, however this would be ridiculous. It makes more sense that
humans have free-will with facts on Stace’s, cause and effect, and determinism it is evident the
humans are morally responsible for their actions.
Whoever believes in
Stace theorizes the idea of compatibility or soft determinism.
He argues that free-will exists but to an extent which is known as soft determinism. Stace defines
free act as “free acts are all caused by desire, motives, or by some sort of psychological state of
the agent’s mind”. Unfree acts on the other hand are “those whose immediate causes are states of
affairs external to the agent”. Soft determinism is the view that determinism and free-will are
compatible. It is a form of compatibilism. Soft determinism consists of two main claims:
1. Determinism is true. Every human action or event, was causally determined. For example, if
you drank coffee instead of tea last night, you could not have chosen otherwise given your exact
2. We act freely when we are not constrained or coerced. If my arms are held while getting
attacked then I am not able to defend myself. If I give up my wallet to a thug or robber who is
pointing gun at me, I am not acting freely. We act freely when we act upon our own desires. The
most common objection to soft determinism is that the views of freedom it supports onto falls
short what majority humans mean by free will. Lets say I were to hypnotize you, and as you are
under hypnosis I plant specific desires in your mind. For example, a desire for you to go and get
yourself a bottle of wine when the clock strikes ten. As the clock hits ten, you go and pour
yourself a glass of wine. Would you consider this to be a free act? If acting freely means doing
what you want, acting on your own desires, then yes you acted freely. But majority of people
would view your action as an unfree act since, in effect, you are being controlled by another
person. Hard determinism is a philosophical position that is made up from two main claims:
1. Determinism is indeed true.
2. Free-will is nothing but an illusion.
Soft determinism is a form of compatibilism, while on the other hand, hard determinism is a
form of incompatibilism.
I believe determinism is self-refuting. For example,
if free will is considered an illusion and
everything is already predetermined, then the ultimate cause on why a person believes that free
will is an illusion is that they were predetermined to do so. But it is hard to see how a belief
could be considered “true” or “false” when it’s simply a predetermined event. The hail pouring
down from the sky right now is due to the fact that pre-existing conditions determined it to be so.
But we wouldn’t say that the hail pouring down is “true” or “false.” Quantum physics proves to
us that the world is not, deterministic; therefore our actions aren’t predestined.
quantum physics explains to us that there’s things which we could not know about the future,
things that aren’t predetermined but happen with some chance or randomness. Even though some
things in the world could be predicted, everything isn’t predetermined and our actions do not
unfold mechanically in a manner predetermined since the very moment of the Big Bang. Robert
Kane provides us a good example of indeterminism, “A husband, beside himself with rage while
arguing with his wife swings his arm down her favourite glass-top table, intending to break it.
Whether the husband breaks the table is undetermined, and yet he is clearly responsible if he
does break it”. In this example, it can be said that the agent would be held responsible for their
action even though the agent’s action is undetermined.
Libertarianism could be described as the belief of defending the notion of free moral choice by
rejecting determinism, and as well that free-will exists in a form that is neither causally
determined or just an event that occurred randomly. Libertarians admit that moral responsibility
is an essential concept for society.
something else instead.
Libertarians assume that free-will is incompatible with causal
determinism, and that people have free-will. They reject the fact that causal determinism is true.
There are 3 categories of libertarians. The first one is, event causal libertarians. They believe that
free actions are indeterministically created by past events. The second one is agent-causal
libertarians. They believe that agents indeterministically cause free actions. The last one is non-
causal libertarians. They mostly believe that free actions are developed by basic mental actions,
such as a decision or choice. Philosopher and incompatibillist Peter van Inwagen introduces
these 5 arguments that free-will is required for moral judgments.
1. The moral judgment that you shouldn’t have done X implies that you should have done
2. That you should have done something else instead implies that there was something else for
you to do.
3. That there was something else for you to do implies that you could have done something else.
4. That you could have done something else implies that you have free will.
5. If you don’t have free will to have done other than X we cannot make the moral judgment that
you shouldn’t have done X.
A compatibilist might have an issue with Inwagen’s arguments above. A compatabilist who
centers around plans for the future might hypothesize:
1. The moral judgment that you shouldn’t have done X implies that you can do something else
2. That you can do something else instead implies that there is something else for you to do.
3. That there is something else for you to do implies that you can do something else.
4. That you can do something else implies that you have free will for planning future recourse.
5. If you have free will to do other than X we can make the moral judgment that you should do
other than X, and punishing you as a responsible party for having done X that you know
you should not have done can help you remember to not do X in the future.
While it could be argued that due to determinism people are not morally responsible for their
actions, however this would be ridiculous. With all of the arguments in this essay, we can
now come to conclude that determinism is not compatible with free-will and that
humans have free-will and should be held accountable for their actions, whether they are to be
praised or blamed for it.