Throughout the years, many philosophers have argued that hard determinism would end the justice system as we know it today, however I believe that this is not the case. Even believing in the incompatibility of free will and determinism, in which free will is impossible, there are possible actions we can take to ethically punish those who have acted against the law. This question, and the implications of its answer, are on the minds of not only philosophers, but of those in charge of the justice system as well. Many lawmakers fear that without free will, there is no ethical manner to punish someone anymore, because people cannot control their own minds, and society will suffer the effects.Firstly, I will explain the basis of my stance on the subject: that free will is nonexistent and determinism, naturalistic and neuroscientific, is true.
When I talk about free will, I define it as the personal agency people have in how they act, think and do, and that these behaviours are not pre-determined. In a revolutionary paper (Wegner, D. M., & Wheatley, T. 1999), the American social psychologists suggested that the experience people have when they think they were ‘deliberately deciding’ something, is nothing but a post hoc causal interference that makes people think their thoughts caused a certain behaviour or decision. However, seeing as it is always a subsequent thought, it has no causal influence on a behaviour or decision. US neuroscientist Sam Harris, author of “Free Will”, suggests that we are mistaken in believing that intention initiates action; there are many processes going on before both of these that we are unconscious of. As Spinoza has stated in his book Ethics: “Experience teaches us no less clearly than reason, that men believe themselves free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined.
” Many other scientists agree that free will is nonexistent, so why does this claim still have such radical opposition?The opposition is bound by fear of what this hard determinism implies: people may be guilty of crimes, but they are not responsible for them. If this is the case, the theory of retributive justice cannot hold, because it explicitly states that those who commit a wrongful act morally deserve to suffer through a proportionate punishment. However, there are other ways and reasons to handle criminals, because hard determinists do generally believe that we are responsible in the sense that we are answerable for our crimes.
Free will skeptics do not disagree that we should hold criminals responsible for their actions, it simply questions the justifications of this specific backwards-looking criminal punishment (Pereboom, D. 2013).