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Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism: Argumentative Essay

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Topic 1: The upheaval neuroscience will bring to our legal system

Free will refers to an individual’s capability to choose amid diverse conceivable sequences of actions unhindered. Free will is linked to the aspects of praise, moral responsibility, sin, guilt, and praise, as well as other judgments that are related to actions that individuals freely chose. In addition, free will is also linked to concepts of deliberation, persuasion, advice, and prohibition. Others perceive free will as the ability to make choices in which the results are not indomitable by past events. According to Frankfurt (1966), free will requires the capability to do otherwise. Watson (1982) asserts that “free will is old,” and the same has various positions. Inwagen (1982) exacts the formulation of determinism, where he asserts, “Determinism is true if the world is such that its current state is completely determined by the laws of physics and past states of the world.” Hence, based on this school of thought on free will, determinism begins anyhow and any moves on from there because there the universe and physical laws have already set things in motion. This position of free will holds that there are powers that are outside a person’s control that push them to make a choice over one thing or the other. Therefore, in the case of determinism is true, the sagacity of having free will is a deception.

Greene & Cohen (2004) asserts that there exist three usual reactions to the issue of free will. The first reaction is in relation to hard determinism, which acknowledges the discordancy of determinism and free will; thus, affirming determinism, and rejecting free will. Secondly, libertarianism agrees that determinism and free will are discordant, but refutes that determinism is true. Lastly, there is the compatibilism position, which holds that free will may possibly at times need indefensible and unnerved metaphysics, however, upholds that the natures of free will ‘worth wanting’, are impeccably attuned with determinism (Dennett, 1984). Even though the opinions of compatibilist theory differ, every compatibilist acknowledges that free will is an impeccably perfect usual, scientifically reputable marvel and a segment of the usual human form. Compatibilists also contend that numerous types of psychological insufficiency can undermine free will, for example, infancy, or mental illness. Hence, based on a viewpoint Greene & Cohen (2004) assert, “A freely willed action is one that is made using the right sort of psychology rational, free of delusion, etc.”

The forward-looking consequentialist tactic to punishments is applicable to all the rejoinders to the dispute of free will with the inclusion of hard determinism. The rationale for this concept is that consequentialists are not alarmed with the question of whether any individual is guilty or blameless in some definitive sense that may rely on an individual’s free will, however, simply with the probable outcomes of punishment. The retributivist strategy, on the other hand, is conceivably considered as necessitating free will and the denunciation of hard determinism. Retributivists neediness to discern whether the respondent justly warrants to be reprimanded. Supposing, that individual merit to be reprimanded only for acts that they did liberally, hard determinism then stipulates that no individual warrants to be reprimanded. Therefore, based on the school of thought of hard determinism, as well as retributivism, punishment should be eliminated, which is very unreasonable. In the instance, where punishment is eliminated, then the aspect of accountability will be elusive, and people will do as they wish, even though their actions are wrong. Hence, the concept of punishment is to help society remain orderly, rather than allow people to do freely, what they deem is fit in their minds. Consequently, based on this argument, the idea of free will does not exist, as there are laws govern the manner in which people are supposed to act and behave.

According to Morse (2004), the law is a field that has dealt with problems of criminal responsibility. As such, there is nothing new it cannot handle, especially in regards to the neuro-scientific horizon. Morse explains, “The reason that the law is immune to such threats is that it makes no assumptions that neuroscience or any science is likely to change. The law assumes that persons have a general capacity for rational choice.” Therefore, the law is not ignorant to the fact that persons have needs and dogmas, but at the same time, such individuals have the ability to make rational choices. Consequently, the law only holds rational individuals legally responsible for irrational behavior. According to Greene & Cohen (2004), “neuroscience will eventually change the justice system to be consequentialist.” The rationale the authors provide for this argument is that every individual has the ability to make a rational decision in a given case. As such, neuroscience can assist individuals in understanding which individual was rational, and who was not rational at a crime scene, as accomplished previously. Nonetheless, neuroscience will not rationalize any significant alterations in the laws in relation to accountability, unless it is established that individuals in general individuals are unsuccessful in seeing the law’s negligible prerequisites for prudence.

Greene and Cohen (2004) further assert that science exhibits no indication of doing such things, and hence, the rudimentary principles of legitimate accountability stand well founded. Neuroscience will change the justice system because; the legal system ignores if individuals have ‘free will in whichever profound philosophical logic that may be susceptible to determinism, as the law merely cares about those individuals are generally minimally rational. Hence, if this is the case, then the law deems people as free based on the compatibilist school of thought and such individuals are held accountable for their misdeeds. The only exception for holding individuals accountable is in instances where certain people do not obtain the prerequisites of wide-ranging rationality. Furthermore, the law hinges on significantly replicating the commitments and moral perceptions of people. Subsequently, if neuroscience has a way of changing the intuitions of society, then it has the ability to change the law, which is not the case now.

