Looking at the Concepts
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Critical Thinking: Compare and Contrast Philosophical Positions
Comparing and contrasting philosophical positions can be hard. In the beginning, the researcher has to find how those positions relate to each other. If they do not, it is impossible to compare them. However, if they have nothing alike, we can contrast them, and show their differences. For instance, we can compare and contrast compatibilism with determinism and from that point, contrast both positions with libertarianism, and the libertarian position.
In this essay, we shall compare and contrast philosophical positions, and offer our insight on them. Nevertheless, before comparing them, we shall expand on them as to create the broader view and better understanding of the concepts before establishing a comparison.
Determinism as a Philosophical Position. There are two positions that can be called “determinism.” The first one relates to the causal determinism, which refers to the idea of that every event happening in the natural world needs an antecedent event that conditions the appearance of the first one to happen (Hoefer 1). In layman terms, determinism considers that every cause needs an antecedent to occur. Hence, our actions are determined by a previous situation or instance we might not have control over. In the same way, we can think of the religious determinism. According to the theological determinism, God determines and rules every event of the world (IEP 1). If we take Anselm as our guide, we can see that God is the greatest thing, and nothing greater can be thought. In the position of most Cristian philosophers, man albeit determined by God, can make its choices and have a sense of own choice, despite God already knows what is going to happen. That poses the question of whether we are completely free or not. However, the theological determinism, as a philosophical position is not what we aim to explain in this essay. Strictly speaking, most of the arguments related to the theological determinism stem from a series of thoughts that can be regarded as ad authority fallacies. Although we can prove cause and effect, there is no way to prove how God works or whether he exists or not.
On the other hand, causal determinism is deeply rooted in our understanding of natural laws and physical sciences. This, of course, puts us in the position of asking about the value of human agency when it comes to asserting the relations between our actions and the causes in the world. If an event needs anteceding events, what is that antecedent and how can we understand it. In the same light, it seems that determinism intends to connect the physical sciences to how humans interact and their base their decisions in the principle of cause and effect.
Strengths of the Position. A deterministic approach is more scientific. Hume explained that all our understanding of the world was based on cause and effect. That way, he leaves behind all the issue of understanding to nature. Kant adds time and space as two important parts of how we understand the world and our how we relate to it. That way, it seems that determinism offer factual and scientific proof by isolating such variables and examining from a philosophical and scientific conditions. In the same way, science has always tried to isolate the variables to study the general in a subject, rather than the specifics, as to provide a predictable outcome of the phenomena.
Weaknesses of the Position. If we reduce everything to only interactions between cause and effect, that leaves humans with little to none responsibility for their actions. In that way, reducing everything to the interaction between two forces can be seen as a little simplistic. Besides, science intends to make general statements, and causal determinism does not allow for the individual account of the relationship between particular experiences and causes. In the same way, it is a scientific approach on which effects are determined by their causes; something that can change outside laboratory conditions.
Compatibilism as a Philosophical Position. Having seen that determinism offers free will little room to thrive, Compatibilism offers a different position where free will and determinism are not in a direct conflict. Compatibilism is a theory where agents can be both caused, and free (Ross 1). To compatibilists, agents can have free agency even if causal determinism proves to be true. In layman terms, a person can have free will in a determined world. Hobbes considered that a man is as free as a river that has no impediments to flow. This means that although the river is free to do the things according to its own devices, it needs a series of determined sets of things in order to be a river, such as a channel, and a beginning. That example can also be extended to humans. Humans can work as executors of their will as long as they exist within the limits of our physical reality. That way, we are determined by physical factors, rather than metaphysical.
This offers a solution to the problem of whether men are determined or not since it solves the dispute between free agency in a determined world. In the same way, compatibilism proposes a higher degree of moral responsibility as according to its position, our choices are nobody’s but ours. This poses the most important issue related to free will. For humans to be able to think about ethics, free will is a necessity. If a person has no control over its actions, how can it be punished or praised? That way, compatibilism patches that gap and offers a middle ground where men have their agency in the world that has determined certain criteria.
Strengths of the Position. The compatibilist position can be seen as a more consistent position when thinking of our states. In the same way, by building a theory around the balance between free will and determined actions compatibilism offers enough moral responsibility when it comes to the agency and actions. Also, compatibilism offers a behavioural approach to moral responsibility since it shows how the different considerations toward actions can make an individual change its actions (Lawhead 310). That means that there is a relation between what society can say about an action being bad, and the behavior of people after being told that a certain action is negative.
