Our panel of 91 professional philosophers has responded to

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Question of the Day

When you say you are a determinist, that could mean various things. It might mean that the world is governed by deterministic laws, but by itself that doesn't answer the question of whether we are free or morally responsible. Incompatibilists say that determinism in this sense rules out freedom; compatibilists disagree. There are interesting arguments on both sides. I suspect that what you're actually saying is that you think determinism is true and you are an incompatibilist. You think that if determinism is true, we aren't free, and you worry that if we aren't free, we can't be responsible for what we do. But there's a lot packed in here.

Though I'm not interested in making a fuss about it, I'm intrigued that you are "personally a determinist." There's a difficult and interesting debate about whether quantum mechanics is deterministic or indeterministic. Once again, there are interesting arguments on both sides. My own view is agnostic. If I had to pick, I'm inclined to the side that sees the quantum world as indeterministic, but I don't think I'm in a good position to have a firm opinion. Are you?

In spite of that, I'm quite comfortable believing that some things are right, some are wrong, and that we're at least sometimes responsible for which we end up doing. I'm not comfortable (not philosophically comfortable, I mean; I don't lose sleep over it) with the idea that questions apparently so far removed from difficult physical and metaphysical debates should be hostage to those debates. I'm much more confident that there are good people whom we appropriately admire and not-so-good people whom we appropriately don't admire than I am about long chains of subtle reasoning meant to connect very different domains. I'm what some might call a Moorean (after G. E. Moore) about moral judgments. I think it's appropriate to be much more confident about many of those than about skeptical claims based on complicated tangle of physics and metaphysics and God knows what else. But to the extent that I look at things this way, it inclines me to a kind of compatibilism. Since I'm much more convinced of what I've said about morality than I am about physical determinism or indeterminism, I'm inclined to say that morality presupposes neither of those things. And though it might make some people think I should have my Philosopher's League membership revoked, I think it's fine to hold a view like this without a theory to go with it.

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All that said: I would point something else out. It's one thing to say that the physical laws are deterministic. It's another to say that I was "destined" to make the choices I made. Even if determinism is true, that leaves a lot unsettled, not least whether laws of nature compel us to behave as we do, and, for that matter, whether physics even provides the right intellectual tools for thinking about what it means to make choices.