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Determinism, Alief, and Observer-Dependent Freedom: How to Mitigate the Consequences of Deterministic Thinking

  • Author(s): Scherbart, Ryan
  • Advisor(s): Ellis, Jonathan
  • et al.
Abstract

The problem of free will is one of the most intractable in the history of philosophy. Philosophers worry that there can be no free will in a determined world. The aim of this dissertation is not to attempt to solve this problem but to address two problems with deterministic thinking. A finding from recent work in psychology is that people with a strong belief in determinism or disbelief in free will tend to be more aggressive, less helpful, less likely to learn from guilt, and less productive and satisfied at work than those who do believe in free will (or don't believe in determinism). I will present several ways we might mitigate these effects, the most noteworthy of which involves an appeal to Tamar Gendler's notion of `alief'. I argue the induction of an alief--or the strengthening of an already existent alief--in free will would mitigate the negative consequences of a strong belief in determinism or disbelief in free will. Following this, I investigate the problem of deterministic thinking with respect to the criminal law. It has been argued by Michelle Cotton, among others, that the criminal law (at least in the U.S.) proceeds on the assumption that to be convicted of a criminal offense the person in question could have done otherwise. Since the case has been made that no one could have done otherwise than she in fact did (because of determinism), legal conviction may not be possible. I argue that incorporating into the law a concept I call free will2--a concept dependent upon the judgments of a hypothetical observer--would make convictions legal and justified--or would at least close the legal loophole.

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