[ExI] free-will, determinism, crime and punishment

gts gts_2000 at yahoo.com
Mon Aug 20 13:04:11 UTC 2007

On Mon, 20 Aug 2007 00:21:28 -0400, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:

> Well, I agree with the prosecutor!

I had a hunch you did. :)

> The defendant *could* have chosen to do other than he did.  I thought  
> you were a compatibilist.

Seems to me you're forgetting why it's called "compatibilism":  
compatibilism is compatible with determinism.

When a compatibilist speaks of free-will, he does so only in a manner of  
speaking. As you wrote to John, (and I agree completely) compatibilism is  
the best way to use words. But that's all it is!

For purposes of retributive punishment in a court of law the burden of  
proof is on the prosecution to prove determinism is false. I insist that  
no prosecutor can produce any such evidence. And if determinism is true  
then my client could not have chosen not to commit the murder and is  
therefore not deserving capital punishment for reasons of retribution.

I don't deny that my client chose freely to commit the crime. However, as  
far as anyone knows, it was in my client's criminal nature to choose to  
commit the crime, and his criminal nature is entirely a product of  
biological and environmental influences. He is a physical object fully  
embedded in physical reality like any other object, a caused object with a  
caused nature, not a causally autonomous agent who stands outside the  
ordinary chain of cause and effect.

> Why emphasize capital punishment?

I'm emphasizing the capital punishment issue in these arguments because if  
you ask people why they support capital punishment instead of life  
sentences, you'll hear a lot of arguments about retribution and revenge.  
Were it not for belief in retribution, capital punishment would probably  
not be in option in those states in which it is legal. It's extremely  
controversial whether capital punishment deters homicide more than life  
sentences (in fact there is evidence to suggest the reverse is true) and  
of course killing the criminal does nothing to rehabilitate him. Capital  
punishment is mostly about retribution.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list