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  • Subject area(s): Science
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  • Published on: 15th October 2019
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In his lecture on Human Freedom and the Self, Roderick Chisholm discusses human freedom and moral responsibility with regards on determinism and indeterminism and argues for an incompatibilist account of freedom and moral responsibility.

The main issue discussed in this lecture is that of human freedom: “Human beings are responsible agents; but this fact appears to conflict with a deterministic view of human action; and it also appears to conflict with an indeterministic view of human action. To solve the problem, I believe, we must make somewhat far-reaching assumptions […] about the man who performs the act.”  

Chisholm explains the issue through the example of a man shooting another man with a gun. If one considers the man responsible for the shooting, then what happened at the moment of the action was entirely up to the man himself. If, however, the man was forced or menaced by a second man to make him kill the third, then the first man cannot be held responsible for the murder. Chisholm then draws a parallel with the agent’s beliefs and desires: if they caused him to pull the trigger, then he should not have to be held responsible for the murder, seeing as the action was not decided by him, but rather forced upon him by his beliefs and desires. This would mean that moral responsibility and determinism are entirely incompatible with each other, and that is the way this example is used in this lecture.  

He then proceeds to consider G. E. Moore’s objection to this principle and tries to argue against it. The objection tries to prove that the expression

a) He could have done otherwise.

is equivalent to the expression

b) If he had chosen to do otherwise, then he would have done otherwise.

and then argues that b) is constant with determinism, so a) must be constant with determinism. Therefore, determinism is constant with free will/moral responsibility.

Chisholm refutes that argument by stating that the two expressions cannot mean the same, expression b) could be true, while expression a) is false. One cannot infere from b) to a) because it can be true that b) if he had chosen to do otherwise, he would have done otherwise; but in order to assert that a) he could have done otherwise, he would need to have the capacity to choose otherwise. In other words, it doesn’t matter whether he would have done otherwise if he had chosen to do so, if he doesn’t possess the ability to choose otherwise. Considering the very nature of determinism, he doesn’t possess the ability to choose otherwise, Moore’s objection is thus disproved.

Chisholm also briefly mentions the indeterministic view, but mentioning that it doesn’t even require being argued against because the very nature of indeterminism (nothing is ever caused by anything) is in itself a contradiction to responsibility.

This is where Chisholm introduces a new concept, the concept of agent causation:

“We must not say that every event involved in the act is caused by some other event; and we must not say that the act is something that is not caused at all. The possibility that remains, therefore, is this: We should say that at least one of the events that are involved in the act is caused, not by any other events, but by something else instead. And this […] can only be the agent – the man.”

As Chisholm sees it, considering inanimate natural objects, one can say that causation is a relation between events. But if we consider a man being responsible for his action, then causation is not linked to other events, but only to the agent, the man, bringing about an event.

Roderick defines here two key concepts to his argument:

1) Transeunt causation (an event or state of affairs causing some other event or state of affairs)

2) Immanent causation (an acting agent causing an event or state of affairs, the whole being unrelated to other events or states of affairs)

The concept of immanent causation is then illustrated with an example from Aristotle’s Physics

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