[hist-analytic] Proposal for a New Paradox of Determinism: Contra Libet

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Mon Jun 6 12:17:38 EDT 2011

Here is something I came up with in considering some work by Libet. 

One should add to the ethical question of moral responsibility under determinism the question of social responsibility. If it turns out that behavior is out of the control of conscious intention, then responsibility for individual actions may not be justified, although this is not a forgone conclusion. But if determinism applies, then individuals are not culpable for ignoring social justice. If individual actions are beyond blame, then to the extent that social justice depends on the moral character of individuals in the community, it becomes deprived of a foundation. If it is argued that social justice is a formal notion and doesn’t depend on actions based on comprehensive moral views, the fact remains that no one can be blamed for ignoring social justice. There is a point to be made with a sidelong glance towards Kantian constructionism in ethics: If I cannot will that punishment or criticism be levied against social justice offenders be a universal law of *nature* not only will determinism require releasing all prisoners of crimes against persons but exoneration for those who promote genocide based, to take on example, on “ethnic cleansing.” But this is only part of the story. 

If determinism deprives us of our social responsibility as well as the criminals responsibility for his action, then we are not culpable for not releasing the prisoners. In other words, determinism neither implies letting the prisoners go nor convicting them in the first place. Determinism leaves everything is this regard alone. The criminal says “My brain made me do it.” The judge sentences him to death, saying, “My brain is making me do this.” In addition, the institutions based on social justice considerations will fall, just as the institution of promising would disappear were promise keeping to be ignored by individual agents. This “paradox of determinism” is insoluble, suggesting that the claims of determinism in the ethical arena be ignored as impotent. If a person can never be blamed for violating a principle, the principle is nonbinding. 

Steve Bayne 

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