Philosophy Week 21
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What is Karma?
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Date Created: 12/05/15
PHILOSOPHICAL By the same author E S S S 4 THE CONCEPT OF A PERSON AND OTHER ESSAYS THE PROBLEM OF KNOWLEDGE THE REVOLUTION m PHILOSOPHY WITH owns 5 BY 1 iquot A Jy Y E R MA FBA Fellow of New College and Wykeham Professor of Logic in the University of Oxford l i s LON DON RALPH BROWN DEAUGE EGN MACMILLAN as CO LTD LIBRARY NEW YORK ST MARTIN S PRESS 1963 N nmM n 270 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS If any one chooses to adopt what Bentham called the principle of asceticism and set about making himself and everyone around him as miserable as possible he can be remonstrated with but strictly speaking not refuted It is however unlikely that he would now get very many people to agree with him Again it might be urged against Bentham that the question which we have to consider is not what people actually want but what they ought to want or what they must be made to want and no doubt there is something to be said for this point of view But Bentham s attitude is simpler and it is at least arguable that from the practical stand point it should be preferred 12 FREEDOM AND NECESSITY WHEN I am said to have done something of my own free will it is implied that I could have acted otherwise and it is only when it is believed that I could have acted otherwise that I am held to be morally responsible for what I have done For a man is not thought to be morally responsible for an action that it was not in his power to avoid But if human behaviour is entirely governed by causal laws it is not clear how any action that is done could ever have been avoided It may be said of the agent that he would have acted otherwise if the causes of his action had been different but they being what they were it seems to follow that he was bound to act as he did Now it is commonly assumed both that men are capable of acting freely in the sense that is required to make them morally responsible and that human behaviour is entirely governed by causal laws and it is the apparent con ict between these two assumptions that gives rise to the philosophical problem of the freedom of the will Confronted with this problem many people will be inclined to agree with Dr Johnson Sir we know our will is free and there s an end on t But while this does very well for those who accept Dr Johnson s premiss it would hardly convince anyone who denied the freedom of the will Certainly if we do know that 271 272 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS our wills are free it follows that they are so But the logical reply to this might be that since our wills are not free it follows that no one can know that they are so that if anyone claims like Dr Johnson to know that they are he must be mistaken What is evident indeed is that people often believe themselves to be acting freely and it is to this feeling of freedom that some philosophers appeal when they wish in the supposed interests of morality to prove that not all human action is causally determined But if these philosophers are right in their assumption that a man cannot be acting freely if his action is causally deter mined then the fact that someone feels free to do or not to do a certain action does not prove that he really is so It may prove that the agent does not himself know what it is that makes him act in one way rather than another but from the fact that a man is unaware of the causes of his action it does not follow that no such causes exist So much may be allowed to the determinist but his belief that all human actions are subservient to causal laws still remains to be justi ed If indeed it is necessary that every event should have a cause then the rule must apply to human behaviour as much as to anything else But why should it be supposed that every event must have a cause The contrary is not unthinkable Nor is the law of universal causation a necessary presupposition of scienti c thought The scientist may try to discover causal laws and in many cases he succeeds but sometimes he has to be content with statistical laws and sometimes he comes upon events which in the present state of his knowledge he is not able to subsume under any law at all In the case of these events he assumes that if he knew more he would be able to discover some law whether causal or FREEDOM AND NECESSITY 273 statistical which would enable him to account for them And this assumption cannot be disproved For however far he may have carried his investigation it is always open to him to carry it further and it is always conceivable that if he carried it further he would discover the connection which had hitherto escaped him Nevertheless it is also conceivable that the events with which he is concerned are not systematically connected with any others so that the reason why he does not discover the sort of laws that he requires is simply that they do not obtain Now in the case of human conduct the search for explanations has not in fact been altogether fruitless Certain scienti c laws have been established and with the help of these laws we do make a number of success ful predictions about the ways in which different people will behave But these predictions do not always cover every detail We may be able to predict that in certain circumstances a particular man will be angry without being able to prescribe the precise form that the expression of his anger will take We may be reason ably sure that he will shout but not sure how loud his shout will be or exactly what words he will use And it is only a small proportion of human actions that we are able to forecast even so precisely as this But that it may be said is because we have not carried our investigations very far The science of psychology is still in its infancy and as it is developed not only will more human actions be explained but the explanations will go into greater detail The ideal of complete explanation may never in fact be attained but it is theoretically attainable Well this may be so and certainly it is impossible to show a priori that it is not so but equally it cannot be shown that it is This will 4274 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS not