Table of Contents
While libertarianism and determinism theories offer valuable insights into the theory that explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom, they are rationally inconsistent in their explanations. Accordingly, compatibilism offers the most conceivable insight into the theory that explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom. The reason is that moral responsibility is depended on humans’ ability to make free moral decisions among the limited alternatives made available to them by their dispositions. This research seeks to evaluate the best theory that best explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom.
Various theories explain the nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom. They include determinism, libertarianism, and hard determinism or compatibilism. The explanation of the premises of these constructs offers insight that is being used to determine the most applicable approach to the concept of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom. Libertarianism holds that moral responsibility is governed by liberty and free will while determinism argues that formerly real causes entirely determine it. Moreover, compatibilism contends that determinism is compatible with free will and thus moral responsibility is determined by both aspects. According to McKenna and Coates “Compatibilism is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism”
Libertarianism constitutes a philosophy that upholds the rights of people to liberty. The individuals who ascribe to this theory uphold liberty as the core principle and contemplates the safeguarding of individual rights to be the principal role for the state (Brennan 3). Determinism entails a philosophical idea holding that all state of affairs or events, including moral decisions, are entirely determined by formerly existing causes. According to this theory, events are as a result of antecedent states of affairs (Weatherford 173). Compatibilism constitutes the idea that determinism is compatible with free will and that it is conceivable to accept both as valid without becoming rationally inconsistent. From these definitions, it is appropriate to argue that compatibilism is the theory best explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom. The proponent of this theory subscribes to the idea that the free will, as well as the moral responsibility, are compatible with determinism (Campbell 86). Humans have free will to decide on the best moral practice that they can adopt, but their freedom of choice for their actions is under the confines of nature. Accordingly, humans may have free will to make the decision or determine their best moral actions but are limited to specific already determined causes. Past experiences govern the moral decisions that a person make come from their desires, and their desires, their circumstances as well as their psychological and personality traits (Campbell 89). Accordingly, moral responsibility is determined by determinism (past experiences and circumstances) and the free will. Fundamentally, moral responsibility is governed by determinism and free will. Moral responsibility is thus consistent with the theory of compatibilism.
While libertarianism theory upholds liberty, which is a significant individual right, it constitutes a narrower view of the moral interpretation. The reason is that the agents primarily and entirely own themselves and possess explicit moral authorities to obtain property rights for almost all things including external things (Brennan, 23). Libertarianism cannot be considered as the theory that best explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom because humans cannot be entirely responsible for actions that they perform. While individuals may have free will to determine their cause of actions, such cause of actions is determined by their past experiences, circumstances, personality, and psychological traits (Vallentyne and Vossen). For instance, a person does not have free will to decide to take the cause of action such as buying an orange unless they are guided by circumstances, past experiences with oranges and their tastes. If they have never had any experience with oranges that they may not consider them good for consumption or with the pleasant taste and thus they may never make decisions to buy.
Alternatively, determinism usually excludes free will since it necessitates the idea that individuals cannot make their own decisions but rely on the already determined state of affairs. According to McKenna, Michael and Coates “we shall define determinism as the metaphysical thesis that the facts of the past, in conjunction with the laws of nature, entail every truth about the future.” Consequently, according to this theory, the universe is rational since it possesses the complete understanding of all situations and also assures that its definite knowledge or interpretation of the future is also possible and plausible (Weatherford 220). The view that state of the universe at all times is completely determined and that subsequent state cannot change does not hold because it ties human actions and reduces humans to spectators. This theory cannot be used to best explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom because the aspect of free will, however how miniature it might be, ought to be considered in the process of making moral decisions and being responsible for the consequences (Hoefer). The reason is that determinist excludes free will and assume that formerly existing causes adequately control individuals and that they have no freedom to determine their cause of actions including making the viable moral decision.
According to the theory of compatibilism, humans are free to make morally responsible decisions among the limited alternatives made available to them by their dispositions. Moreover, humans have the unique ability to guide their dispositions to develop moral characters to their desired positions (Vargas 13). However, there is always something that influences ability of humans to make morally responsible decisions that are outside human abilities, liberties, and freedoms, which guide the free will. It is at this point that compatibilist argue that determinism is compatible with free will since free will has limitations. Free will is regarded as the freedom to act in consistency with one’s reasoning without subjective interference from other institutions or individuals (Vallentyne and Vossen). Since free will is characteristically considered to be an essential state of moral responsibility, compatibilists argue that there is compatibility between determinism and such moral responsibility.
Humans cannot exercise free will to infinity but will do it up to specific confines of that nature has provided. Human ability to make moral decisions which have moral responsibility cannot exist outside the realms of nature. According to Vargas there exist a connection between retribution, prohibitions, punishment and rewards that are associated with the construct of moral responsibility (15). However, retribution, prohibitions, punishment, and rewards would not be valuable or necessary if there was no free will in the process of making morally responsible decisions. At the same time, humans cannot claim to exist freely without restrictions of the certain level of confines of nature or rules governing their existences and their cause of actions. Fundamentally, humans’ moral responsibility can neither exist in free will nor can it be entirely determined by formerly existing causes but is as a result of both factors. Determinism and the with free will go hand in hand in the process of explaining the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom (McKenna and Coates). It is possible to accept both as true without becoming rationally inconsistent.
Compatibilists argue that moral responsibility has a lot to do with determinism. The reason is that, although moral responsibility arises from individual’s attitudes and desires it is heavily guided by the underlying origins of their actions, which is interpreted to be the determinist aspect (Weatherford 223). Nevertheless, a counter argument exits, that fact that the attempt to reconcile the theory of compatibilism and the determinism requires weakening or slightly revising the reasonable notion of free will. This assertion suspends the real value of the concept of free will since it is as if free will cannot exist outside the confines of nature and determined state of affairs. But, it is clear that free will relies on formerly existing causes and that it cannot freely exist without association with past experiences. Essentially, freedom does not necessarily mean that one has to act with, ego, compulsions of habits and desires but requires to obey and respond to forces that govern the nature that has been articulated by determinism. The rational faculties and influences of passions, freedoms, and rights of people that are considered to be liberty are restricted to certain specific level (McKenna and Coates). While the freedom to make moral decisions, and ascribing to individual’s authority over their moral responsibility is fundamental, heeding the dictates and commands of nature is equally significant.
Addressing the issue of moral responsibility necessitates the need for establishing specific guidelines and establishing all the premises governing three main theories including determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism. Libertarianism postulate that individuals are fully responsible for their action because they are at liberty to determine moral responsibility. However, the argument places humans at the superlative height of decision making, which from the explanation given above does not hold since humans always act within the confines of experiences they have had in the past or that which exist. Similarly, addressing the issue of moral responsibility may not involve holding the universe and its cause of actions to be solely responsible for human actions and hence their moral responsibility as the determinist postulate. The reason is that doing so, free human beings from accountability for their actions and nullify their contribution to the process of making morally responsible decisions. Consequently, compatibilism is the theory that best explains the true nature of moral responsibility and its relation to human freedom since it asserts that both determinism and free will determine moral responsibility. This argument is consistent with the requirements of moral responsibility and accountability of human to their actions.
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