Human Beings are Responsible for their Moral Actions

Human beings are responsible for their moral actions

The statement given suggests that humans are entirely responsible for their actions, when in fact- is this actually possible? What if a number of infinite causes go back that foreshadowed a certain action to occur such as murder or committing an immoral act. Could this blame be hindered towards an upbringing or past that defined the morals of a person. Or simply are we responsible and the suggestion of having blame put on something else an unconvincing argument? By the end of the essay I hope to show that human beings are responsible for their moral actions however they have been influenced by an upbringing therefore not all blame should be put on the persona but the majority should be.

To begin with, one shall look at hard determinism in which is the argument that states human beings have no responsibility, the main proposition is that when an action occurs, it has been pre-determined by previous events such as an upbringing meaning that one cannot accept a person fully responsible for their actions. This could be highlighted by Bertrand Russell in ‘External World’ quoting that ”The law of causation according to which later events can theoretically be predicted by means of earlier events, has often been held to be a priori, a necessity of thought.” Coming down to this idea that perhaps we are predictable as human beings with this ‘necessity of thought’ as to suggest that it’s an instinct, not just a choice but it seems to occur naturally without any other consideration but that of the predictable event. Determinism can then be identified as that which is predictable, thus previous events will lead to a certain action as shown by the Clarence Darrow case in which Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were tried for murder after planning to do ‘the perfect murder’ when it turned out that one of the boys had left his glasses with only one of two frames so the murder was easily traced back to them both and they pleaded guilty. However, during the trial, they hired Clarence darrow who used determinism in order to get the two murderers off the death penalty by linking to how they were brought up in a high end of society in a social class acceptable to look down upon others and therefore concluded that from the childhood the two had experienced, they were drawn to feeling like they could get away with committing such an act. This went down as one of the most famous trials in which still to do is used as an example of how human beings do not have free will for all of our actions are pre-determined by events out of our control. Continuing on, this is important to note that when Darrow used determinism in the defences favour, it was used as such to suggest that they were completely out of control where in fact if Darrow looked at their upbringing, surely it was more of an influence rather than a complete change of character? In which case anybody could argue that a bad upbringing can cause a person to turn to crime. Yet, if one is to accept some responsibility then it can be more easily verified for we all have the experience of decision-making and note that one has a choice so was Darrow right to suggest that they had no choice in the matter? Or is he speaking truth and that free will is simply a matter of an illusion.

This leads onto my next point regarding free-will. For it seems that to retain a sense of moral responsibility for our actions, one must reject determinism and accept that one can make a choice between right and wrong. Libertarianism is the viewpoint which follows this argument. An example given for this is that if a kleptomaniac was left in a shop alone, it suggests that they would steal but one can never be certain for he may choose otherwise, due to the freedom. When looking at the argument that we as humans are free. Libertarians tend to explain that people have a separation between their personality and moral self. The personality is one which is empirical, governed by laws with can be predicted. This is due to the formation of hereditary and environmental factors limiting the choices one has. Yet, this is contrasting to the moral self for the moral self can counteract the personalities suggested decision. Therefore, the moral self is an ethical concept that can vary depending on which the situation is placed in and the strength of which it has to counteract the personalities tendencies and in doing so, the agent becomes morally responsible by overcoming the pressures placed upon what one does. C.A. Campbell writes “The freedom which we ascribe to the agent is the freedom to put forth or refrain from putting forth the moral effort required to resist the pressure of desire and to do what he thinks he ought to do.” Perhaps relatary to Kants concept of “Not we shall do but what we ought to do” in regard to looking at ones duties. Campbell could be suggesting that we have the capability to do what one really desires and to not give into the pressures of what our personalities actually originally place on us. Yet, when he says what we ‘ought to do’, when looking at Kants implications of this, it is in relation to duty where he suggests we all have a moral duty to do a certain thing. So, could Campbell be contradictory in his statement for surely he is then suggesting that perhaps we all do have something we are naturally inclined to do rather than going against the desires, we do what we ought to do and actually this is simply ‘the desires’. Meaning that Campbell has actually contradicted himself.

A determinist may follow my argument by suggesting that it seems implicit to be able to choose between duty and desire when there is no evidence that their moral attitudes to choose aren’t conditioned in the same way due to the hereditary However, Libertarianism does have the continued empirical evidence that we all have the experience of making decisions. Whether it be choosing to wear a hat in the morning or deciding to change from the usual Earl Gray tea to a PG tips selection. This is simply the art of making decision and this is where the Libertarian follows their argument for it is reasonable to realise that when making these type of decisions, it isn’t terribly hard to decide and the agent understands the limits of their freedom but still have sufficient experience to sustain their belief in free will. Proving that in relation to the statement given, humans are responsible for decisions as we have the experience. This is something hard to argue against for it seems apparent that all have experienced such a thing as decision-making thus the determinist is hard to argue for when the Libertarian states this for surely we feel free? And it’s not like we don’t recognise our limitation of freedom meaning an argument is well balanced on the subjective level.

