Determinism and Principle of Alternate Possibilities

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 2
Words: 451
Reading time:
2 min

Determinism can be conceived as a theory that purports that human beings are determined to act in a certain manner and they have no freedom to exercise free will of choice. This theory is based on the principle that we as humans inherit some values from the past and we should respect and live by those values. In other words, if a person commits a crime, he would own up the moral responsibility for the same. Compatibilism, on the other hand, promulgates the idea that determinism assumes compatibility with a person’s moral responsibility. This theory holds that no matter what the circumstances are, a person should be morally responsible for his actions. Thus, a person who does an action assumes responsibility for that even if he could not have acted in another manner or even if he was left with no other choices.

The theory of incompatibilism, however, has two forms: nihilism and indeterminism. While nihilism discounts the existence of objective moral responsibility and upholds determinism, on the contrary, indeterminism argues that humans should assume proper responsibility for their actions. This theory criticizes determinism and eschews its propaganda as irrelevant. Harry Frankfurt, a renowned philosopher is among several thinkers who support incompatibilism.

This becomes manifest in several of his works where he portrays people who owe up to their moral responsibility. Frankfurt opposes the theory of alternate possibilities which states that people are morally responsible for their deeds only if they had an option to do otherwise. Frankfurt, in his book, ‘Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility’ attempts to offer a different interpretation of this principle. He argues that an alternative option does not exist for a person who will owe up the responsibility for his action. For example, a driver who accidentally kills a pedestrian would not have had the option of not driving the vehicle in the first place. However, he should definitely accept his responsibility and do whatever he could, to save the situation.

Frankfurt’s argument, albeit simple, is solid and exposes the frailness of alternate possibilities theory. Humans living in a civilized society, I believe, should be morally responsible for their actions and this is a logical thing to support. When we do not do this, what entails will be a state of anarchy and chaos. We, as humans, cherish a lot of ambitions; but every sensible person in this world makes sure that his ambition does not come into conflict with other individuals. It is the values that are instilled in us which make the difference. Otherwise, we would have still been barbarians, who are not different from animals.