<READ NUM="5" ID="RD.05.005"><FM>Paul Edwards

<GRP TY="BIO"><P>Paul Edwards (1923–2004) was an Austrian-born philosopher who was educated in Australia, but did most of his teaching in the United States, mainly at Columbia. Though perhaps best known as the editor-in-chief of the Macmillan <ITAL>Encyclopedia of Philosophy</ITAL> (1967), Edwards also wrote widely on topics in the philosophy of religion, metaphysics, and ethics. In the following selection, he criticizes soft determinist or compatibilist views on the grounds that their account of freedom evades the deepest problems about free will and does not provide an acceptable basis for moral responsibility. His conclusion is that hard determinism is the correct position.</P></GRP>

<TTL>Hard and Soft<SNIND NUMBER="5"/> Determinism</TTL></FM><BM><P>

In his essay “The Dilemma of Determinism,” William James makes a distinction that will serve as a point of departure for my remarks. He there distinguishes between the philosophers he calls “hard” determinists and those he labels “soft” determinists. The former, the hard determinists, James tells us, “did not shrink from such words as fatality, bondage of the will, necessitation and the like.” He quotes a famous stanza from Omar Khayyám as representing this kind of determinism:

<PO><P>With earth’s first clay they did the last man knead,</P>

<P>And there of the last harvest sowed the seed.</P>

<P>And the first morning of creation wrote</P>

<P>What the last dawn of reckoning shall read.</P></PO>

Another of Omar’s verses expresses perhaps even better the kind of theory that James has here in mind:

<PO><P>Tis all a checker-board of nights and days,</P>

<P>Where destiny with men for pieces plays;</P>

<P>Thither and thither moves, and metes, and slays,</P>

<P>And one by one back to the closet lays.</P></PO>

James mentioned no names other than Omar Khayyám. But there is little doubt that among the hard determinists he would have included Jonathan Edwards, Anthony Collins, Holbach, Priestley, Robert Owen, Schopenhauer, Freud, and also, if he had come a little earlier, Clarence Darrow.[1]</P>

<P>James of course rejected both hard and soft determinism, but for hard determinism he had a certain respect: the kind of respect one sometimes has for an honest, straightforward adversary. For soft determinism, on the other hand, he had nothing but contempt, calling it a “quagmire of evasion.” “Nowadays,” he writes, “we have a <ITAL>soft</ITAL> determinism which abhors harsh words, and repudiating fatality, necessity, and even predetermination, says that its real name is ‘freedom.’... </P>

<P>The theory James calls soft determinism, especially the Hume-Mill-Schlick variety of it, has been extremely fashionable during the last twenty-five years, while hardly anybody can be found today who has anything good to say for hard determinism.[2] In opposition to this contemporary trend, I should like to strike a blow on behalf of hard determinism in my talk today. I shall also try to bring out exactly what is really at issue between hard and soft determinism. I think the nature of this dispute has frequently been misconceived chiefly because many writers, including James, have a very inaccurate notion of what is maintained by actual hard determinists, as distinct from the bogey men they set up in order to score an easy victory.</P>

<P>To begin with, it is necessary to spell more fully the main contentions of the soft determinists. Since it is the dominant form of soft determinism at the present time, I shall confine myself to the Hume-Mill-Schlick theory. According to this theory there is in the first place no contradiction whatsoever between determinism and the proposition that human beings are sometimes free agents. When we call an action “free” we never in any ordinary situation mean that it was uncaused; and this emphatically includes the kind of action about which we pass moral judgments. By calling an action “free” we mean that the agent was not compelled or constrained to perform it. Sometimes people act in a certain way because of threats or because they have been drugged or because of a posthypnotic suggestion or because of an irrational overpowering urge such as the one that makes a kleptomaniac steal something he does not really need. On such occasions human beings are not free agents.[3] But on other occasions they act in certain ways because of their own rational desires, because of their own unimpeded efforts, because they have chosen to act in these ways. On these occasions they are free agents although their actions are just as much caused as actions that are not deemed free. In distinguishing between free and unfree actions we do not try to mark the presence and absence of causes but attempt to indicate the <ITAL>kind</ITAL> of causes that are present.</P>