Yet, Spinoza put forward the argument in translated into ‘Ethic’ that freedom is an illusion. A quote of which is said “Consequently, those who believe that, who believe that they speak, or are silent, or do anything else from a free decree of the mind, dream with their eyes open.” In reflecting upon how a drunkard man speaks of what he wishes rather than when sober thus speaking free of mind, when in fact they no have restrain over the impulse so rather like that, experience teaches the man to believe they be free due to being conscious of their actions, knowing nothing of the pre-determined. This can really bring an overall conclusion to the argument against Libertarianism for, it is in no greater leap that we are free than that its an illusion but man can be subject to conditions to believe anything if done so correctly therefore one cannot come to an overall conclusion of which is the stronger argument but when considering how the only influence is that ‘we feel free’ in the Libertarianism viewpoint, I could ‘feel great’ despite being in pain during surgery but the leg had been numbed therefore the feeling was not there. Could this be similar to freedom? We are numbed by the illusion that we are free by ‘decision-making’ when in fact, we are pre-determined and actually have little impact on what we can and can’t do. So, perhaps human beings are not responsible for their moral actions, it is out of our hands.

The other viewpoint I wish to report on is that of the soft determinism or Compatibilism. This looks at combining the above too into one argument. By doing this, it looks at fitting desires and free will together. An example to help explain is one of which Gandhi was fasting because he wanted to free India. This seems apparent that it’s a free action and is morally acceptable which Campbell would define as ‘casually undetermined choice’ in which the person involved passes by inclination and follows duty. Yet, is this truly undetermined? Gandhi had a desire to free India which therefore caused him to to fast and this desire was in fact caused by upbringings and education from the Hindu faith eventually leading him to the causal effect of fasting. Although this may seem difficult to establish, it is theorertically possible meaning that all human actions, whether free or not, are wholly governed by causes. So if we have causes within a so called free action, there must be the same in determined actions such as a man fasting in the desert because there was no food. It is pre-determined for there is no food to eat. Yet, if both this and Gandhi fasting have causal events leading to it, is there a difference? This is where Compatibilists consider internally and externally caused. Internally being that which is voluntarily chosen and externally caused is involuntarily chosen meaning it is forced upon one. Therefore it comes to the concept that persons when we consider if humans are responsible for their moral actions, it is in the case, whether the action is voluntary or involuntary. For this would decide whether it is freely chosen but there is still the affect of causes meaning the decision is influenced by other factors but is still chosen thus meaning that it is possible to come to a mix between determinism and libertarianism. Yet, one can pick apart that if it is influenced, how much is this influence an affect on the overall judgement? Does this mean that we do get to choose as surely Compatibilism is then leaning towards determinism? However, they may argue that I have misinterpreted the point of ‘influence’ as a determiner for they could suggest that the influence is simple a matter of being preferred to one instance over another but it is the freedom that allows one to choose and whether it be the desired choice or not then it is still out of self determined decision-making. This can lead me to conclude That rather than having an idea of humans being responsible or not, it is mixture.

Continuing on, one can conclude that human beings are partially responsible for their moral actions as it is could be down to choosing what to eat for breakfast. Now, this responsibility can become restrained and therefore the freedom can disappear leaving the responsibility out of ones hands. However, under most circumstances, when a decision is made voluntarily, there is the influence of previous causes such as hereditary and environmental factors but the agent is free to choose and therefore human beings have responsibility for their moral actions but these actions are influenced by desires and it is up to the human themselves to decipher whether to subdue to desire or decide on ones on turns.

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One comment

  1. When something goes wrong or something bad happens, we look for the causes so that we might take steps to correct them and prevent or reduce future harm.

    After the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, they hijacked a car, and forced the driver at gunpoint to assist them to get to New York where they planned to set off the rest of their homemade bombs. The driver later managed to escape while they were stopped for gas and one of the brothers had gone into the store and the other was using both hands reading a map on the gps.

    The driver was not charged with “aiding and abetting” the escape, because he was not acting of his own free will. But the surviving Tsarnaev brother was charged and convicted for the bombings, because they had deliberately planned the bombing, knowing the harm it would cause .

    The practical question is “How do we prevent this from happening again?” “What do we need to do to correct the causes?”

    The “no free will” exception applies to the driver. All that is required to prevent him from assisting other criminals to escape is to remove the gun pointing at his head. His normal behavior, once we remove the coercion, is to obey the law.

    But Tsarnaev deliberately chose to commit the crime, and, if we did nothing, would likely continue to harm others until someone stops him.

    Hard determinism suggests there is no difference between the driver and the bomber. Both were compelled to behave as they did due to forces beyond their control. This is a very impractical viewpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

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