I think I have a really weird view of morality.
By morality I’m talking about just punishment. Justice is based on some notion of blame. You only punish someone if it’s their fault. If they did something wrong, but it can be attributed to some other factor, you either don’t punish them or lessen the punishment.
Here’s where I think my views might be weird. I think we should punish people if they do something regardless of whether there might be some deeper cause. To me, that doesn’t matter. If they intend to do something that merits punishment, and they do it, regardless of whether there was a deeper cause behind that intent, they should be punished.
Let me explain kind of philosophically why I feel like this. Just based on worldly ideas.
So in philosophical circles, it seems to me that most people pretty much reject the notion of a soul that’s apart from the body. Or at least, to them the “soul” is so intimately linked with the body that it’s meaningless to make a distinction. So, everything can be explained by physical processes. We have to start from there.
But there’s a philosophical problem with that in regards to morality. Say someone hits another guy. That’s battery. But why did he do it? His fist hit the other guy. That was a result of nerve impulses to the appropriate muscles which moved his hand. Which was the result of certain nerve impulses in the brain. And so forth. We’re getting to the point where we can explain a great deal of physical processes in detail.
Anyway, keep following the trail of causes, and then what’s the source? Philosophers reject the notion of a disembodied soul, or even a mind apart from the body. So what caused the guy to hit the other guy?
One possibility is that it was fully deterministic. Some philosophers and scientists and whoever believe that everything is deterministic. If we were to understand the myriad chaotic processes in our environment and genetics and everything fully, which may be practically but not theoretically impossible, we would be able to fully predict what a person would do. The fact that it may not be possible for us to see all the processes doesn’t take away from the fact that all behavior is deterministic.
Anyway, so what this camp would say is that the initial brainwave that caused the impulse to hit the other guy was the result of stimuli, and that the corresponding reaction is perfectly explained by the makeup of the brain, which had genetic and environmental factors. But there was no “soul” or anything which “decided” to do it. It was purely the result of natural, physical, purely deterministic factors.
The other possibility (and only other option if you maintain that everything is a physical process) is that there’s an element of randomness involved – it’s not fully deterministic. So, somewhere down the line, the impulse to hit the other guy was in some part a random event. Again, if you reject the notion of a disembodied soul or mind, and say everything is just a physical process, this is the only option you have left.
But either case is problematic when considering just punishment. In the first case, how can you punish someone when they really couldn’t have done otherwise? Their genes and environment, something they pretty much had no control over, fully determined their actions. Using our traditional view of blame, their actions are fully attributable to something beyond their control, so in what sense is it just to punish them?
The other case is equally problematic. In what sense is it just to punish someone for something that had as its root cause something entirely random? That doesn’t quite make sense either.
Before you think I’m just totally whack I should mention that these ideas aren’t original – they’re widely discussed and it’s it’s something I studied in one of my philosophy classes. I think Philosophy 80. So yeah, it’s not a novel or unique idea.
So then what’s the basis of morality? What’s a just notion of blame?
In my view, what you have to do is act as if there is a soul or mind, that makes intentions, regardless of whether you philosophically think there is or not, and base everything, including punishment, on that. It’s not far fetched. All philosophers, even if they believe that all processes, including mental ones, are based on fully deterministic physical processes, still have to live day to day as if they have minds and can form intentions of their own. Whether or not they think it’s true, that’s how they have to live.
So, you need to base punishment on that, whether it’s philosophically true or not. You make punishments as if everyone had a soul and mind and made intentions of their own, and ignore deeper causes. So if they did something, and intended to do it, you punish them for it. And it doesn’t matter whether there were deeper causes of those intentions or whatever.
The reason I think the American justice system is screwed up is because it’s kind of an unholy mix between the two ideas. In effect, the courts believe that there is a mind, and implicitly act as if it’s separate from the body. But they also believe that the processes of the mind are physical and have physical causes and such.
And I think that’s a little weird. So, you get cases where a boy kills another child. The defense is that it’s not the boy’s “fault” because he was imitating something he had seen. He clearly intended to do whatever he did, and there’s no doubt that he did it, but the argument is that there was something else that caused that intention, so that’s the real culprit.
Maybe you think that’s right, and that’s fine. It’s just in my mind, science is explaining ever more about the processes of the mind, and the line of causation is being pushed back further and further and it’s just a matter of time until things are nonsensical. You won’t be able to blame anyone for anything because everything can be explained. Philosophers are already there; the courts just need to catch up.
So the courts are somewhere in between. They don’t fully embrace the notion of having an intentional mind and soul. But they don’t fully embrace the rejection of it either; they just keep creeping closer and closer to it. If they did reject it, to me the only rational conclusion would be again, to do everything as if everyone had an intentional mind, even though it’s not true. But since they’re somewhere in between, believing in some mind that can make it’s own intentions but it’s somewhat affected by physical processes, it’s a little strange to me, and I think it will only get stranger.
Anyway, that’s my basis of morality. Act as if people have minds that can make intentions. So if they intend to do something and do it, punish them accordingly. And ignore whether there were deeper causes of that intention. Because philosophically, I think that has to be the basis of morality – otherwise we can’t rightly punish anything. This is the only standard that makes sense. Dunno whether you agree but that’s what I think.
So if you haven’t noticed this is very related to Christianity. The whole determinism thing is the same as free will and predestination in Christianity. And in Christianity, even if you believe that everything is fully predetermined, it doesn’t really matter – you still have to act day to day as if you have a free will. It’s impossible to live otherwise. So practically, you have to act as if there’s a free will, or at least as if you have a free will.
Anyway, some people object that it makes no sense how God can punish people if ultimately, at some root cause, they had no choice in the matter. Or how we can punish them. Because then it’s not the people’s “fault”.
And that’s a valid concern. Just what bugs me is the idea that all these problems exist only in Christianity. The notion of just punishment is an equally valid concern even if you’re completely worldly and a materialist. You just don’t realize it, I suppose. But yeah, a lot of problems that exist in Christianity exist in worldly philosophy also, so the existence of these problems is not a valid reason for rejecting Christianity in favor of worldly philsophy.
Anyway, yeah, that’s my view on morality and it’s the reason I have no problem with the fact that in Christianity, we believe that people can be punished based on their intentions and actions, even if there are deeper causes of those things. I think philosophically, there’s sense to it and it’s defensible, without having to appeal to “God is God”. But yeah, that’s just my own view on it.
Did you stay up all night eating cheese? I think I’m blind.