however discourage the scientist who in the eld of human behaviour as elsewhere will continue to formulate theories and test them by the facts And in this he is justi ed For since he has no reason a priori to admit that there is a limit to what he can discover the fact that he also cannot be sure that there is no limit does not make it unreasonable for him to devise theories nor having devised them to try constantly to improve them But now suppose it to be claimed that so far as men s actions are concerned there is a limit and that this limit is set by the fact of human freedom An ob vious objection is that in many cases in which a person feels himself to be free to do or not to do a certam action we are even now able to explain in causal terms why it is that he acts as he does But it might be argued that even if men are sometimes mistaken m believing that they act freely it does not follow that they are always so mistaken For it is not always the case that when a man believes that he has acted freely we are in fact able to account for his action in causal terms A determinist would say that we should be able to account for it if we had more knowledge of the circumstances and had been able to discover the appropriate natural laws But until those discoveries have been made this remains only a pious hope And may it not be true that in some cases at least the reason why we can give no causal explanation is that no causal explanation is available and that this is because the agent s choice was literally free as he himself felt it to be P The answer is that this may indeed be true inas much as it is open to anyone to hold that no explana tion is possible until some explanation is actually found FREEDOM AND NECESSITY 275 But even so it does not give the moralist what he wants For he is anxious to show that men are capable of acting freely in order to infer that they can be morally respon sible for what they do But if it is a matter of pure chance that a man should act in one way rather than another he may be free but he can hardly be respon sible And indeed when a man s actions seem to us quite unpredictable when as we say there is no know ing what he will do we do not look upon him as a moral agent We look upon him rather as a lunatic To this it may be objected that we are not deal ing fairly with the moralist For when he makes it a condition of my being morally responsible that I should act freely he does not wish to imply that it is purely a matter of chance that I act as I do What he wishes to imply is that my actions are the result of my own free choice and it is because they are the result of my own free choice that I am held to be morally responsible for them But now we must ask how it is that I come to make my choice Either it is an accident that I choose to act as I do or it is not If it is an accident then it is merely a matter of chance that I did not choose other wise and if it is merely a matter of chance that I did not choose otherwise it is surely irrational to hold me morally responsible for choosing as I did But if it is not an accident that I choose to do one thing rather than another then presumably there is some causal explana tion of my choice and in that case we are led back to determinism Again the objection may be raised that we are not doing justice to the moralist s case His view is not that it is a matter of chance that I choose to act as I do but rather that my choice depends upon my character 276 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS Nevertheless he holds that I can still be free in the sense that he requires for it is I who am responsible for my character But in what way am I responSible for my character Only surely in the sense that there is a causal connection between what I do now and what I have done in the past It is only this that justi es the statement that I have made myself what I am and even so this is an oversimpli cation since it takes no account of the external influences to which I have been subjected But ignoring the external in uences let us assume that it is in fact the case that have made myself what I am Then it is still legitimate to ask how it is that I have come to make myself one sort of person rather than another And if it be answered that it is a matter of my strength of Wlll we can put the same question in another formby asking how it is that my will has the strength that it has and not some other degree of strength Once more either it is an accident or it is not If it is an accident then by the same argument as before I am not morally responsrble and if it is not an accident we are led back to deter minism Furthermore to say that my actions proceed from my character or more colloquially that I act in charac ter is to say that my behaviour is conSistent and to that extent predictable and since it is above all for the actions that I perform in character that I am held to be morally responsible it looks as if the admissmn of moral responsibility so far from being incompatible with determinism tends rather to presuppose it But how can this be so if it is a necessary condition of moral responsibility that the person who is heldresponsible should have acted freely It seems that if we are to retain this idea of moral responsibility we must either n 4 a Mum FREEDOM AND NECESSITY 277 show that men can be held responsible for actions which they do not do freely or else nd some way of reconciling determinism with the freedom of the will It is no doubt with the object of effecting this reconciliation that some philosophers have de ned freedom as the consciousness of necessity And by so doing they are able39to say not only that a man can be acting freely when his action is causally determined but even that his action must be causally determined for it to be possible for him to be acting freely Never theless this de nition has the serious disadvantage that it gives to the word freedom a meaning quite different from any that it ordinarily bears It is indeed obvious that if we are allowed to give the word freedom any meaning that we please we can nd a meaning that will reconcile it with determinism but this is no more a solution of our present problem than the fact that the word horse could be arbitrarily used to mean what is ordinarily meant by