By David Groenhout
Is choice a necessary component of morality? Can we morally judge an action if the agent had no choice in the matter? Supposing we can’t, how do we tell if it’s possible to do so? What if we never have a choice?
Predeterminism is the idea that we can have no effect on the events occurring around us. It means, no matter what we try to do, the same predetermined events will happen. But, there is still the possibility of free will, within a predetermined world.
An argument against predeterminism is that if we don’t have the choice in whether we do the things we do or not, we can make no moral judgements, which invalidates the whole study of morality. This argument is obviously flawed, because moral judgements aren’t a necessary condition for predeterminism. It would be the case regardless of whether we can or can’t judge. But this raises the question can there be morality in a predetermined world?
When we make a decision, we have some desire which this decision aims to satisfy. For example, say you want to pass an exam. In order to do this, you study. In other words, you study to pass this exam. Most likely however, you don’t want to study for the sake of studying. In this example, you would have more than one desire. You don’t want to study, but you want to pass. So, studying, or not studying, is a first order desire, while passing the exam is a second order desire, which overuses the first. You could in fact have any number of orders of desires, but this is a minor point for now. In a predetermined world, this means you would study whether you wanted to or not. But the point remains that you have a choice. In this way, we still have free will in a predetermined world.
Returning to the original question, we can say that while you can’t act morally, but you can will morally. If you were to kill someone, you wouldn’t have a choice in killing them, but you would have a choice in wanting to kill them. But this raises a deeper question. Is it right to kill someone (which I’m sure most would agree is a wrong thing to do, of itself) when you have no choice in the matter? Or more precisely, if you don’t want to kill someone, is killing them right? If choice is not necessary for moral judgements, then a predetermined world is not moralistic. Otherwise, the question becomes one about the desires of whatever agent is to be judged. But in this case, morality is conserved.
There’s a simpler argument about moral judgements and predeterminism. If this is a predetermined world and you make a judgement about something, you would have made that judgement whether you wanted to or not.