Saving Morality: The Implications of Hard Determinism

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Hard determinism, the acceptance of determinism and the rejection of libertarian free will, results in some serious consequences for moral responsibility. At its most extreme interpretation a form of moral nihilism arises. ”Without God ... everything is permitted now.”[1] That is, if determinism holds true, then there is no free choice, and without free choice there can be no moral responsibility. By taking hard determinism to its logical conclusion, and evaluating the results of a steadfast adherence to the theory this paper serves to show that moral nihilism is not the inevitable end to morality in a hard determinist framework. Instead morality, if not wholly, at least partially, is capable of being maintained by the hard determinist.…show more content…
In this case the maxim might be, if one is in the position to save the life of another without significant harm to themselves, they should. This can be contrasted with a non-moral ’ought’ such as ”you ought to eat because you are hungry.” These type of non-moral prescriptive ’oughts’ are hypothetical imperatives and are simply commandments of reason. It follows from the lack of moral responsibility that moral obligation in a deterministic framework is meaningless, and as such the moral ’ought’ is normatively empty. It seems impossible to reconcile determinism with the moral ’ought’ as statements such as ”you ought not have lied” implies that you could have chosen to do otherwise. Yet there may be a way to maintain the moral ’ought’, even if only as a component of reason. According to Henry Sidgwick, ”the adoption of [hard] Determinism will not-except in certain exceptional circumstances or on certain theological assumptionsreasonably modify a man’s view of what it is right for him to do or his reasons for doing it.”[3] This is possible because although moral obligation lacks normative force without free choice, it in some form can still remain. It makes no sense for a hard determinist to disregard hypothetical imperatives as nonsensical simply because of a lack of free choice. If a hard determinist is hungry they will eat. Whether they could have done otherwise is irrelevant, they were simply following a prescriptive rule
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