sparrow is a proof that horses have wings For suppose that I am compelled by another person to do something against my will In that case as the word freedom is ordinarily used I should not be said to be acting freely and the fact that I am fully aware of the constraint to which I am subjected makes no difference to the matter I do not become free by becoming conscious that I am not It may indeed be possible to show that my being aware that my action is causally determined is not incom patible with my acting freely but it by no means follows that it is in this that my freedom consists Moreover I suspect that one of the reasons why people are inclined to de ne freedom as the consciousness of necessity is that they think that if one is conscious of T 278 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS necessity one may somehow be able to master it But this is a fallacy It is like someone s saying that he wishes he could see into the future because if he did he would know what calamities lay in wait for him and so would be able to avoid them But if he avoids the calamities then they don t lie in the future and it is not true that he foresees them And similarly if I am able to master necessity in the sense of escaping the operation of a necessary law then the law in question is not necessary And if the law is not necessary then neither my freedom nor anything else can consist in my knowing that it is Let it be granted then that when we speak of reconciling freedom with determinism we are using the word freedom in an ordinary sense It still remains for us to make this usage clear and perhaps the best way to make it clear is to show what it is that freedom in this sense is contrasted with Now we began with the assumption that freedom is contrasted with causality so that a man cannot be said to be acting freely if his action is causally determined But this assumption has led us into dif culties and I now wish to suggest that it is mistaken For it is not I think causality that freedom is to be contrasted with but constraint And while it is true that being con strained to do an action entails being caused to do it I shall try to show that the converse does not hold I shall try to show that from the fact that my action is causally determined it does not necessarily follow that I am constrained to do it and this is equivalent to saying that it does not necessarily follow that I am not free If I am constrained I do not act freely But in what circumstances can I legitimately be said to be viiwrm v w w intr waa ram r fi39ltrt FREEDOM AND NECESSITY 279 constrained P An obvious instance is the case in which I am compelled by another person to do what he wants In a case of this sort the compulsion need not be such as to deprive one of the power of choice It is not required that the other person should have hypnotized me or that he should make it physically impossible for me to go against his will It is enough that he should induce me to do what he wants by making it clear to me that if I do not he will bring about some situa tion that I regard as even more undesirable than the consequences of the action that he wishes me to do Thus if the man points a pistol at my head I may still choose to disobey him but this does not prevent its being true that if I do fall in with his wishes he can legitimately be said to have compelled me And if the circumstances are such that no reasonable person would be expected to choose the other alternative then the action that I am made to do is not one for which I am held to be morally responsible A similar but still somewhat different case is that in which another person has obtained an habitual ascendancy over me Where this is so there may be no question of my being induced to act as the other person wishes by being confronted with a still more disagreeable alternative for if I am suf ciently under his in uence this special stimulus will not be necessary Nevertheless I do not act freely for the reason that I have been deprived of the power of choice And this means that I have acquired so strong a habit of obedi ence that I no longer go through any process of deciding whether or not to do what the other person wants About other matters I may still deliberate but as regards the ful lment of this other person s wishes my own deliberations have ceased to be a causal factor in 280 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS my behaviour And it is in this sense that I may be said to be constrained It is not however necessary that such constraint should take the form of sub servience to another person A kleptomaniac is not a free agent in respect of his stealing because he does not go through any process of deciding whether or not to steal Or rather if he does go through such a process it is irrelevant to his behaviour Whatever he resolved to do he would steal all the same And it is this that distinguishes him from the ordinary thief But now it may be asked whether there is any essential difference between these cases and those in which the agent is commonly thought to be free No doubt the ordinary thief does go through a process of deciding whether or not to steal and no doubt it does affect his behaviour If he resolved to refrain from stealing he could carry his resolution out But if it be allowed that his making or not making this resolution is causally determined then how can he be any more free than the kleptomaniac It may be true that unlike the kleptomaniac he could refrain from stealing if he chose but if there is a cause or set of causes which necessitate his choosing as he does how can he be said to have the power of choice Again it may be true that no39one now compels me to get up and walk across the room but if my doing so can be causally explained in terms of my history or my environment or whatever it may be then how am I any more free than if some other person had compelled me I do not have the feeling of constraint that I have when a pistol is mani festly pointed at my head but the chains of causation by which I am bound are no less effective for being invisible The answer to this is that the cases I have mentioned a w t L y39nifUI ElL1wathlg ninrmal 39 FREEDOM AND NECESSITY 281 as examples of constraint do differ from the others and they differ just in the