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Greene & Cohen (2004), are correct about the change that neuroscience will bring to the justice system when it comes to determining responsibility and punishment. The authors contend that the legality of a legal system hinges on the law sufficiently replicating the commitments of society and moral intuitions. Hence, in an instance where neuroscience has a way of altering the said intuitions, then it has the ability to alter the law. Morse (2004) believes that this is not possible because the same would require novel ideas that are not possible at this point; nonetheless, Greene & Cohen disagrees with this line of thought where they assert that the seed of discontent in this area has already been sown. As such, the ‘fundamental pyscholegal error’ is not a mistake per se, but a replication of the vacuum amid the aspects of what individuals care about and what the law cares about. Therefore, the disparity between the law and neuroscience is in regards to the questions asked, by both the court and people.

For instance, the main question that the courts ask is whether the defendant was adequately rational while committing a crime. However, what people really want to understand is whether there is an underlying issue to the accused person’s misdeeds. Such underlying issues may be rooted from the accused genes, upbringing, personal choices, brain, or circumstances. In case such questions are raised, then the accused did not have free will. Green and Cohen’s (2004), the idea of dualism, supports this idea where they stipulate, “Mind and brain are separate, interacting entities.” The concept of dualism is suitable for libertarianism, as liberalist believes that the mind is different from the body. Materialism, on the other hand, holds all events with the inclusion of the manner in which the cognizance works, are in the end operations of substance that abides by the rules of physics.

In relation, to concerns that the idea that people will think no one deserves to be punished if determinism is true I agree with Greene & Cohen (2004). The justification for this is that the mind and brain are said to work differently, as such, in case an individual is found on the bad side of the law, then it is imperative for the law to look into the reasons the person committed the misdeed rather than whether the person acted rationally or not. Greene & Cohen (2004) in support of this principle assert, “so far as the law is concerned, information about the physical processes that give rise to bad behavior is irrelevant. But to people who implicitly believe that real decision-making takes place in the mind, not in the brain, demonstrating that there is a brain basis for adolescents’ misdeeds allows us to blame adolescents’ brains instead of the adolescents themselves.” Consequently, this should be the case for adults who are believed to have developed brains and who are expected by the law to act rationally. Nonetheless, there is a need to understand the law should look further than rational behavior to underlying issues such as genes, circumstances, or other factors that may have lead an individual to commit the misdeeds. The authors indicate, “Rationality is just a presumed correlate of what most people really care about. What people really want to know is if the accused as opposed to something else could be the accused’s brain, genes, or environment” (Greene & Cohen, 2004). Therefore, I agree with this conclusion that, for an individual to commit a crime that must have been forced beyond their control that pushed them to act in the manner that they did.

Punishment is relevant whether there are forces that pushed beyond an individual that pushed such individuals to commit misdeeds. The rationale for this is that, despite external forces, it is imperative for individuals to understand that every action whether good or bad has a consequence. As such, if the law determined that every individual that committed a crime was coherent at the period of committing, or breaking the law, but external forces pushed him or her to go ahead and commit the crimes then this would defy the law of physics. Therefore, regardless of whether or not determinism is true, people should be answerable for their engagements. The reasoning that Greene and Cohen provide on the adolescent mind and Mr. Puppet are not adequate to illustrate that external forces determine the actions of an individual.

This line of thinking or objection fails because, determinism is true, and scientists stipulate that people are the product of their environment. For instance, a child that is born in a region that is violent and begins to peddle drugs as a child, are likely to continue with this line of work into adulthood unless the circumstances that they are living in change. Therefore, in such a case, if the child grows into an adult and is arrested for selling drugs in the streets, he is not criminally liable, because his actions are as a result of his environment something that he does not have control over. Therefore, the argument provided is more compelling because it explains how the functions of the brain and the mind are different from each other and the rational choices that individual makes are because of forces beyond their control.

In conclusion, the argument presented by Greene and Cohen (2004) is correct on neuroscience changing the law. The rationale for this is that the law needs to see beyond rationality and understand why an individual may choose to do something irrational. Furthermore, determinism is true as such; external forces are to be blamed for the actions of individuals, especially ones that are caught committing crimes. Hence, it is no longer a question of rationality, but rather a question of the reason an individual may decide to commit the crime, or what aspects of their life pushed them to commit the said crime.


  1. Dennett, D. C. (1984). Elbow room: The varieties of free will worth wanting. mit Press.
  2. Frankfurt, H. G. (1966). Alternate possibilities and moral responsibility. The journal of philosophy, 66(23), 829-839.
  3. Morse, S. J. (2004). New neuroscience, old problems. In Neuroscience and the law: brain, mind, and the scales of justice (ed.B. Garland), pp. 157–198. New York: Dana Press.
  4. Van Inwagen, P. (1982). The incompatibility of free will and determinism. In Free will (ed. G. Watson), pp. 46–58. NewYork: Oxford University Press.
  5. Watson, G. (ed.) (1982). Free will. New York: Oxford University Press.
  6. Zeki, S., Goodenough, O. R., Greene, J., & Cohen, J. (2004). For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 359(1451), 1775-1785.

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