6 thoughts on “Determinism and Cheating

  1. I don’t know that reading the passages was causal; there does seem to be a correlation, however. But suppose reading the passages did prompt the nascent determinists to cheat. How would it follow from determinism being true, and accepting that it is true, that one ought to adjust one’s behavior?

    Analogy: There is nothing in physics to indicate that atomic arrangements determine that some x is a chair, even though we humans refer to some x as a chair. Supposing the entities posited in physics are the only real entities, there would not be, then, any such thing as a chair. It would not follow, however, that because a chair is not a real entitity that we ought not refer to some x as a chair.

    Another analogy: We understand that the sun has never nor will ever rise and set. Yet we still use this intuitive talk to refer to the sun in this way. Are we somehow obligated, by virtue of a rising and setting sun being an illusion, to tell one that she is wrong because the sun does not rise or set? That she ought not utter these falsehoods?

    I do not see a connection between determinism being true and morality. And I would suspect any posited connection to beg the question.

    Of course, I am more than open to the possibility that such is the case, if such is the case.

  2. Hi Billie,

    Thanks for the comment!

    “How would it follow from determinism being true, and accepting that it is true, that one ought to adjust one’s behavior?”

    I guess the reasoning goes as follows ‘I can’t control my actions, so I’m not to blame, so I’ll take the money’ (or something like this). I didn’t say that people should reason this way, but it does seem to be the way people reason. When you think about iut, why shouldn’t they. Determinism undermines moral responsibility and if it were true why shouldn’t someone do something immoral?

  3. Interesting…
    Might you be implying that the possession of a belief which makes it more likely that the possessor will perform a morally wrong action, is immoral?
    My belief that someone has wronged me in some significant way might increase the probability that I will unjustly retaliate, but I would likely put that moral deficit down to other factors (whatever you care to choose – maybe a personality defect or a lack of willpower)?
    Is there any belief out there that it is intrinsically wrong to possess?

  4. That’s a good question Emma B., and thanks for it!

    I guess the point that I was trying to make is that it is immoral to have a belief that undermines the existence of morality itself.

  5. Richard:

    Oh, I see.

    But does the determinism thesis entail that one cannot control her actions? I think of determinism as meaning that whatever behaviorial outcome or occurrence (conceived broadly) of any physical object or system, it must occur. The thesis, so far as I have always been introduced to it, makes no claim either way about controlling actions, but rather about the necessity of any action. It is not the kind of thesis, so far as I have seen, that one could derive a normative claim from either way.

    Of course, from the way you set up determinism, I understand what you mean. But even then, if that were the way to conceive of determinism, you would instead have a disjunctive premise there at the end, I would think: ‘If I can’t control my actions, I’m not to blame. If I’m not to blame, then I could take someone’s money or I could not take someone’s money.’ And then you would need a normative ‘kicker,’ an additional premise to make that argument go through, which I suppose would be ‘I could not not take someone’s money,’ and I don’t see how you could get the claim without such being obviously false or unintelligible as a claim.

  6. Hey Billie, good question!

    One thought that I have is this. I wonder if you are not confusing determinism with fatalism. So, determinism, as I understand it, is the claim that the actions that one performs are out of ones control in the sense that they are determined by factors that are out of ones control. So, if all my actions are caused by brain activity and if my brain activity is governed by the laws of physics then there is no real sense in which I am the initiator of the actions. Fatalism, as I understand it, is the claim that no matter what actions I perfrom the same result will occur…These two can come apart. So, if my actions are determined by, say, my environment/society then it might have been the case that I was not in this particular envirnment/society in which case the actions that were determined, and which I could not control, would have been other than what they actually are, and so not necessary. So you can have determinism being true without the claim that I necessarily perform those actions being true.

    As for the second point you make. That is interesting too…I guess what I had in mind was that they must be reasoning that since they are not to blame there is nothing morally wrong with taking the money, so they do. That way they do not need the extra premise. All they need is the belief that there is nothing morally wrong with stealing, and belief in determinism leads to that belief, and hence to the stealing.

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