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Unless we assume that everyone is free to make moral choices, we have no right to punish criminals. Discuss.

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Katie Barfoot 14/11/2002 Unless we assume that everyone is free to make moral choices, we have no right to punish criminals. Discuss. British law states that it is he who bares responsibility for the transgression committed who must be reprimanded. However, there is much controversy as to where responsibility for moral action lies, or indeed, whether anyone can be held accountable. As J. L. Mackie suggests, "an agent is responsible for all and only his intentional actions." Thus for the punishment of criminals to be considered righteous, belief in human free will is a necessity. Whilst many philosophers hold that human free will is a reality, some maintain that our self - control is in fact an illusion, with our actions being controlled by device beyond our own deception. If the latter is reality, everything is pre-determined and the choices we make are pre-decided. There are several deterministic concepts. Firstly, hard determinism focuses on the theory of universal causation, which asserts that everything in the present is directly caused by events that preceded them. This view claims that humans are inevitably products of their upbringing and social environment, thus a human's actions are, in effect, caused by the previous experiences of the mind. ...read more.


Should the hard deterministic theory be correct, then what is the purpose of the Ten Commandments? - Humans would need no guidance. Philosopher John Locke puts forth an argument in support of hard determinism using the scenario of a sleeping man in a locked room. He demonstrates that an element of human choice may still exist, but such choice is irrelevant to the consequences. Locke's illustration is wholly unconvincing, however, in that events, if only the man's mental process, would have been considerably different should he have decided to leave. Furthermore, hard determinism asserts that it is the preceding chain of events which determine an action, thus the fact that the door was locked would surely be irrelevant? Soft determinism offers an alternative perspective. Accepting free will and determinism as compatible, it claims that we are sometimes free despite the fact that all events are caused by the sum of prior causes. G.E.Moore famously summarises this view: 'I would have done otherwise had I chosen to do so,' However, the theory boasts a fundamental weakness, for it simply avoids adhering to full determinism. The re-phrasing of Moore's statement as, 'I would have done otherwise had I chosen to do so,' illustrates that he is, in effect, admitting that we are still determined by prior causes. ...read more.


Similarly, in some situations one's freedom may be severely restricted, for example in the case of blackmail. However, even when freedom is restricted one still has the capacity to make a moral decision and hence, the person can still be held accountable for his actions. Nevertheless, the law must take into account the circumstances to be just. To conclude, it is only just that one should be punished for criminal activity if they can be held accountable for their actions, a notion which relies on the reality of free will. However, many hold that the determinist theory could only be falsified if two situations, alike in every respect, had two different outcomes. As yet, of course, science is not sufficiently advanced to yield such conditions. For most, therefore, the reality of free will remains uncertain. Even the Bible is open to interpretation and may be cited as convincingly in support of determinism as in opposition to the theory. The dangers of incorrectly assuming lack of free will and subsequently abandoning punishment of criminal activity is obvious; people would behave as they wished, often failing to consider the effect of their actions on others, whilst claiming no responsibility for the consequences. In light of this, punishment of society's criminals is necessary, if only as a precautionary measure. ...read more.

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