<P>Secondly there is no antithesis between determinism and moral responsibility. When we judge a person morally responsible for a certain action, we do indeed presuppose that he was a free agent at the time of the action. But the freedom presupposed is not the contracausal freedom about which indeterminists go into such ecstatic raptures.[4] It is nothing more than the freedom already mentioned— the ability to act according to one’s choices or desires. Since determinism is compatible with freedom in this sense, it is also compatible with moral responsibility. In other words, the world is after all wonderful: we can be determinists and yet go on punishing our enemies and our children, and we can go on blaming ourselves, all without a bad intellectual conscience.</P>

<P>Mill, who was probably the greatest moralizer among the soft determinists, recognized with particular satisfaction the influence or alleged influence of one class of human desires. Not only, for example, does such lowly desire as my desire to get a new car influence my conduct. It is equally true, or so at least Mill believed, that my desire to become a more virtuous person does on occasion influence my actions.[5] By suitable training and efforts my desire to change my character may in fact bring about the desired changes. If Mill were alive today he might point to contemporary psychiatry as an illustration of his point. Let us suppose that I have an intense desire to become famous, but that I also have an intense desire to become a happier and more lovable person who, among other things, does not greatly care about fame. Let us suppose, furthermore, that I know of a therapy that can transform fame-seeking and unlovable into lovable and fame-indifferent character structures. If, now, I have enough money, energy, and courage, and if a few other conditions are fulfilled, my desire may actually lead to a major change in my character. [6] Since we can, therefore, at least to some extent, form our own character, determinism according to Mill is compatible not only with judgments of moral responsibility about this or that particular <ITAL>action</ITAL> flowing from an unimpeded desire, but also, within limits, with moral judgments about the <ITAL>character</ITAL> of human beings. </P>

<P>I think that several of Mill’s observations were well worth making and that James’s verdict on his theory as a “quagmire of evasion” is far too derogatory. I think hard determinists have occasionally written in such a way as to suggest that they deny the causal efficacy of human desires and efforts. Thus Holbach wrote:

<EXT><P>You will say that I feel free. This is an illusion, which may be compared to that of the fly in the fable, who, lighting upon the pole of a heavy carriage, applauded himself for directing its course. Man, who thinks himself free, is a fly who imagines he has power to move the universe, while he is himself unknowingly carried along by it.</P></EXT>

There is also the following passage in Schopenhauer:

<EXT><P>Every man, being what he is and placed in the circumstances which for the moment obtain, but which on their part also arise by strict necessity, can absolutely never do anything else than just what at that moment he does do. Accordingly, the whole course of a man’s life, in all its incidents great and small, is as necessarily predetermined as the course of a clock.[7]</P></EXT></P>


<P>Furthermore there can be little doubt that Hume and Mill and Schlick were a great deal clearer about the relation between motives and actions than the hard determinists....</P>

<P>But when all is said and done, there remains a good deal of truth in James’s charge that soft determinism is an evasion. For a careful reading of their works shows that none of the hard determinists really denied that human desires, efforts, and choices make a difference in the course of events. Any remarks to the contrary are at most temporary lapses. This, then, is hardly the point at issue. If it is not the point at issue, what is? Let me at this stage imagine a hard determinist replying to a champion of the Hume-Mill theory: “You are right,” he would say, “in maintaining that some of our actions are caused by our desires and choices. But you do not pursue the subject far enough. You arbitrarily stop at the desires and volitions. We must not stop there. We must go on to ask where <ITAL>they</ITAL> come from; and if determinism is true there can be no doubt about the answer to this question. Ultimately our desires and our whole character are derived from our inherited equipment and the environmental influences to which we were subjected at the beginning of our lives. It is clear that we had no hand in shaping either of these.”[8] A hard determinist could quote a number of eminent supporters. “Our volitions and our desires,” wrote Holbach in his little book <ITAL>Good Sense</ITAL>, “are never in our power. You think yourself free, because you do what you will; but are you free to will or not to will; to desire or not to desire?” And Schopenhauer expressed the same thought in the following epigram: “A man can surely do what he wills to do, but he cannot determine what he wills.”</P>

