Freedom and Moral Responsibility in a Deterministic Universe: Perspectives from Buddhism and Clinical Psychology (thesis)
Fleenor, Benjamin James
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I will be arguing that the concept of an ultimately free agent who takes final responsibility for his actions and desires is inherently incompatible with the dominant western paradigm of materialism and universal causation. I assume a Thesis of Universal Causation (TUC), which states that everything in the universe, the mental states of individuals included, is strictly determined by anterior causes. For any given constellation of causes, there can be but one outcome. There are a number of ways to react to this 'specter of determinism.' The position which I will call 'hard determinism' takes a pessimistic stance by defining freedom as the ability to make a real choice between actual alternative possibilities. Since the TUC can imagine only one possible future, the Hard Determinist sees freedom as an impossibility and despairs of assigning the predicate 'morally responsible' to any agent. An alternative response comes from the 'compatibilist,' represented in my paper by Daniel Dennett. The compatibilist seeks to reconcile moral responsibility and freedom with the TUC by redefining what it means to be free--freedom, on this view, is a matter of owning one's desires and utilizing causal knowledge to achieve them. I argue that there are merits to both of these views, but that each of them takes the concepts of freedom and responsibility too seriously. My own position is quasi-compatibilist in the sense that I recommend continued use of the terms 'freedom' and 'morally responsible,' but I turn to a Buddhist perspective to demonstrate that these terms are not absolutes. Their use, if not properly self-conscious, threatens to obscure the fact that human intention can never be the sole cause of human action. The Buddhist perspective dissolves the 'problem of free will' by treating persons as merely conventionally-existent entities. In doing so, it provides an ontology which both teaches us how to be more free and compels us to use our freedom for compassionate ends. Buddhist epistemology encourages us to take a bifurcated stance on freedom and responsibility: it is 'true' that other people are neither free nor responsible, but I must also believe that it is 'true' that I am both free and responsible. I will buttress my reading of Buddhist philosophy with examples from clinical psychology and conclude by reflecting on the consequences of my view for education and criminal justice. [From Introduction]
Capstone; [FULL-TEXT RESTRICTED TO WASHINGTON AND LEE UNIVERSITY LOGIN]Benjamin James Fleenor is a member of the Class of 2019 of Washington and Lee University.