Fatalism and Determinism

PHIL 310 Final Exam, Vered Arnon

 Start Time: 2.04pm 17 March 2004

Location: My Room

Soundtrack: Mahler, “Symphony #1 – Titan”

1. Compare and Contrast Fatalism and Hard Determinism.

Fatalism is, according to Carter’s metaphysics textbook, is the notion that future events are necessary in the same way that past events are necessary because the past is ‘closed’ and unalterable. Fatalism holds that the future is ‘closed’ without presupposing causal determinism. Fatalism holds that any statement about the future is either true or false.

 Hard determinism, according to the textbook, is the notion that every event is causally determined by the entire chain of causation of the linear temporal progression of events, and thus no one ever acts freely (and no one is personally responsible for their actions).

 While both of these positions maintain a ‘closed’ concept of the future, that is all that they have in common. Fatalism does not presuppose causal determinism, so fatalism does not make the assertion that no one is responsible for their actions and no one acts freely. Fatalism claims that people can act freely and be responsible for their actions, but these free actions are logically necessary given the choices they have made in the past. Fatalism is much more problematic than hard determinism. While it is not as counter-intuitive, its arguments are more difficult to defend. In order to maintain free will, fatalism does not presuppose causal determinism, but then it becomes difficult to defend WHY the future is ‘closed’ in the same sense as the past. I think to fully support an argument in favour of fatalism one would need a view of time that was not linear, but hard determinism does not have this problem because it rejects free will and responsibility.

 2. If I desire to go to Seattle in a hurry and have the option of the three devices presented, which one will I prefer to use as a reasonable person? Assuming that I know all the relevant details of each device, and each end-result is indeed a psychological duplicate of me, I will choose the one that I believe would be closest to being ‘me’ rather than merely a duplicate or copy of me.

I would definitely not choose D3. D3 would make a copy of me, but I do not believe that it would transport ‘me’. It would destroy me, save my information, and basically create a replica with the same psychological makeup. As a reasonable person, I think something that destroys me and then attempts to ‘recreate’ me does nothing more than make a copy and destroy the original.

 I would also definitely not choose D2. While the end result would still be ‘me’ in a sense, rather than a mere copy like the result of D3, as a reasonable person I don’t think saving one mere second of travel time is worth utterly dismantling me and putting me back together. Even with full knowledge of the process and even if I knew it was failsafe and had no risk factor whatsoever, I still feel intuitively uncomfortable with the thought of being disassembled and reassembled.

 Given these options, I would choose D1. Plain and simple, it directly sends me, fully intact. There is no reason not to choose D1.

 All these decisions are based on my opinion that personal identity is determined by BOTH physical AND psychological continuity, and primarily physical, because in my view one’s psychological makeup is contingent on physical makeup, and I don’t think it would be POSSIBLE to create a complete copy/duplicate of an individual’s psychological makeup, because that psychological makeup is determined by the individual uniqueness of the Specific Physical Molecules. No matter how identical in form and structure, different physical molecules are Different, and interruption of physical continuity, even if the exact same physical substance is used to reconstruct the object, still destroys identity.

 3. Which, if any, of Hard Determinism, Soft Determinism, and Fatalism do I accept? I reject all of them.

 I reject Hard Determinism on the grounds that Hard Determinism rejects free will, while I accept the notion of free will. In my own observation, people make choices, and the notion of ‘choice’ is impossible to hold without an acceptance of the notion of free will. Whether or not people are responsible for their actions is irrelevant to my personal notions about linear time and the ‘openness’ of the future, since the notion of ‘responsibility’ entails notions of morality and ‘right and wrong’ while I reject the dualistic notions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and find morality a very contrived and synthetic and unnecessary thing. But since other people in my observation hold individuals responsible for their own choices, and this helps them to understand the world around them in a way such that they can respond consistently and rationally, it does not make any sense to me to accept a position that denies responsibility as well, since that would be denying a principle which is very valuable to the functioning of human society.

 I reject Fatalism because I do not believe that the future is ‘closed’. I accept the view that statements about the future cannot be assigned truth values. Logically, this leads me to reject Fatalism without the need of much thought or explanation.

 Soft Determinism is a difficult notion to analyse, because on the one hand it seems like an attempt to compromise and get out of the problems of Hard Determinism while still holding on to the main core of that notion. As a compromise, it seems weak and not very respectable. However, when I further analyse my own view of the future and time and choice and causation, I see that Soft Determinism does come rather close to an accurate description of it. I believe that events are causally determined to a degree, but I don’t think causation is a single-track path. One event can potentially cause any number of events, and each of those events can potentially cause any number of events, and so on. The future is open, in my view, because there are infinite possibilities of causally determined future events. Free will decides which of these infinite options to take, free will makes a choice but this choice is to choose one thing from amongst infinity, not one thing from two things (if the future were limited to two options then it would make more sense to say that it were closed, because then one could propose that they were two contradicting things, and thus only one could be true. But since many of these infinite options do not contradict, I don’t find it reasonable to hold that they have truth values.) 

 Since every choice is a choice between infinite options, causal determination is at work but free will is equally significant and any philosophical position that rejects free will fails to answer for me why such infinite future possibilities exist. A rejection of free will would raise serious questions about the notion of ‘possibility’, and that seems to me, by my personal intuition, ridiculous and absurd.

End Time: 2.55pm 17 March 2004

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