ways that I have tried to bring out If I suffered from a compulsion neurosis so that I got up and walked across the room whether I wanted to or not or if I did so because somebody else com pelled me then I should not be acting freely But if I do it now I shall be acting freely just because these conditions do not obtain and the fact that my action may nevertheless have a cause is from this point of View irrelevant For it is not when my action has any cause at all but only when it has a special sort of cause that it is reckoned not to be free But here it may be objected that even if this distinction corresponds to ordinary usage it is still very irrational For why should we distinguish with regard to a person s freedom between the operations of one sort of cause and those of another Do not all causes equally necessitate And is it not therefore arbitrary to say that a person is free when he is necessitated in one fashion but not when he is necessitated in another That all causes equally necessitate is indeed a tautology if the word necessitate is taken merely as equivalent to cause but if as the objection requires it is taken as equivalent to constrain or compel then I do not think that this proposition is true For all that is needed for one event to be the cause of another is that in the given circumstances the event which is said to be the effect would not have occurred if it had not been for the occurrence of the event which is said to be the cause or vice versa according as causes are interpreted as necessary or sufficient conditions and this fact is usually deducible from some causal law which states that whenever an event of the one kind occurs then given suitable conditions an event of the 282 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS other kind will occur in a certain temporal or spatio temporal relationship to it In short there is an invari able concomitance between the two classes of events but there is no compulsion in any but a metaphorical sense Suppose for example that a psychoanalyst is able to account for some aspect of my behaviour by referring it to some lesion that I suffered in my childhood In that case it may be said that my childhood experience together with certain other events necessitates my behaving as I do But all that this involves is that it is found to be true in general that when people have had certain experiences as childrenthey subsequently behave in certain speci able ways and my case is just another instance of this general law It is in this way indeed that my behaviour is explained But from the fact that my behaviour is capable of being explained in the sense that it can be subsumed under some natural law it does not follow that I am acting under constraint If this is correct to say that I could have acted otherwise is to say rst that I should have acted other wise if I had so chosen secondly that my action was voluntary in the sense in which the actions say of the kleptomaniac are not and thirdly that nobody compelled me to choose as I did and these three conditions may very well be ful lled When they are ful lled I may be said to have acted freely But this is not to say that it was a matter of chance that I acted as I did or in other words that my action could not be explained And that my actions should be capable of being explained is all that is required by the postu late of determinism If more than this seems to be required it is I think because the use of the very word determinism is in some degree misleading For it tends to suggest we m awnmm FREEDOM AND NECESSITY 283 that one event is somehow in the power of another whereas the truth is merely that they are factually correlated And the same applies to the use in this context of the word necessity and even of the word cause itself Moreover there are various reasons for this One is the tendency to confuse causal with logical necessitation and so to infer mistakenly that the effect is contained in the cause Another is the uncritical use of a concept of force which is derived from primitive experiences of pushing and striking A third is the survival of an animistic conception of causality in which all causal relationships are modelled on the example of one person s exercising authority over another As a result we tend to form an imagina tive picture of an unhappy effect trying vainly to escape from the clutches of an overmastering cause But I repeat the fact is simply that when an event of one type occurs an event of another type occurs also in a certain temporal or spatio temporal relation to the rst The rest is only metaphor And it is because of the metaphor and not because of the fact that we come to think that there is an antithesis between causality and freedom Nevertheless it may be said if the postulate of determinism is valid then the future can be explained in terms of the past and this means that if one knew enough about the past one would be able to predict the future But in that case what will happen in the future is already decided And how then can I be said to be free What is going to happen is going to happen and nothing that I do can prevent it If the determinist is right I am the helpless prisoner of fate But what is meant by saying that the future course of events is already decided If the implication is 284 PHILOSOPHICAL ESSAYS that some person has arranged it then the proposi tion is false But if all that is meant is that it is possible in principle to deduce it from a set of particular facts about the past together with the appropriate general laws then even if this is true it does not in the least entail that I am the helpless prisoner of fate It does not even entail that my actions make no difference to the future for they are causes as well as effects so that if they were different their consequences would be different also What it does entail is that my be haviour can be predicted but to say that my behaviour can be predicted is not to say that I am acting under constraint It is indeed true that I cannot escape my destiny if this is taken to mean no more than that I shall do what I shall do But this is a tautology just as it is a tautology that what is going to happen is going to happen And such tautologies as these prove nothing whatsoever about the freedom of the will