The Moral Responsibility in Determinism?

Logical biconditional

Logical biconditional (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At a men’s discussion group I get to participate in every now and then, we have started to hammer out some interestings aspects of the free will v. determinism debate. Anyone who knows the debate, knows that it is not as clean cut as the “v” may represent.

But, the question came up about determinism and moral responsibility. Unlike moral influences and free will which suggest the person is still ultimately responsible, I am unsure if it is either logical or moral to place upon a pre-determined individual responsibility for his or her actions. If the person is born a predetermined immoral agent, then his or her actions are simply the result of the processes of the machine.

But, I wanted to argue the other side.

In determinism, the moral responsibility may not lay with the immoral agent, but I believe it does lay with the society as both a moral and legal entity. Therefore, if an immoral agent does what he or she is predisposed to do, it is not their fault; however, the moral society has a responsibility to correct the damage as well as to prevent such actions from occurring again in whatever means they find necessary. For the moral society, they act under the protection of the legal system — therefore, their actions or neither unjust or brutal, but necessary. They alone, after all, have the moral agency.

Thus, it becomes the moral responsibility of the legal society to remove from their midst the immoral agents if they act immorally.

I know I’ve missed something along the way…

Thoughts? As a determinist, are people morally responsible for their actions when they are pre-determined to be immoral?

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Post By Joel Watts (10,044 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Website: → Unsettled Christianity

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5 thoughts on The Moral Responsibility in Determinism?

  1. That’s a very good question! But, I don’t know what “determinism” means because I only know the term “total depravity” means theologically and consider it to be another issue. My response is about “Total Depravity”, however, because many confuse determinism ant total depravity whereby we believe that man cannot choose the “ultimate good”; Men is intrinsically evil but may be not intensely evil; Evil men are capable of good things as the murdering tyrant who still covers his little daughters with love. Paul teaches quoting Psalms that “…no one can do good; no not one”. Paul also teaches that “the natural man cannot grasp on the things of God”. However not even the most staunch supralapsarianist, or John Gill “eternal justification” believers, will deny that God, who is God and does whatever He pleases and has no other “god” above him to whom to answer, still holds men responsible for his acts. Therefore personal responsibility is not something that humans can decide whether they have it or not.
    Legal society may remove those who act immorally, which I will call it “criminally”; The Church as a legal parallel society can provide spiritual guidance to the criminal because God offers the redemption He pre-planned in Christ without, in advance and publicly, “labeling” those who are eligible to it.

    I should not have to apologize for quoting the Bible and Bible characters when I post my answers as I have no fear of the derision that such quotes may cause, and I think it would be very hard for anyone to answer this question ignoring what the Bible has to say about it.

  2. Perhaps those people who are falsely thought to be ‘immoral agents’ find themselves in the predicament of Judas? Satan entered into Judas, presumably because there was not the indwelt protection of the holy spirit, and either controlled him directly, or more likely agitated his more base instincts to the point that Judas did not understand what was happening until after the fact. This does not mean that Judas was not responsible for his actions ultimately, but it would perhaps point to his sin being a result of a lack of faith and belief.

    While society will isolate those who act in such a manner to the best of its ability, the church should go out of its way to actively embrace them and council them toward proper action. It is part of the in the world but not of it idea. The world can only isolate, bring division, and imprison, but the church, because of the work of Christ, can bring about healing, reconciliation and freedom. I would be skeptical to say that legal authority and morality are somehow linked.

  3. “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” Mat 18:7 – God predetermined that offences would come. We can’t say logically that the “what” is predicted but not the “who” because someone has to fulfill God’s predetermined plan, so the “offender” ultimately has no choice, no say in it. But God still holds him liable for the offence (with a “c” because it is more British).

    The role of the church as wisely pointed out by Scott is to bring healing to the offended and forgiveness to the offender, but the point remains that God’s predetermination of facts, events and people like Judas of whom is prophesied, and of whom the term “son of perdition” is used, and Jesus himself calls him “the devil”, does not remove in any way shape or form men’s responsibility.

