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Determinism, Libertarianism, and Compatibilism


In ancient times, people believed that everything in the world, including their own behavior, depended on the will of the gods. Today, people have different beliefs regarding the matter, but many think that humans have free will and are completely responsible for their actions.

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The philosophical views related to the matter are determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism. These paradigms can be instrumental in making choices and explaining one’s own position on a particular event in one’s or other people’s life. For instance, the case of Ethan Couch, who killed four people in a drunken-driving car accident, makes a person reflect on the extent of people’s accountability for their deeds. This paper includes a discussion of the three philosophical perspectives mentioned above and the way they can be applied to the Ethan Couch case.

Basic Positions

It is possible to start the analysis with a focus on determinism, which may seem a comforting model. The major premise of this philosophical view is that people’s behaviors, actions, thoughts, and desires are determined by prior events or decisions (Lawhead 130). In simple terms, it is believed that people have no free will and can hardly act freely as all their choices are predetermined. In this situation, people are thought to be unable to be held accountable and make moral decisions.

Libertarians accept that if some actions are determined, a person cannot be responsible for the outcomes. However, they oppose determinists stating that people have metaphysical freedom in many cases, so they have to make responsible and moral choices (Lawhead 124). Libertarianism is based on the assumption that people’s choices are only partially determined and, moreover, people’s behaviors can often be hard to predict. Hence, an individual is free to make decisions in almost any situation. For instance, a person is not forced to commit a crime (unless there is a direct danger such as a loaded gun) even if some life circumstances make other options seem less attractive. This individual is free to choose another option to satisfy their needs, although it may seem harder compared to committing a crime.

The supporters of compatibilism balance the two paradigms and assert that people’s actions and characters are determined, so only circumstantial freedom is possible. According to compatibilism, a criminal is free to make a choice and commit a crime, but it is also argued that the very nature of this crime is determined by diverse factors (Lawhead 124). Hence, the accountability of this person can be limited to a different extent depending on various circumstances.

Specific Positions

The analysis of Ethan Couch’s case can be an illustration of the basic positions of the three paradigms in question. In terms of determinism, Ethan Couch can be acquitted since he can be seen as a victim of “affluenza,” which is the inability to control one’s behavior due to the specifics of their parent’s behavior. In simple words, some people (usually wealthy ones) tend to make immoral choices because their parents did not set any limits for them in their childhood. Based on the ideas of determinism, Ethan is a victim in this case as he could not make any other choice but drive intoxicated, which eventually led to the death of four people. He was a product of his parents’ childrearing methods that proved to be harmful to their son and society.

According to libertarians’ views, Ethan Couch should be sentenced to 20 years for his crime. For libertarians, such a notion as “affluenza” makes no sense as a person has free will to act the way they find appropriate in different situations. No past story of childhood behaviors, limitless opportunities, and desires that always come true can determine a person’s behavior. Although Ethan had everything he wanted, he understood that killing was wrong and unacceptable. He also knew the possible consequences of binge drinking and careless driving as he attended school and knew the basic rules. Thus, he was completely accountable for the crime he committed.

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As far as compatibilism is concerned, the supporters of this framework would sentence Ethan to ten years in prison. Based on the concepts of this philosophy, the teenager is responsible for his behavior and has to be punished as every action is associated with particular consequences. At the same time, it was an accident caused by careless behavior that, in its turn, was determined by Ethan’s parents, who failed to set moral benchmarks for him. Compatibilists are likely to accept the “affluenza” defense strategy that would accept the fact that Ethan was guilty, but he was partially responsible for the death of four people. Ethan’s parents, along with their son, would be held accountable for the crime.

Personal Position

Personally, I agree with the libertarian position when considering Ethan Couch’s case. I believe people have metaphysical freedom making them morally responsible for their actions and choices. It is highly unlikely that Ethan’s parents continuously repeated that he had to drive intoxicated and try to kill as many people as possible. It is highly unlikely that a person living in the USA does not know that killing another person is unacceptable and can lead to particular consequences. The teenager was absolutely aware of the way alcohol affects the human organism and the potential outcomes of his irresponsible behavior.

Hence, the adolescent should be held accountable for his deeds. The 20-year sentence seems fair enough, although it is difficult to state that 20 years in prison would neutralize the harm he did to society. “Affluenza” is a lame attempt to help people act in irresponsible ways. My firm belief is that people are free to make choices and must be accountable for the associated consequences of their decisions. Irrespective of the way they were brought up or the events they had to go through, they choose to act in a certain way based on their judgments. People try to satisfy their desire, but they should also consider potential outcomes. Eating a delicious fruit can be tempting, but it can be poisonous and lead to a painful death. Everyone makes this kind of choice, so if they are ready to pay the price, society has to accept this payment.


In conclusion, it is possible to note that determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism are three different philosophical frameworks trying to explain people’s behaviors. The degree to which a person is accountable is the primary focus of these perspectives. In the modern world, libertarianism and compatibilism are the most viable philosophies, as people know a lot about the universe and themselves. No action is determined completely, while some deeds can have a clear explanation, such as past events and experiences. A person is morally responsible for every action since people have metaphysical freedom.

Work Cited

Lawhead, William. Connect Access Card for The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. 7th ed., McGraw-Hill Education, 2018.

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