The Human rise to dominance over the Earth covers a modest span of 10,000 years. 7,000 of those years were spent crawling through the mud. 9,500 were lived suckling at the teat of “higher powers”. Not long after the Rennaisance, the Western world was torn asunder by the sound of millions of heads separating from their asses.
Man came to realize, ever-so-slowly, that the God-myth was just that. God was dead, and Zarathustra was late to the party. As with any relationship, a great deal of separation anxiety existed between Mankind and the Almighty.
Mankind (Western man, at least) latched onto the notion that it might use Logic and Reason to distill the true nature of the world. Enlightenment thinkers were in earnest, attempting to distance themselves from the Baby Jesus and come to grips with the world without Fiction. Unfortunately, the gaping hole left in the collective human hallucination needed filling.
Then came Science.
Man moved from theory to theory in an attempt to explain the world. New experts and -ologies grew in every crack of our weedy Garden of Knowledge. Over time, technology and methodologies changed and Science split into two fields: Philosophy and Physics.
Philosophy is concerned with Higher Level principles. Theory of Operation.
Physics is the study of Lower Level principles. Physical causality.
These fields both perform necessary tasks, analyzing various aspects of our world. However, each field needs the other. Without the mechanic, there would be no understanding of the physical operation of the world. However, without the philosopher, without an understanding of the overarching principles of a system, Science becomes lost in the lower level.
When science becomes fixated on the lower level principles of a system, all it sees is causality.
The idea that humans are just links in a causal chain is called Determinism. According to Determinism, everything is the result of an event before it. Think of a billiard table. When the 8 ball hits the side pocket, it can be presumed that the cue stick has a causal relationship to this event.
Pool Cue > Cue Ball > 8 Ball > Side Pocket
The complication comes when you add in the drunken fucker that stroked the cue. Did he do it by his own free will? Or was he determined too?
Hard Determinism is the belief that the pool player is simply a link in the casual chain. The player may have believed that he was exercising free will when he dropped his quarters into the machine, but the truth (according to H.D.) is that even the player’s cognitive process was the result of prior events, and beyond his control.
This idea doesn’t sit well with a lot of people – the notion that their lives are beyond their control. Or does it?
People voluntarily go to church all the time. They’re told that God has given them Free Will. Unfortunately, God has a Plan, and he knows the Future. All events are written. Of course, if God created the Universe and everything in it, and knows how Humans will choose, and will smite their asses, is that still Free Will? Or are Humans Determined? (I’ve made my feelings about God abundantly clear.)
How could the two co-exist?
Incompatibilism is the belief that Free Will and Determinism are mutually exclusive. Compatibilism (Soft Determinism) holds the opposite, believing that man is partially determined, but that we are still agents of Free Will.
Which brings us to the real dilemma . . .
If Hard Determinism is true, then Humans are not causal in their own actions. Our thoughts, our intentions, these things are all just links in the chain. Our belief in our own agency is an illusion.
And if we are not intentional causal agents, how can we be held responsible for our actions?
This is the real problem of Hard Determinism, and the reason philosophers have been chewing the same dirt since antiquity. Moral responsibility – the rightness and wrongness of our actions – is the entire basis of society. Without an intentionally causal relationship between people and their actions we are no better than billiard balls careening around a pool table.
Compatibilism was the idea-of-choice for many of the ancient Greeks, not to mention a few of the more influential figures of the Enlightenment. Despite the Gods (and the Fates, and destiny) the Greeks believed that Humans made their own bed. Thomas Hobbes, the Father of modern political theory, was a empiricist and a compatibilist as well.
Soft Determinism seeks to reconcile this problem of human agency. S.D. accepts that people are under the influence of external forces. However, there is no point at which we are simply riders in the Universe – free floating particles being pushed in a direction.
Humans are animals. We are apex predators, and creatures of instinct. We have powerful biological urges that compel our actions. Despite this, we hold ultimate responsibility for our actions.
We may be under the influence, but we are still free agents. Our knowledge is imperfect. Our logic is flawed. We are coddled and confounded and lied to, but we are still accountable.
Blame advertising. Blame genetics. Blame MSG. Blame your parents. Blame your bills. Blame the Government. Blame racism. Blame your doctor. Blame your hormones. Blame your cycle. Blame your feelings.