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Chances are your answer is of course i am free to

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Chances are your answer is “Of course I am free to make my own choices. I do so hundreds oftimes a day, in matters great and small.” Deterministic philosophers would dispute that answer.They claim that free will is an illusion, that forcesoutside our controldetermine what we thinkand say and do, if not all the time, then at least most of the time. Among the forces they cite areour genes, the social or economic conditions we grew up in, and the beliefs and values ourparents instilled in us.No doubt you have heard the argument that criminals who come from poor or dysfunctionalfamilies, or neighborhoods in which the main role models were drug dealers, are not responsiblefor their crimes. That is a deterministic argument. But however impressive it may seem, it doesnot withstand close examination. The same neighborhoods that produce criminals also producelaw-abiding citizens. As often as not, the criminal'sown brothers and sisterslead honest lives.These facts challenge the notion that troubled families or neighborhoods force people to commitcrimes.Most philosophers reject determinism, believing instead that, although a wide variety of factors—including our genes, socioeconomic background, degree of education, habits, and attitudes—may influence our free will and on occasion diminish it, they seldom take it away entirely. Ifreality were otherwise, the study of ethics would be pointless. As Henry Veatch explains, “Ifthere is to be any such thing as ethics, there must be such a thing as personal responsibility. Andif there is to be personal responsibility, then one must maintain the claims of something like freechoice as a cause of human behavior.”1Note that the previous paragraph says that most philosophers believe free will may be“diminished” but “seldom” is taken away entirely. The implication is that in rare cases free willmight not be present at all. Note, too, that Veatch describes free choice as “acause,” not “thecause.” The clear implication here is that, in some cases, some other cause may be operative.Several questions arise: What circumstances diminish free will? What circumstances take it awayentirely? What effect do such circumstances have on a person's moral responsibility? And, most
important in the practical sense, how can the degree of moral responsibility be determined inspecific situations? We turn now to these matters.135136Page 136Determining Moral ResponsibilityMany ethicists prefer the termculpability,which is derived from the Latin word for “fault,” tothe termmoral responsibility.For our purposes the two terms are interchangeable. Thefundamental principle of culpability can be stated as follows:If we are aware that an action is wrong and freely choose to do it anyway, we are fullyculpable for the action.

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