Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Argument against morality from determism, part 2

According to the argument from determinism, there is no such thing as a man who freely jumps off a building and kills a woman. He was determined to do what he did by forces that were not under his control. He was not able to resist the causal influences of his neurological makeup or the influences of his desires, inclinations, and motivations. Hence, it was not his fault that he killed the woman. He could not help it. We can’t blame him for killing her.

Now I suspect that a person who makes an argument like this has to fight against his own intuitions. Suppose the person was walking through the woods and was struck and injured by a falling tree branch. He may be mad as a wet hen and curse the branch, but he wouldn’t really feel any personal resentment toward the branch, because he knows the branch was passive in the whole affair. It didn’t really choose to hit him. But suppose the person was walking through the woods, and suddenly somebody stepped out from behind the tree with a tree branch and hit him with it. I suspect that in a situation like that, the person would resent the one who hit him.

If the argument against morality is sound, then there really is no difference between the tree branch that fell and the man who attacked. Neither of them is at fault, because they were both deterministically caused to do what they did, and they couldn’t help it. We don’t resent people who injure us through no fault of their own, and we certainly don’t resent objects that injure us through no fault of their own.

A person who thinks nobody can be blamed for what they do, and yet resents people for what they do, is at odds with himself. His intuition tells him the person is at fault, but his argument tells him the person is not at fault. Our intuitions are often stronger than our arguments (see for example "The power of intuition" a couple of blogs back). Arguments are often rejected because they are counterintuitive, but the intuition that people are blamable clearly cannot be done away with even if one accepts the argument.

Part 3


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