Responsibility – An Unsolved Problem

Most people who believe in what is called free will do this by using the rationalist method. It is a principle, a positive feature, or a virtue added to the man by which his dignity grows enigmatically.

asbone He must believe in it for this reason. Determinists who deny it, who say that people are not the origin of anything but they only transmit to the future the whole influence of the past world, a world for which they are nothing, diminish man. He is less worthy of admiration if he is deprived of this creative principle.

So that both free will and determinism were blamed and declared absurd because each of them prevented the attribution of good and bad facts to their authors, as the opponents of these principles believed. Strange antinomy is this !

Free will means novelty, inoculation in the root of the past of something that has not been there. If our deeds were too determined, if we were merely to convey the influence of the whole past, the free will advocates say, then how could we be praised or rebuked for something we did ? In this case we would be just the intermediaries and not the main authors. And where is our precious responsibility here, the responsibility that allows us to be reprimanded ? But where would it be if we had free will ? replied the determinists.

If a free deed is an absolute novelty that does not come from me, from my inner self, but ex nihilo (from nothing), and it clings to me, then how can I, the former, be responsible ?

How can I have a permanent feature that will remain the same long enough to receive praise or rebuke ?

My day’s gospel is scattered in a bunch of beads unrelated to each other as soon as the thread of inner necessity is brought out by the absurd indeterminist doctrine.

from William James, Pragmatism  – adaptation

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