Weaknesses of the Position. Having stemmed from determinism, compatibilism is only meant to address the problems found in determinism. This itself is not a weakness but makes difficult assessing the position from a different lens. In the same way, compatibilism does not account for all the influences a person might receive in its youth. For instance, is it free will to be programmed from an early age by religion; or a series of ethical rules that do not necessarily stem from that person’s agency? Strictly speaking, those decisions are not free, as they do not correspond to the person.
Libertarianism as a Philosophical Position. The libertarian position is a variation of the liberal moral philosophy. However, where liberals consider primary the idea of the individual agency over society; libertarians consider that there is a moral value pegged to the idea of freedom of choice. However, libertarianism as a philosophical position considers society and the upholding of the societal figures as an important part of the individual agency (Kurtz 153). In this essay, we are focusing in the narrow sense of libertarianism as a moral position. As we said, libertarianism considers the individual action as the main point of its philosophy. That way, each agent fully own itself, and it is due to external factors that they can acquire power over things, in the form of proprieties.
Libertarianism can be seen as a principle. According to that principle, each agent has the same amount of negative liberty (Vallentyne 1). Negative liberty refers to the ability to do whatever the agent wants without the intromission of another agent. Strictly speaking, libertarianism advocates for a self-ownership. However, the main issue of libertarianism is never overstepping the boundaries other individuals impose. That way, the end of our negative liberty is the others’ freedom. In the same way, libertarianism recognizes the necessity of cause and effect, yet, like Hume, they consider those causes an interpretation of the events rather than a feature of the events themselves.
Strengths of the Position. Being based in the belief of negative freedom, no person should suffer from coercion to their actions. In the same way, it gives people a sense of purpose and actualization in their lives. In the same way, libertarianism aims to find an objective source to their moral judgment, a source unaffected by external factors.
Weaknesses of the Position. At a first glance, it does not seem that libertarianism explain human actions and their causes. In the same way, it does not account for human motives and motivations. Also, they consider free will a key point in their philosophy but, how a person decides what do? Which are the criteria used to reach that decision? That is something libertarianism does not account for. In the same way, the main concern regarding libertarianism is that to be completely effective, it needs the action of every agent toward a responsible account on living. That way, if every person does good actions, the effects on others will be good. The opposite can happen if the person does bad deeds.
Comparison and Contrast between the Position. As we could see, the main issue in this essay is free will and how free will relate to different philosophical positions. That is why our analysis is going to be focused in how each position relates to free will. For instance, we can see that libertarianism is the position where the maximum amount of freedom can be expected. However, that position does not account for human nature and requires an amount of responsibility that many societies do not have. In the same way, given the fact that it leaves decisions behind it is hard to know the moral motivations behind their actions. That way, libertarian posture, albeit free, does not show how that freedom can be asserted.
On the other hand, compatibilism intends to patch the gap that determinism leaves concerning free will. Compatibilism uses a few social control tools to assert free will, and provide enough freedom of choice to people. Nevertheless, its approach can be slightly flawed since it does not account for those things we are not responsible for, such as our upbringing.
Determinism suffers from the same amount of issues since it considers free will as an outer construction, instead of part of the laws that rule cause and effect. If our actions are determined, there is nothing we can do; we do nothing but suffer the causes of a myriad of effects caused before we were born. That way, it offers a situation that might be hard to stomach for many people.
Strictly speaking, we do not consider that any of those systems as “better” than the other. They all correspond to stages of philosophical thought, and they try to address the problems of their time. Determinism can be seen as an alien system since it is based on scientific thought, something that was a major concern in modern philosophy. In the same way, libertarianism is widely regarded as an important philosophy, and many of the United States laws and decisions are based on libertarian thought. That way, none of them is better, they just serve differently in different contexts.
Hoefer, C. “Causal Determinism.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 23 Jan. 2003. Web. 31 July 2015. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/>.
“Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. IEP. Web. 31 July 2015. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/freewill/>.
Kurtz, P. “Libertarianism as the Philosophy of Moral Freedom.” Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Web. 31 July 2015. <http://www.mmisi.org/ma/26_02/kurtz.pdf>.
Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2009. Print.
Ross, C. “Compatibilism.” Philosophy Now 2007. Print.
Vallentyne, P. “Libertarianism.” Stanford University. IEP, 5 Sept. 2002. Web. 31 July 2015. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/libertarianism/>.
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