<P>Let me turn once more to the topic of character transformation by means of psychiatry to bring out this point with full force. Let us suppose that both <ITAL>A</ITAL> and <ITAL>B</ITAL> are compulsive and suffer intensely from their neuroses. Let us assume that there is a therapy that could help them, which could materially change their character structure, but that it takes a great deal of energy and courage to undertake the treatment. Let us suppose that <ITAL>A</ITAL> has the necessary energy and courage while <ITAL>B</ITAL> lacks it. <ITAL>A</ITAL> undergoes the therapy and changes in the desired way. <ITAL>B</ITAL> just gets more and more compulsive and more and more miserable. Now, it is true that <ITAL>A</ITAL> helped form his own later character. But his starting point, his desire to change, his energy and courage, were already there. They may or may not have been the result of previous efforts on his own part. But there must have been a first effort, and the effort at that time was the result of factors that were not of his making. </P>

<P>The fact that a person’s character is ultimately the product of factors over which he had no control is not denied by the soft determinists, though many of them don’t like to be reminded of it when they are in a moralizing mood. Since the hard determinists admit that our desires and choices do on occasion influence the course of our lives, there is thus no disagreement between the soft and the hard determinists about the empirical facts.[9] However, some hard determinists infer from some of these facts that human beings are never morally responsible for their actions. The soft determinists, as already stated, do not draw any such inference. In the remainder of my paper I shall try to show just what it is that hard determinists are inferring and why, in my opinion, they are justified in their conclusion.</P>

<P>I shall begin by adopting for my purposes a distinction introduced by C. A. Campbell in his extremely valuable article “Is Free Will a Pseudo-Problem?”<UNIND NUMBER="2"/>* in which he distinguishes between two conceptions of moral responsibility. Different persons, he says, require different conditions to be fulfilled before holding human beings morally responsible for what they do. First, there is what Campbell calls the ordinary unreflective person, who is rather ignorant and who is not greatly concerned with the theories of science, philosophy, and religion. If the unreflective person is sure that the agent to be judged was acting under coercion or constraint, he will not hold him responsible. If, however, he is sure that the action was performed in accordance with the agent’s unimpeded rational desire, if he is sure that the action would not have taken place but for the agent’s decision, then the unreflective person will consider ascription of moral responsibility justified. The fact that the agent did not ultimately make his own character will either not occur to him, or else it will not be considered a sufficient ground for withholding a judgment of moral responsibility.</P>

<P>In addition to such unreflective persons, continues Campbell, there are others who have reached “a tolerably advanced level or reflection.”

<EXT><P>Such a person will doubtless be acquainted with the claims advanced in some quarters that causal law operates universally; or/and with the theories of some philosophies that the universe is throughout the expression of a single supreme principle; or/and with the doctrines of some theologians that the world is created, sustained and governed by an Omniscient and Omnipotent Being.</P></EXT>

Such a person will tend to require the fulfillment of a further condition before holding anybody morally responsible. He will require not only that the agent was not coerced or constrained but also—and this is taken to be an additional condition—that he “could have chosen otherwise than he actually did.”[10] I should prefer to put this somewhat differently, but it will not affect the main conclusion drawn by Campbell, with which I agree. The reflective person, I should prefer to express it, requires not only that the agent was not coerced; he also requires that the agent <ITAL>originally chose his own character</ITAL>—the character that now displays itself in his choices and desires and efforts.[11] Campbell concludes that determinism is indeed compatible with judgments of moral responsibility in the unreflective sense, but that it is incompatible with judgments of moral responsibility in the reflective sense.</P>

<P>Although I do not follow Campbell in rejecting determinism, I agree basically with his analysis, with one other qualification. I do not think it is a question of the different senses in which the term is used by ignorant and unreflective people, on the one hand, and by those who are interested in science, religion, and philosophy, on the other. The very same persons, whether educated or uneducated, use it in certain contexts in the one sense and in other contexts in the other. Practically all human beings, no matter how much interested they are in science, religion, and philosophy, employ what Campbell calls the unreflective conception when they are dominated by violent emotions like anger, indignation, or hate, and especially when the conduct they are judging has been personally injurious to them. On the other hand, a great many people, whether they are educated or not, will employ what Campbell calls the reflective conception when they are not consumed with hate or anger—when they are judging a situation calmly and reflectively and when the fact that the agent did not ultimately shape his own character has been vividly brought to their attention. Clarence Darrow in his celebrated pleas repeatedly appealed to the jury on precisely this ground. If any of you, he would say, had been reared in an environment like that of the accused or had to suffer from his defective heredity, <ITAL>you</ITAL> would now be standing in the dock….Darrow nearly always convinced the jury that the accused could not be held morally responsible for his acts; and certainly the majority of the jurors were relatively uneducated.</P>

