Monday, April 9, 2012

Stoic Determinism 3

The collection of primary sources regarding 'moral responsibility' once again triggered anguish over determinism. Chrysippus favored complete determinism, encompassing even attitudes and impressions - this view became the party line after a few generations. The question that this early Stoic debate piques is about partial determinism. Is such a system possible? In a completely determined world, I would agree that there cannot be moral responsibility. To borrow from a recent Dinosaur Comic, a completely undetermined (random) world would also lack moral responsibility. Hence, only a partially determined world can have morality.

But is such a thing possible? The only way I can see this possibility arising is if consciousness is not deterministic. Does human consciousness violate the laws of the science, of the universe? Can there be results without antecedent causes? I have a hard time grasping the possibility of this, but I concede it could be. Only if this is true can morality have any meaning.

Chrysippus argued, "The result is that neither commendations nor reproofs, nor honors nor punishments are just." I do disagree with this, however, even if moral responsibility is nonexistent. I say this because incentives are a method by which fate can work. The existence of incentives change the calculus of decisions ex ante. Even in a fully determined world, then, punishment must exist. For even if the world proceeds according to preset laws, like a ticking watch, the structure of incentives is then like the cogs of the watch - affecting how it operates.

The necessity of incentives in any system does beg the question - is such an incentive just? Is it just to punish a criminal if he was 'fated' to have committed the crime? Overlooking the fact that punishment was necessary to dissuade untold numbers of other would-be criminals, is it right to punish the actual criminal? Does the appearance of freedom of action make positive or negative incentives right? These are not easy questions.

Diogenes Laertius writes, "The story goes that Zeno was flogging a slave for stealing. 'I was fated to steal', said the slave. 'And to be flogged', was Zeno's reply."

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