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Compatibilism: Philosophical Meaning

What Is Compatibilism?

Compatibilism is often given the name of soft determinism. In its application, it is used to refer to the theory that expresses the views that voluntary choice and predestination or God’s exhaustive sovereignty is dependent. In short, it can be put that there exists an amount of compatibility between determinism and free will. This view aims at establishing a direct link in our willingness to connect it to our resulting actions to drive some sense of accountability when it comes to our deeds. This paper will take a detailed look at the concept of Compatibilism in its application in thought experiments while comparing both the traditional Compatibilism and hierarchical Compatibilism and the various philosophical explanations of the same. The thesis in the concept that determinism and free will are compatible is true, and that the human behavior whether forced or out of personal will, is caused by a precursor of determining conditions or leaves no other choices in behavior, then the behavior is dictated. Further, a voluntary action can be such that it is not influenced by external impediments hence it is free.

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Traditional Compatibility

Traditional compatibilists are of the view that free choice possesses a significant amount of relation with causal determinism. They believe that even though your actions are shaped and dictated by your past experiences and the nature, one still has a chance of acting differently. They base their argument on the belief that for freedom to exist, one must not be compelled or bound to engage in a certain action physically or psychologically. Your nature and how you act may be pure as a result of nurture and which you are totally incapable of controlling. The argument however is that one is still capable of acting independently even when bound by other factors based on the fact that compatibilists’ free will requires that one takes full charge of how to act or think depending on their preference. They further continue to state that if one’s course of action is a result of being forcefully made to do it, then the responsibility cannot be blamed on the person. In an example, if a loyal bank teller is confronted by thugs and with gun held to his head asked to surrender the money, his loyalty might compel him not to give the robber the money but that would mean harm to him. If his choice is to surrender the money to the thug, then the blame cannot be placed on him because he was forced to (Schick & Vaughn 216).

Traditional compatibilists go further to determine what encompasses a free act and an unfree act. They argue that if a person acts out of their own will to do so, then the act can be described as free. An act that is direct as a result of external influences forcing the person to act, then the act cannot be described as free. A person can only be held accountable for those actions engaged in freely. Unlike incompatibilists who argue that supporting the determinism view can be equated to denouncing the bad habits while rewarding the good or even administering punishments to the people who display unpleasant behavior, traditional compatibilists do not base their decision upon such practices. As opposed to looking at punishment as a means of compensating for the wrong deeds, compatibilists instead prefer to look at punishment as a form of correctional act to discourage the victim from further engaging in the criminal act.

In Taylor’s thought experiment, he assumes a setup in which both argumentative sides of traditional compatibilists are satisfied, i.e. His will directly influence the course action he undertakes, and the actions are in no way influenced by an external source. In his experiment however, the actions cannot be termed as free since the actions are artificially induced by the neurophysiologist and not his free will. Taylor’s actions however are still termed as in line with traditional compatibility since the neurologist only presented him with a chance to decide his desires. In Frankfurt’s decision inducer thought experiment, he tells of a case of Jones who is not in a position not to do otherwise because he won’t be allowed by Black. Black engages in an exercise of close monitoring Jones and gives a hand signal whenever he doesn’t want Jones too. In traditional Compatibilism, The actions displayed by Jones do not meet the second criteria since the actions are dictated by an external source. Frankfurt however argues that still Jones at the discretion to control his actions and is accountable for them due to the fact he was engaging in what he wanted to (Schick & Vaughn 221).

Hierarchical Compatibilism

It is a bit different from the traditional Compatibilism in that here, the person acts upon free will which is in itself motivated by binding fundamentals. These often follow a certain psychological order. In Slote’s hypnotized patient experiment, Slote gives accounts of a Robert who is torn between two courses of action. Through an act of hypnosis induced upon him, he decides to settle on a particular one without in any way realizing that his decision was a result of the induced hypnosis. In Robert’s case, he settles for a second-order violation which he is however in support of. The course of action cannot however be termed as free since his choice of action is not self-motivated but as a result of the hypnotist’s action. The deduction therefore is that an action cannot be termed as free if the actions you are engaged in are a result of a manipulation resulting in second–order violation. If the actions we engage in are in no way influenced by our desires then we clearly say that our accountability for them is lost.

There are however singled out instances where depending on the person’s personality and their intended motive, it was almost predictable that the person could still have done the same. In an example, consider the case of Martin Luther who insisted he had no choice when he abandoned the Catholic Church. Considering the intensity of the issues leading to the decision, we could almost predict that he was certain to do it anyway. Dennet however argues that it could be concluded that it was Luther’s fault following his actions. Dennet continues to state that holding Luther responsible for his action implies that he did have an alternative but he clearly didn’t lead to his current situation. The argument according to hierarchal Compatibilism is that if for a fact Luther wasn’t left the choice to decide who he is, then it would not be fit to hold him accountable for the decisions he took (Schick & Vaughn 225).

From the debate above concerning the compatibility, all the discussion tends to discuss the question of whether free will exists. In my view, it is clear that free will continues to exist and every situation presents us with freedom because no matter the intensity or nature of the situation, we can choose our actions. This freedom to act is continually enjoyed so long as the person remains calm and is not literally forced to take a certain action. It is right to state that any circumstance regardless of whether it is traditional or hierarchal, it brings with it its own limitations. The only difference is the fact that some instances bind our course of action more intensely compared to others. However, as it was found out, there is not at any one single instance when one has no freedom to choose. The deviation comes in situations of extreme panic where someone alters one free will in choosing to lead them to react according to what’s good at the moment depending on their temperament and personality. Even when forced to act, one still has the freedom to resist the pressure. Compatibilists will consider free will as being in a position to make decisions without any amount of interference or influence and hence engaging in genuine actions. This however can only be true if determinism was to be true. In considering the whole discussion, it can be said that free will is compatible with determinism.

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In conclusion, compatibilism has brought about the debate of whether free will does exist or not. The discussion has been used to look into the question of whether people have the freedom to act in certain circumstances and the implications of the type of action they take. Such instances of application of free will have been used in determining the administration of punishment. In law courts, it is debated as to whether the person acted accordingly depending on his options at hand.

Works Cited

Schick, Theodore and Vaughn, Lewis. Doing Philosophy: An Introduction Through Thought Experiments. 4th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Humanities Social, 2005.

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