In the first episode of the second season of the television series “House, M.D.,” the viewer meets a black man, Clarence, sentenced to death. One of the murders he committed was taking his girlfriend’s life, who “stepped out,” cheating on him. The essay analyzes to which extent his action can be regarded as free from the theoretical standpoints of three approaches: Determinism, Compatibilism, and Libertarianism.
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According to Determinism, all actions are conditioned in advance, and there is no free will. Ultimately, when this argument is taken to the absolute, the criterion of responsibility loses its meaning. Thus, Clarence’s killing of his girlfriend is an unfree action because, according to Campbell, Determinism states that “physical events in which such decisions manifest themselves are determined by irrevocable law.” One could argue that Clarence’s actions had been predetermined by his socio-cultural environment or a specific psychological structure that influenced his decisions.
According to Compatibilism, free will is compatible with Determinism. According to Compatibilism philosophy, Clarence’s murdering his girlfriend is a free action, because, as Hume states, “the conjunction between motives and voluntary actions is as regular and uniform as that between cause and effect in any part of nature.” From this argument, one could suggest that Clarence’s action can be regarded as free will manifested in spontaneity.
Libertarianism assumes that a person has complete free will and that every manifestation of his activity is a conscious and controlled choice outside of causality. According to the Libertarian view, Clarence’s killing of his girlfriend is a free act because, as Nozik states, “one decides on which reasons to act on; or one may decide to act on none of them but to seek instead a new alternative.” From this position, Clarence’s action could be interpreted through his deliberate free choice of killing his girlfriend following his moral principles and desired future for both of them.