Soft Determinism

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Determinism currently takes two related forms: hard determinism and soft determinism [1][1]. Hard determinism claims that the human personality is subject to, and a product of, natural forces. All of our choices can be accounted for by reference to environmental, social, cultural, physiological and hereditary (biological) causes. Our total character is a product of these environmental, social, cultural, physiological and hereditary forces, thus our beliefs, desires, values and habits are all outside of our control. The hard determinist, therefore, claims that our choices are determined by these factors; free will is an illusion because the choices and decisions we make are derived from our character, which is completely out of our control in creating. An example might help illustrate this point. Consider a man who has just repeatedly stabbed another man outside of a bar; the other man is dead. The hard determinist would argue that there were factors outside of the killer's control which led him to this action. As a child, he was constantly beaten by his father and was the object of ridicule and contempt of his classmates. This trend of hard luck would continue all his life. Coupled with the fact that he has a gene that has been identified with male aggression, he could not control himself when he pulled the knife out and started stabbing the other man. All this aggression, and all this history were the determinate cause of his action.

Soft determinism touts itself as a looser form of determinism; it maintains that a modicum of freedom can exist within determinism. For the soft determinist, the personality or character of the agent is still derived from environmental, social, cultural, physiological and hereditary factors. The agent's actions are still a result of this character. However, the soft determinist maintains that we are free because freedom is not a freedom from all causes but is a freedom from some causes. One might argue that there was no compulsion in the action of the killer; he knows the consequences of his actions and is aware that murder is wrong. If someone held a gun to his head and told him to stab the other individual, we could not rightly state that his actions were free if there is some external compulsion. His personality is created within a context that instills certain societal values and norms of behavior. Just because the character of the killer is caused by his history, freedom is not precluded because he could have chosen not to pull out the knife. Freedom, according to the soft determinist needs to require alternative uncompelled choices. Prior causes are necessary because otherwise actions are simply capricious and the agent becomes a victim of chance.

Though soft determinism provides an interesting, more comforting alternative to hard determinism, it may be problematic for two reasons. Firstly, though soft determinism asserts a freedom of choice, it is unclear as to what degree these choices affect the shaping of one's own personality. One's personality seems inescapable under both forms of determinism; one is condemned to act with complete reference to it. Under soft determinism, it appears that who or what we are is still rigidly defined. Secondly, soft determinism seems only able to confirm moral freedom and not freedom of the will. According to the hard determinist approach, because our actions are compelled by past causes, we cannot be held morally responsible for those actions. The soft determinist wants to assert that, so long as our choices are derived from our personality and are not compelled by some external factors, we are free to choose from a range of relevant alternatives. This approach of the soft determinist is problematic because, as I have just stated above, we are unclear as to the degree our choices can affect our personality, and since our personality defines which course of action would be most applicable to it, it appears that we are quite rigidly defined by...
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