Phil 100

Handout 5

The Grading of Exam #1 - The Problem of Freedom and Determinism

Breakdown of Points
1. 10
2. 30
3. 30
4. 15
5. 15

Questions are in boldface.
Answers are in
courier new.
Comments are in italics.

1. We studied four types of solution to the problem of freedom and determinism: Hard Determinism; Indeterminism; Soft Determinism; and Libertarianism.

(a) Which of these types of theory say that freedom (or FWP) and determinism (or PUC) are incompatible?

1(a). Hard Determinism and Indeterminism

Some of you said only 'Hard Determinism'.  But Indeterminism also clearly accepts the incompatibility of FWP and PUC.  Recall that for both forms of indeterminism we said explicitly that it "denies PUC" and "accepts FWP."

1(a) was worth 2 points.

Match each of the above types of theory to the slogan that goes best with it:

(b) "We act freely when our actions are completely uncaused."

1(b). Indeterminism

(c) "Freedom and Determinism are perfectly compatible. We're free so long as our actions are caused in the right way--namely, by our beliefs and desires."

1(c). Soft Determinism

(d) "An agent is free so long as it is the agent herself, and not some event, who causes her actions."

1(d). Libertarianism

(e) "Freedom is an illusion--everything that occurs was predetermined to occur by the events that came before."

1(e). Hard Determinism

Each of 1(b)-1(e) was worth 2 points.


2. (a) State Hard Determinism (HD).
   (b) PEE* the Argument from Moral Responsibility against HD.

2(a). Hard Determinism the the view that every event has a cause and so nobody ever does anything freely.

2(a) is worth 5 points; 2(b) is worth 25.

1. Sometimes people are morally responsible for their actions.
2. If sometimes people are morally responsible for their actions, then sometimes people act freely.
3. If sometimes people act freely, then HD is false.
4. Therefore, HD is false.

Premise 1
Technical terms
: a person is morally responsible for some act if s/he is to blame for it; if it is his/her fault.
Rationale: Clearly, sometimes people are morally responsible for their actions. Last semester, some UMass students were caught cheating on an exam.  They came into the exam with their own bluebooks with answers already written in them.  This misdeed is their fault -- it was pre-meditated; nobody made them do it; plenty of other students could have done it but resisted the temptation to do so.  The cheaters deserve to be punished for this action, and they deserve our scorn.  And someone deserves these things only if they are morallly responsible for the action in question.  And since these cheater are morally responsible for their actions, it follows that premise 1 -- which says that sometimes people are morally responsible for their actions -- is true.
Premise 2
Technical terms
: a person acts freely if they perform some action and it was in their power to perform some other action instead.
Rationle: This premise is true because a person can be held morally responsible for an action only if they performed the act freely--that is, only if it was in their control to do something else.  How can a person be to blame for some action if whether or not they did it was completely out of their control?  For instance, remember when Chris used Lauren's hand to hit Charlie.  Cleraly, Lauren was not to blame for this action because it was not in her power at the time to do something else.  These considerations tell us that if in fact some people really are morally responsible for their actions, then they must have performed them freely.

To explain Premise 2, you do not explain why either the if-part or the then-part is true.  Premise 2 doesn't say that either of these are true.  What you need to do is explain the connection between being morally responsible for an action and performing that act freely.  In other words, explain why responsibility requires freedom.  This is what Premise 2 says.

Premise 3
Technical terms
: (no new ones -- HD was already stated above.)
Rationale: Part of HD is the thesis that nobody ever does anything freely. So if in fact we sometimes really do act freely (as the first part of Premise 3 says), then it follows that HD must be false.

Again, in this premise, you are not explaining why HD is false or why it is true that people sometimes act freely.  Premise 3 doesn't say either of these things.  Rather, you need to explain the connection between there being a free act and the falsity of HD.  Explain why the existence of a free act is incompatible with HD being true.


1. valid
2. MMP
3. sound
4. Although I think this argument is sound, a staunch defender of HD, such as Ree, would say that Premise 1 is false.  He would say that just as it is an illusion that we are free, it is likewise an illusion that people are ever morally responsible for their actions.  So Ree would accept the principle (embodied in Premise 2) that moral responsibility requires freedom.  But since he denies freedom (on the basis of his adherence to PUC), that principle commits him to denying responsibility.  Although I cannot bring myself to accept the view that no one is ever morally responsible for their actions, Ree is apparently able to bite this bullet.

