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Compatibilists’ Views and Determinism
Issues concerning the free will have been discussed for centuries but thinkers have not managed to resolve them yet. Determinists claim people have no free will as there are loads of factors that affect their decisions. At the same time, compatibilists stress that the free will exists as in the majority of cases people have a variety of options and they are often free to choose any way.
Thomas Nagel tends to accept the view of determinism as he believes that people often find themselves in circumstances that determine their actions. Nagel also considers a moral paradox which, according to the thinker, cannot be resolved by the compatibilist.
The Moral Paradox
In the first place, it is necessary to focus on the moral paradox revealed by Nagel. The thinker notes that people are usually judged by what they did or did not do. However, they are not judged by what they could have done in a different situation under some other circumstances (Nagel 34). The philosopher stresses that people focus on actual actions rather than options available for the agent.
Thomas Nagel states that a person is morally responsible for what he/she does but what he/she does “results from a great deal” he/she does not do. The philosopher brings to the fore the paradox, “he [a person] is not morally responsible for what he is and is not responsible for” (Nagel 34). In other words, the philosopher claims that there are circumstances which deprive people of any choice. The thinker argues that people cannot be morally responsible for all of their actions.
According to the compatibilist, people have their free will in the majority of cases and they are morally responsible for their actions (again, in the majority of cases). For instance, there are several ways to act under any circumstances. Nielsen notes that determinism is still compatible with the free will. However, the philosopher stresses that it is important to differentiate between constraints and causes.
The philosopher provides an example of his walk in a park when he is watching a bird (Nielsen 44). He notes that he is not made to look at the bird, but there are causes that lead to his actions. Thus, a man notices an object and decides whether he wants or does not want to pay attention to this object. No one makes the man look at the object and, even if the man is forced to notice the bird (there was some sound or the bird flew in front of the man), it is his decision whether to keep looking at the bird.
Nonetheless, this simple example is one of the instances proving that the compatibilist cannot explain Nagel’s paradox. Admittedly, it is possible to assume that the man in the park is free to look at the bird or ignore it. However, the man is inclined to look at the bird due to peculiarities of his character. Therefore, there can be no free will as the man’s education of preferences force him to get interested in the bird.
The Case with the Thief and the Kleptomaniac
It is possible to consider another example in terms of Nagel’s paradox. Nielsen notes that the difference between a kleptomaniac and a thief lies in the level of freedom (Nielsen 44). In other words, the philosopher claims that the two are both free, but the latter is freer than the former. Again, Nagel paradox proves that the two are not free as their actions are determined by a number of factors.
Thus, the actions of kleptomaniac are determined by certain psychological peculiarities. Nielsen rightfully notes that the kleptomaniac may consider whether to take or not to take a thing (Nielsen 44). However, eventually, he/she will take the thing irrespective of his decision. Logically, there can be no free will if a man acts irrespective of his will and his decisions. Therefore, the kleptomaniac cannot be responsible for what he is, but he is still responsible for his actions.
As for the thief, his/her actions are still determined. Nielsen argues that the thief can decide whether to take or not to take a thing. However, Nagel would claim that the reasoning of the thief is determined by certain circumstances. For instance, the thief may need money badly and this will force him/her to steal. At the same time, he/she may not need money and he/she may find the thing invaluable or he/she may fail to find a valuable thing.
All these factors will force the thief to hold on and not to steal anything at that moment. Besides, peculiarities of the thief’s character will also influence his/her actions. If the thief is risky or desperate, he/she will steal. Thus, the thief is totally responsible for his actions, though he cannot be responsible for what he is.
Moral Good and Bad Luck
Nagel provides a consistent explanation of his views when he considers such notions as moral good and bad luck. The notions can be regarded as the strongest points in favor of Nagel’s determinism. As has been mentioned above, the philosopher claims that people judge others by actions.
However, the circumstances under which the actions were undertaken are often ignored. Nagel considers the example of Nazi Germany. The thinker argues that people tend to judge German people for their actions or rather inaction during the Nazi regime. However, people do not try to put themselves into German people’s shoes. It is impossible to predict the way other nations would behave under the same circumstances.
Nagel introduces the notion of moral bad luck and good luck. Thus, German people had moral bad luck as they found themselves in that situation, while other nations had moral good luck as they did not have the same circumstances. According to Nagel, people cannot be morally responsible for actions undertaken in situations people are not responsible for. In other words, the philosopher argues that people are often forced to act in specific ways and there are chances that any person would behave similarly under the same circumstances.
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On balance, it is possible to state that Nagel thinks that the compatibilist cannot explain the paradox as the notion of the free will is incompatible with determinism. Nagel stresses that people cannot be totally responsible for actions as they are forced to act in certain ways in certain circumstances.
Admittedly, all people’s actions are determined by a number of factors. These can be absolutely different factors: features of character, cultural background, the position in the society, etc. Compatibilists’ have rather weak arguments as they state that there is certain degree of free will in any situation. However, the history provides a variety of examples that justify Nagel’s viewpoint.
Nagel, Thomas. Mortal Questions: Canto. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.
Nielsen, Kai. “The Compatibility of Freedom and Determinism.” Free Will. Ed. Robert Kane. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2003. 39-47. Print.