Freedom is an ideal that many people in privileged society take for granted on a daily basis. Just because some people find themselves at home in a country where social norms have evolved to allow a rational sense of individualism and free will within its borders does not concede that free will is a universal right. In fact, many other countries such as Syria struggle to bring their policies up to speed with more progressive democracies such as Spain or the Australia, and their populace suffers backlash from corrupt legal systems and government.
However, one thing that these countries stand to learn from successful nations such as the United States is that populations with more personal freedom tend to be happier with their lives as a whole than those who feel limited and stagnant in their development. At the same time, as freedom is important in making any group of people happy, there must be limits placed on their actions to avoid moral misconduct; that is, the concept of personal responsibility is a crucial one to keeping society clean, and it is commonly accepted that accepting responsibility for one’s actions is a way to keep society tidy.
However, the weighting of moral codes and ethics is a difficult thing to do with accuracy because of the varying nature of such an abstract concept. In “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” Harry Frankfurt describes a principle that states that “a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. ” Called the principle of alternative possibilities, this proposition purports that moral responsibility and choice go hand in hand; without one, the other can’t be just.
As Frankfurt mentions in his writing, most people would take for granted this idea as a faultless constituent of the rationale behind lawmaking. However, Frankfurt conjectures a few obscure ways in which this principle could be contradicted. One example given was of a man named Jones who had decided to do something morally wrong, and when a second party was notified of his intent, Jones was forced to follow through with his actions. Here, Jones obviously would have been considered morally liable because whether or not the second individual had forced him to commit his crime of choice, he would have done so anyways.
The logic stands to reason then, by the example given, that such a possibility does exist to make a similar situation happen. Whether by karma or by blackmail, myriad similar things could happen, and since moral fibre lies within the conscience and not in the physical realm, evil has been done as soon as one decides to act. At the same time, in this example, Frankfurt manages to give a proof that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible because, as he points out, it is possible to be responsible without the option to do otherwise.
That is, in the case given, the threat of blackmail could have been so severe that Jones would have had no choice but to do what he had done. This would mean, then, that Frankfurt’s example would present a large hole in the way most people would see the intersection of free will and determinism; that is most would see it as incompatible, but by Frankfurt’s proof, they can sometimes run side by side practically parallel.
While Frankfurt was quite perceptive to realize such a possible proof of compatibilism, this also presented a hole in his argument in that free will and determinism are not necessarily compatible because at the same time that one could be forced to do something without prior intent, if determinism were true, then the whole situation would have been predetermined, and if everything were predetermined then responsibility cannot exist as an option. Responsibility is defined as a state of having to deal with something, which in itself entails making certain decisions.
However, despite the fact that determinism seems to dictate a timeline of events that completely eliminates the importance of making decisions, perhaps the brain’s ability to make decisions is a real one and decisions are, in cognitive terms, actually taking place. Determinism has merely caused one line of thought or line of decision making to necessarily end up coming true over the other. If determinism were true, then that would not entail that there is no such thing as a decision, it simply means that all our decisions would have been made beforehand. In that sense, the idea which Frankfurt presents is lent credence.
If free will and determinism were indeed compatible, then every Christian, every latter-day saint, and every last-minute convert would be happy to know that they were much more likely to be granted a spot in heaven. According to the most popular scriptures, God is an all knowing, all powerful, and all good being, who granted the right of free will to all humans as an ultimate test to determine their destiny for better or worse. In this way, God is purported to be both liberal and deterministic; it only goes to follow that Frankfurt’s theory would be happily received by many religious believers.
In some sort of real-world sequel to the book 1984, there would be signs all over the place proclaiming the existence of God based on some study created by Frankfurt’s constituents. Mass converts would line the streets of all the New York burroughs. Heaven would be a doorknock away. Though such an extreme scenario could only be conceivable in a novel, the image is clear. Sarcastic as it may be, such a magnitudinous occurrence in modern society could not be expected to occur based on some example with such abstract and intangible results.
Perhaps in some warped space-time corollary the same would be seen in the science of philosophy. Perhaps a new theorem would be passed in its discourse, and textbooks with the same tired old vocabulary would be entirely rewritten to include Frankfurt’s new theorem. Though no one cares about philosophy as much as religion, still such a magnitudinous occurrence would be like an earthquake caused by everyone in the town of Athens jumping at the same time: difficult to conclude based on the lack of further evidence.
