[My friend Dave is an extreme determinist. In his view the truth of determinism turns our conception of responsibility into a necessary but tragic myth, as he explains below. To see and hear him make the case for determinism, you can view his philosophy video by clicking here]
The Tragedy of Being Held Responsible
Hitler — Stalin — Pol Pot — Sadam Hussein
These names bring to mind mass killings and unspeakable tortures—and beg the question, ‘Why did they do it?’
Current psychology views behavior as the result of environmental and genetic factors. Humans behave the way we do because of the genes we inherit and the environment we exist in.
Since we do not control either the genes we inherit or the environment we live in, we are not responsible for our actions.
In this view the mass murderer becomes more of a tragic or sympathetic character—both a monster and a victim. The blame transfers to his environment and to his genetics. Nature produces the sociopath and psychopath.
We have to live as best we can in a hostile world. Competitive forces are at work all around and within us. Weakness is rewarded by sickness and death. In animal packs the alpha male must constantly defend his position against challenges, and is eventually defeated and replaced by a stronger male. We all contain within us bacteria just waiting for the moment our immune system allows them to multiply and kill us. It is not kind, but it is the way the universe works.
Because they did not create themselves, criminals, like everyone else, are not responsible for who they are and what they do. Yet society holds them responsible for their actions, as it must. We cannot have people running around killing, raping and stealing with impunity. Even though all of this occurs as part of nature, the actions of the perpetrators must be constrained to allow society to function.
It is a fact of life that we bear the consequences of our actions, though we are not responsible for them.
From a personal viewpoint this can be a tragedy.