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Moral Responsibility and Hard Determinism Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Jul 12th, 2022

At first glance, hard determinism as an extreme form of denial of free will presupposes the absence of any responsibility for human actions. However, there is no contradiction between determinism and the assumption that people sometimes are free agents (Edwards, 1961, p. 488). From the point of view of hard determinism, a person cannot be morally responsible for his actions. Even in the case of a person’s efforts and desires to change the character, determinists deny this possibility, emphasizing the illusory nature of free will (Edwards, 1961). Thus, a person’s actions are determined by external factors, under the influence of which his character is formed. In this case, it is true that punishment and reward can be used to shape and motivate acceptable behavior.

Punishing or rewarding a person for certain actions can be socially beneficial in relation to other people’s right to safety. Stace (1952) states that under the condition of hard determinism, it is possible “either on the ground that it will correct his own character, or that it will deter other people from doing similar acts” (p. 486). Thus, even in the case when a person’s act is predetermined by his character or circumstance, moral responsibility is necessary to ensure social order. In this case, punishment or reward will act as artificial motivators for certain behavior, which is the goal. In addition, demonstrative moral responsibility will motivate other people to behave in a certain way. Thus, punishment and hard determinism are compatible on the basis “that human behavior is causally determined” (Stance, 1952, p. 486). Human behavior is dictated by certain reasons; otherwise, it would be unpredictable and unpunished. However, hard determinism defines that for every action there is a cause, which is either in the person’s character or in conditions.

References

Stance, W. T. (1952). A Compatibilist account of free will. In W. T. Stance, Religion and the modern mind (pp. ). Lippincott.

Edwards, P. (1961). Hard and soft determinism. In S. Hook (ed.), Determinism and freedom (pp. ). Collier Books.

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