On the Conflict Between Determinism and Moral Responsibility.
The thesis of determinism seems to have dealt a crushing blow to the idea of free will and therefor to our notions of moral responsibility. If it can be shown that our actions are physically determined and therefor predictable (assuming one can be aware of all of the relevant causes and the laws determining them), then presumably our actions lack a kind of freedom necessary for our notions of moral responsibility to hold true. But in the course of this essay I want to show that the consequences of physical determinism have been misapplied to the sphere of ethics. While the truth of determinism might create the illusion that our freedom has been violated, the kind of freedom necessary for our moral practices to remain valid still exists.
Determinism is a somewhat vague concept, so in order to make any meaningful statements I would here like to define more clearly what I take to be the meaning of the thesis of determinism. Determinism requires that everything that exists exists in the physical realm. This argument therefor holds true only for the convinced materialist, the dualist won't be convinced by this argument. But the dualist doesn't suffer from the loss of freedom suffered by the materialist as a result of determinism, and so this argument holds no relevance to the believer in dualism whatsoever. The kind of determinism I am discussing is what I shall call "Physical Determinism" and rests completely in the physical world. .
When we speak of the physical world, what we mean of course is that world that we can feel, touch, interact with, etc. But we also mean that of which our bodies and even our minds are composed of. This is somewhat of a presumption of my own which might not sit well with some, but indeed much of my argument rests upon the notion that our minds, our consciousness if you will, is ultimately material in nature, and is thus governed the causal laws which govern all matter.