<P>I have so far merely distinguished between two concepts of moral responsibility. I now wish to go a step farther and claim that only one of them can be considered, properly speaking, a moral concept. This is not an easy point to make clear, but I can at least indicate what I mean. We do not normally consider just any positive or negative feeling a “moral” emotion. Nor do we consider just any sentence containing the words “good” or “bad” expressions of “moral” judgment....A feeling or judgment must in a certain sense be “impersonal” before we consider it moral. To this I would add that it must also be independent of violent emotions. Confining myself to judgments, I would say that a judgment was “moral” only if it was formulated in a calm and reflective mood, or at least if it is supported in a calm and reflective state of mind. If this is so, it follows that what Campbell calls the reflective sense of “moral responsibility” is the only one that qualifies as a properly moral use of the term.[12]</P>

<P>Before I conclude I wish to avoid a certain misunderstanding of my remarks. From the fact that human beings do not ultimately shape their own character, I said, it <ITAL>follows</ITAL> that they are never morally responsible. I do not mean that by reminding people of the ultimate causes of their character one makes them more charitable and less vengeful. Maybe one does, but that is not what I mean. I mean “follow” or “imply” in the same sense as, or in a sense closely akin to, that in which the conclusion of a valid syllogism follows from the premises. The effectiveness of Darrow’s pleas does not merely show, I am arguing, how powerfully he could sway the emotions of the jurors. His pleas also brought into the open one of the conditions the jurors, like others, consider necessary on reflection before they hold an agent morally responsible....</P></BM>

<SN NUMBER="5"><P>From <ITAL>Determinism and Freedom</ITAL>, edited by Sidney Hook (New York: Collier Books, 1961).</P></SN>

<UN NUMBER="2"><P><ITAL><INST>*</INST>Mind</ITAL>, 1951.</P></UN>

<RM><H1>Discussion Questions</H1>

<NL><ITEM><P><INST>       1.    </INST>Assuming that freedom and moral responsibility do require that a person “could have done otherwise,” is the compatibilist (or soft determinist) account of what this amounts to the right one? Think of examples like those listed by Edwards on page xxx (before Annotation 39). Could the people in question have done otherwise in the compatibilist sense? If so, does this show that they are free and morally responsible, or does it show that the compatibilist account of “could have done otherwise” is not the right one for genuine freedom?</P></ITEM>

<ITEM><P><INST>       2.    </INST>Consider now Edwards’s alternative account of “could have done otherwise” (p. xxx). If this is the right account, is anyone ever free and responsible? Can you even imagine how this requirement (which others have suggested too) could be satisfied? What would it be like to choose your own character—and on what basis would you make the choice? Can you think of any case where it seems plausible that you choose at least some significant part of your own character? Did the choice in question derive from other parts or aspects of your character?


[1] And Robert Blatchford.

[2] Soft determinism is also, of course, the view advocated by Stace—and, in an importantly different form, by Frankfurt, in the following selection.

[3] Edwards is here reporting the most widely held version of the soft determinist view. But it is fairly clear that according to both Hume and Stace, the kleptomaniac acts freely (because his action is determined by his own psychological states or by his will). What would these two soft determinists say about these other cases?

[4] That is, it is neither randomness nor some third alternative to determinism and randomness of the sort advocated by libertarians.

[5] Mill’s view here is a partial anticipation of Frankfurt’s view (in the following selection).

[6] But of course whether or not I have the desire in question and satisfy the conditions for being able to do this is itself determined, according to Mill’s view.

[7] Read these passages carefully. Is it clear that either Holbach or especially Schopenhauer is denying the “causal efficacy of human desires and efforts”—as opposed to just saying that these too are determined?

[8] This is what Blatchford would say.

[9] Think again of the comparison between Blatchford and Stace. Is there any empirical issue, one capable of being settled by observation or experiment, about which they differ?

[10] Soft determinists like Hume and Stace, of course, accept the verbal formulation of this requirement—see Stace, pp. xxx-xxx. The issue between them and libertarians like Campbell (and Nozick and Kane) is what is required for the quoted phrase to correctly apply to an action.

[11] Think carefully about this very demanding condition. What would it mean to choose your own character? On what basis would you make such a choice?

[12] Edwards is saying that anyone who approaches the issue in a “calm and reflective state of mind” will agree that the soft determinist’s account of moral responsibility is inadequate. (Do you think he is right about this?)