Argument against morality from determinism, part 3
Jonathan Edwards, in his book on The Freedom of the Will, agrees that there is a necessary connection between motives and acts of the will such that the will is always determined to act according to the strongest motivation. He argues, however, that moral accountability is not only consistent with this connection, but that there could be no moral accountability without this connection.
Edwards also agrees that “ought” implies “can,” but he makes a distinction between a moral inability and a natural inability. A person who has no legs has a natural inability to walk. A person who has no desire to walk has a moral inability to walk. Edwards argues that while “ought” implies “can” in the natural sense, “ought” does not imply “can” in the moral sense. That is, a person who is physically unable to walk because he lacks legs can have no moral obligation to walk, but a person can have a moral obligation to walk if he is only unable to walk because he lacks the proper motive or inclination.
Edwards argues that the distinction between natural and moral inability is agreeable to the common notions of mankind. Everybody agrees that natural inability fully excuses, but nobody excuses a person just because they did exactly what they wanted to do. Even determinists make this distinction. They would resent a person who injured them because of being overcome with a bad temper more than they would resent a person who injured them because they were delirious or suffering from muscle spasms.
To illustrate this point, Edwards uses an analogy in which two prisoners were offered freedom and promotion if they would repent. Neither of them are able to repent, but for different reasons. The first was perfectly willing to repent, but was unable to, because he was chained up. The second was enabled to repent by being unchained, but he still couldn’t repent, because he was of such a vile disposition that it rendered him unwilling. Common sense tells us that there is a difference. One had a natural inability to repent, and the other had a moral inability. We would excuse the one with the natural inability, but we would not excuse the one with the moral inability.