    Regardless as to how one can answer the proposed question within philosophy, sociology or psychology, or any other subject for that matter, I seriously doubt that there is a better plan as the one laid out in the good old book we call the Bible!

  4. Nice to meet you Joel, thank you for the pingback.

    While perhaps not new to WordPress, we are still not very familiar with its ways. We have only recently learned what a pingback may be; we are still unclear about their use or when to approve them, consequently we nearly trashed yours out of laziness or out of fear it might be spam of some sort.

    We are glad we did not.

    We are uncertain how we may reciprocate if we think reciprocation would serve you fairly and we can make the effort to learn.

    Honestly, if we understand what a pingback is, then we probably get too few visitors for a reciprocal pingback to do you very much good.

    We are curious what sort of Christianity you might represent. It has taken us a lifetime to get over some of our prejudices regarding Christianity; prejudices beaten into us by Catholic boys and other ‘good’ Christian lads for more than 10 years.

    (We were not raised religiously, this made us fair game for all the fellows who thought their religious upbringings made them better than us.)

    We are ashamed to have become so prejudiced; we have had to work hard to overcome our prejudices; we have an ideal that we should never regard any person or their institutions with prejudice, regardless of their words or actions.

    (We fail this ideal particularly well sometimes when we consider our governments or corporations and their practices.)

    Now we are trying to apply this philosophy to Oakland gangbangers. We may be fortunate we have only met a very few, but we are grateful they have always treated us with respect. We are careful to always respect them as well; not out of fear, so much as out of a sense of awe for the courage their lives appear to demand of them.

    Anyways…
    We lack the capacity to read your books but we may try for some synopses on Wikipedia or Amazon if you do not have a site with synopses available somewhere else. We would like to understand your take on Christianity from your personal points of view because you may be what we regard to be a true Christian, following the examples given by Christ through Jesus, and not an idolater sort of Christian who worships Jesus without understanding the difference between Christ and Jesus or the importance this difference may bear when it comes to churches, tithes, politics, or the possible destinations of their spiritual paths.

    We may appear to be disagreeable to many Christians, particularly if we declare that we believe we are a Christian even though we reject churches, bibles, and any other orthodoxy that may put themselves before the welfare of any individual.

    Of course, we may also regard ourselves as a Muslim in our own views; again, not because we worship Mohamed, but because we revere the spiritual guidance that enlightened Mohamed.

    We enjoy all religions for their humanist principles and enlightenment.

    We can find no fault with any a religion that is not mirrored in some fashion in every other religion, so to our way of thinking, all religions are equal. The important difference between religions is not whether any of them are God’s true religion, but that each, in its own way, provides access to the questions we must all consider in life if we are to make the best of ourselves that our societies, cultures, and families can enable us to be.

    Perhaps you might like these articles:
    Transcending Religions’ Meaning and Value (http://esoteric.2hav.net/articleviewer.php?artid=3101)
    The Great False Debate, Science vs. Religion (http://esoteric.2hav.net/articleviewer.php?artid=3043)

    WARNING: the following may contain a concept some people may find offensive, sacrilegious, or even blasphemous.
    Hell in a Nutshell (http://esoteric.2hav.net/articleviewer.php?artid=2675)

    Enjoy!

    Blessed be brother, always, by whatever blessings work best for you.
    love, Grigori Rho Gharveyn, etc… et al.

    ps
    um, fyi – another great prejudice we must overcome to regard you fairly may be our prejudice against academia and its various standards which are meant to imply or create excellence, but which may devolve into cultural watchdogs and censorship.

    Our uncle Dave was a great educator, the queen made him an obo a few years back for his contributions to the UK’s academic standards; we were steeped in academia from our infancy on, yet to us there appears to be a curtain hiding a very tricky wizard.

    pps
    thank you for taking a stand against the exclusivism of the American Church. We hope there can be a spiritually responsible mediation that may include more people with less finger waggling and condemnation.

