Lecture 7 - Free Will, Determinism, Choice and Moral Responsibility


Ordinarily, we tend to think of our actions as freely chosen: we believe in free will. But if we get philosophical for a second, we have to start asking obvious questions, like what does that mean? What does it mean for something to be a choice? What does it mean for an action to be free? If all of nature is determined by physical law, and we are a part of nature, doesn't it follow that maybe our actions are just as determined, even though we may not always be aware of the causes antecedent to our actions? Hey, if we are indeed determined, how can the concept of moral responsibility make sense? Why praise or condemn someone for actions over which he has no real control? Can we make the choice to believe in free will?

In today's lecture, Professor Millican delves into these and other related questions, starting with the classic demarcation between libertarianism (not the political kind), determinism and compatibilism. As you'll see, the debate is just as alive, interesting and perplexing as ever...



Click here to see the course slides

My own leaning is toward the deterministic side of things (at least compatibilism and libertarianism make no sense to me at all), and even though that seems to rob us of our ability to make free choices, I think the upshot is that it also stops us from jumping to the all-quick conclusion that someone is to blame whenever things don't work out in the fashion we might have anticipated.

I find that as a determinist, I am more forgiving and empathetic than I would be if I just assumed that bad actions are always the result of someone's fault. Before pointing fingers, I think it's usually a good and healthy idea (to wonder at least) to what extent circumstances, and not a person, are to blame...
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