Perhaps this pattern of occurrences is one of the holes in Frankfurt’s theorem. Well, not a hole in the sense that it disproves his logic, but a criticism nonetheless; it seems that his idea is too marginal to conclude something so physically contradictory as to say that just because a person could be forced to do something that he would otherwise not have done could prove determinism as right as the theory of relativity. Surely the scientific community would be all ears to Dr.
Frankfurt’s dissertation as to why they should all wear underwear to work the next day: in a word, “who cares! ” with determinism proved true, the scientists would probably feel a lot more relaxed for the next few weeks, however, when they tallied up all the evidence as to why they suddenly converted to Dr. Frankfurt’s new school of thought, they would have only one piece of evidence as to why: the mysterious case of Mr. Jones. Realizing that it was fate, they would rest their faces in their palms and wait for something else to happen.
While Frankfurt’s logic is as technically true as is that of a Cartesian argument for the existence of reality all in one’s own imagination because of the lack of evidence to the contrary, perhaps the shoddy reputation of philosophical theories as being worth anything besides food for thought is nil. They are always careful with words, so as to traipse around the discerning and cold ears of the left-brained. There, they peacefully coexist with poets, artists, and other like minds.
However, no matter the precision of their wording, it is always the popular decision to simply stay in the third dimension of thinking without bringing in any extraneous points of view that would go against common sense in an inherently immaterial way. “One nation, under god, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. ” This famous verse marks the final few words of the American Pledge of Allegiance. Without prior knowledge of the country, one would probably be led to assume that Americans value freedom highly.
In this case, they would most certainly be on to something. Freedom is a beautiful thing, yet it is powerful at the same time. Its power can be used for good or for evil, and that is why America (as well as every other model society) simply is not complete without a decent legal system. Obviously murder, rape, and theft are all violent crimes which must carry harsh penalties for those who commit them, and they all share one thing in common that no minor traffic violation does at heart: a morally wrong motive.
Truly it would take a sick individual to commit any one of these things with intent to do so. So where does the idea of determinism in relation to the concept of free will fit into this picture? It is a tight fit in an ever-evolving jigsaw, but one of the obscure pieces nonetheless that must be considered to get the bigger picture. Laws are changing all the time, and morals have to remain at their core. When one remembers the addendum, “under god,” of the Pledge of Allegiance, it becomes ever clearer how determinism can fit into the moral scheme of the country as well.
However, when it does in a legal sense, it goes against what is clearly stated in the constitution: America has secular laws unlike some other countries, and although some of the laws on the books are outdated and had better jurisdiction in a time when America is more religious, new laws as of late are much more secular. This adds to the point that determinism is becoming an increasingly abstract concept in society as times progress; that is, it has less place in law than it does in philosophical thought.
Determinism is a concept that no proof, no theorem, and no scientific data will ever elucidate and validate before society. It would mark a monumental moment in the history of things, but if it were true, it would not matter very much what happened; all events thereafter would be destined to occur. For this reason and the reason of practicality, it is necessary to view determinism as an abstraction rather than reality. In such a dimension where determinism were held to be true, it would follow from assumption that free will would be merely an illusion.
But why then, one would suppose, would humans have evolved to become such complex decision makers? If one believes in an omniscient and omnipotent God, then determinism’s validity seems much more promising, however for all other parties, it seems better left in the realm of abstraction. However, despite its realistic application, determinism remains as essential to philosophical abstraction as does the concept of good and evil. That is one reason it manages to justify itself in the vocabulary of philosophers worldwide — a broad vocabulary, indeed.
Frankfurt happens to be like a Newton or Aristotle of his day and age, postulating truly genius and more importantly original ideas in such a relevant field as his own, A polite way to put it but an apt one as well. It is an inventive mind who decides to venture well beyond the blurred lines of the abstract and metaphysical in order to question an a priori truth so firmly believed to be accurate as the perpendicularity between determinism and free will; it is an inventive mind indeed. Works Cited Frankfurt, Harry. “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility. ” N. p. : n. p. , n. d. N. pag. 620pixeltable. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.
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