Discussion by: ZeuglodonInstead of arguing whether or not determinism or free will or some form of compatibilism is true, I thought it would be more interesting to discuss the actual implications of determinism on our ethics.
I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I think determinism is becoming an increasingly stronger position to take, not only because it’s the most compatible with our current science, but because the opposing position has been revealed as unproven, unhelpful in understanding human nature, and too closely associated with moral virtue (religious, humanistic or otherwise) for people to take an impartial view of it. If you dispute this position, by all means let’s discuss it here, but it’s possible to have the alternative “implications of determinism” discussion here in a hypothetical sense, at least.
Also, first I want you to see these articles. They were posted by Jerry Coyne on his blog a few weeks ago. The first one is largely his take on the writings of Jim Al-Khalili when he tackled the subject:
A physicist gets muddled about free will
The second is a more direct challenge for those who reconcile determinism with free will (the article was originally aimed at those philosophers Coyne regarded as sidestepping the issue):
A Gedankenexperiment on free will
Generally, I find the first one a good critique of the problem of compatibilism, but the second one more interesting. In it, Coyne challenges some philosophers to address the implications of determinism rather than waste time salvaging free will with redefinitions and unhelpful equivocation.
That got me thinking. Through a deterministic lens, perhaps a lot of our ethics becomes clearer and brighter rather than muddier and bleaker. Perhaps embracing it, far from being the downfall of society, might to future generations appear no more controversial than defending heliocentrism or evolution.
How determinism changes our system of dealing with criminals,
Whether culpability is a workable concept or something to be discarded in favour of an alternative,
How to communicate these implications to a skeptical audience,
Whether or not ideas associated with determinism are true,
If reductionism of any kind can help or hinder our understanding of a deterministic position,
And how we should treat the ethical choices people make in everyday lives.