3. (a) State Extreme Indeterminism (EI). Be sure to define any technical terms that you use to state the theory.
   (b) PEE* the Argument Against EI that we discussed in class.

EI: There are some free actions; and people are morally responsible for their free actions.

free action =df. an action that has no cause

1. If EI is true, then Spastic Sam is morally responsible for hitting his wife.
2. Spastic Sam is not morally responsible for hitting his wife.
3. Therefore, EI is not true.

Premise 1
Technical Terms
: (no new ones)
: Spastic Sam is a guy who becomes the subject of uncaused actions.  His arm will just flail out without warning, and this flailing of his arm is literally uncaused--it's not caused by him, it's not caused by a choice to flail, it's not even caused by a misfiring of some neuron in his brain.  It has no cause!  As Sam tried to tell his wife of his new condition, his arm flailed out and socked her in the face.  Premise 1 is true because EI says that we are responsible for our uncasued actions.  Sam's act of hitting his wife is, as I said, uncaused.  Therefore, EI implies that Sam is morally responsible for it.
Premise 2
Technical Terms
: (no new ones)
: Clearly Sam is not responsible for this action.  He didn't choose to do it; he didn't want to do it; he didn't mean to do it.  It was completely out of his control.  He's a puppet in the whole affair.  It makes as much sense to blame Sam for this as it does to blame him Hurricane Floyd.  Both events are completely out of his control.

1. Valid
2. MT
3. Sound
4. (No need to pick a line, since I said it was sound.)


4. (a) According to Simple Soft Determinism (SSD), under what conditions is a person morally responsible for an action?
    (b) Describe in detail how the thought experiment involving the "brain control device" is supposed to refute SSD.

4(a). According to SSD, a person is morally responsible for an action if the action was caused by the person's beliefs and desires.

4(b). Suppose some aliens come down an insert a "brain control device" inside my skull.  They use the thing to control what beliefs and desires I have.  They get me to do certain things not by directly controling my behavior (like a puppet) but by controling my beliefs and desires.  They want me to kill the president, so they create the right beliefs and desires in me (maybe they cause me to believe that if I don't kill him, the world will end).  My newly implanted beliefs and desires cause me kill the president.  SSD implies that I am morally responsible for this action because, according to SSD, any agent is morally responsible any act that is caused by the agent's beliefs and desires.  But since it is obvious that I am not morally reponsible for this action -- the aliens made me do it! -- SSD must be false.  This case therefore refutes SSD.


5. (a) Distinguish agent causation from event causation. Give examples of both.
    (b) According to Libertarianism, under what conditions does a person perform an action freely? Do you think Libertarianism is plausible? Why or why not?

5(a). Agent causation is causation between a person and an event.  Those who believe that there is such a thing as agent causation might give an example like this.  Suppose I raise my hand.  That is, suppose I (a person) agent-cause the raising of my hand (an event).  The raising of my hand is not caused by some prior event, such as my desire to raise it or by my choice to raise it.  It is not caused by an event at all.  Rather, this event is caused by me, a person. So it is (allegedly, anyway) a case of agent causation.
Event causation is causation between two events.  For example, Hurricane Floyd (an event) caused the flooding of my basement (another event).

5(b). According to Libertarianism, a person performs an act freely when she agent-causes it.
I don't think Libertarianism is very plausible.  I find the idea that something that is not an event (viz., a person) could cause an event to occur pretty mysterious.  Also, I don't like that Libertarianism makes our behavior impossible to explain in terms of our beliefs and desires.  If someone asks me why I raised my hand, I think the answer is that I raised my hand because I wanted to.  But, according to Libertarianism, this isn't so, since I could have had exaclty the same desires but decided not to raise it.





Guide to Abreviations for Grading

ABC  -  a bit confused
-  a bit too sketchy
DNE  -  this rationale does not explain the premise
MD  -  missing definition
NN  -  not necessary (but no points taken off)
OK  -  not perfect, but good enough
PAL - pick a line (you are saying why the argument might be unsound, but you fail to identify which premise is false).
SM  -  say more -- your answer is ok as far as it went, but you need to say more.
VC  -  very confused
VS  -  very sketchy
X  -  Incorrect
?  -  huh?
!  -  expression of shock at what you said
(check mark)  -  correct