  5. Our apologies for failing to answer the questions related to the topic of your blog in our previous comment Joel.

    Our first instinct is to ask is: why are we accepting that determinism is even a valid way to define human behavior?

    Sure, determinism works great for physical laws, but we think there is always a mistake made when we apply laws about physical systems to laws about human behavior.

    Nonetheless, this is a very attractive mistake to make for diverse reasons too often related to laziness or skullduggery, but more often due to cultural paradigms that teach people to make these shortcuts because they are already in widely accepted usage..

    With great personal fortitude we try to step past this objection to consider the question you ask rather than the question we might prefer to answer.

    So what might be missing?
    There appears to be an assumption of the existence of an ‘immoral agent’ to examine.
    There appear to be terms and arguments out of context, perhaps from dialogues or arguments assumed rather than presented.
    There appear to be conflations, contractions, or concatenations of ideas or opinions without sufficient introduction of the member terms to readily support their product.

    And, what might be wrong (our question):
    The strongest statement presumes that “the moral society has a responsibility to correct the damage as well as to prevent such actions from occurring again in whatever means they find necessary”.

    So.
    The assumption of the existence of an immoral agent can not be examined without knowing what is meant by an immoral agent, something this blog may not make clear to a reader lacking the context to support the definition you intend.
    If we presume by immoral agent you mean a physical person who acts in a manner deemed immoral then this opens a huge can of worms. Who decides what is moral? How do you apply a decision regarding morality across differing cultures with potentially conflicting standards regarding ethical and moral behavior?
    Too often moral standards are presumed to be universal simply because within the culture in which they are learned they appear to be universal.
    But perhaps you meant to avoid that particular bucket.
    Yet we are reasonably certain you did not mean a supernatural immoral agent which opens up an even bigger bucket of worms.

    This ‘immoral agent’ is a good example of something out of context. The closest we might come to a correct context is that we presume you might be speaking about people who might be considered to have done something immoral in an abstract sense, rather than discussing a supernatural agent urging people to harm themselves or others.

    As for concatenations, your ‘moral society’ is an undefined term in a long argument with other terms that may be undefined. We know that within a closed group ‘moral society’ may have a specific meaning, but with a larger audience a stronger foundation for this term may be required unless you mean to use this term as a filter to alienate unwanted readers, perhaps to discourage your aforementioned ‘immoral agents’ from reading or responding to your work.

    Mmm. sorry, we can be a pretty fierce critic. You may thank God we are by no means up to anyone’s academic standards.

    Anyways…
    These are just flaws of mechanics, we understand the need for brevity, but being too brief may leave out those who are not steeped in your personal culture or accustomed to your particular use of subjects and contexts.

    As for the ideas themselves…
    We can’t really say. We can only state a possibly poorly informed opinion. Alas, too many people misuse their own opinions, particularly by mistaking them for facts too often.

    It is our opinion that all people appear to have something that might be called free will.

    In limited cases it may be possible to describe a set of ethics or morals that define what citizens of a society might do to remain citizens in good standing; however all limits are artificial, there will always be arguments regarding where boundaries belong.
    Consequently, no one system of ethical or moral behavior can be applied universally due to variations of cultural paradigms.

    In previous eras geographical isolation helped communities maintain their standards, but in a world where communities live amongst each other, each with different heritages, histories, paradigms, and codes of morality, as desirable as a universal code of behavior might be, any laws enacted with the purpose of legislating morality will inevitably come into conflict with people who feel marginalized, disenfranchised, or excluded, or who feel they must exclude themselves.

    The strongest statement, a presumption that “the moral society has a responsibility to correct the damage as well as to prevent such actions from occurring again in whatever means they find necessary” is a statement that might lead to civil war.

    Oh wait, it already has.

    Forget the barbarians at the walls, our own citizens are becoming the barbarians; perhaps ourselves included.

    Anyways…
    Idealism always has fatal flaws, but it may take someone more astute than ourselves to find the greatest weaknesses of your arguments.

    May you find a worthier critic.

    Blessed be.

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