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Praise And Blame In World D Essay, Research Paper
Praise and Blame in World D
In World D, a world in which people recognize that they do not have
free will, it is still possible to maintain a system of praise and
blame. The implicit assumption is that praise and blame effect actions
such that a person praised for an action is more likely to repeat the
action while a person blamed for an action is less likely to commit the
same action again. Such a system, although possible, would look
different from the system which exists in the actual world because the
actual system is partially based on the notion that people do have a
sense of free will. Furthermore, although it is logically possible to
have such a system, establishing one in reality would require knowledge
of the inner workings of human psychology which is difficult to compile.
Before we can discuss the notion of praise and blame that would be
possible in World D, it is necessary to describe what such a world would
look like and how people in such a world would feel. First, it is useful
to examine the feelings of incompatiblist determinists in the actual
world because it is possible that the feelings held by such people would
be similar to those held by the people in World D. Simply put,
determinism is the belief that everything has a cause, including
everything that people ever do, think, or say. People who believe in
incompatiblist determinism assert that this definition of determinism
means that there is no free will. In World D, it is a given that there
is no free will, therefore incompatiblist determinism would be a
Belief in incompatabilist determinism does not require that one know
all of the determining factors. Therefore, it is possible to have all
thoughts and actions completely determined and still not be able to
predict actions or thoughts. The theory merely requires that determining
factors exist, not that they be known to the individuals whom they are
determining. For example, suppose Bob from World D does not like
mustard. Because he inhabits World D, Bob knows that he is determined
not to like mustard. He may not have any conscious reasons for his
dislike of mustard, but he is confident that there are determining
factors which make him find mustard unpleasant.
Due to lack of knowledge of determining factors, one way in which
people without free will could live is under a system of praise and
blame similar to our own. One reason for our system of praise is to
encourage a person to repeat an action or thought. Therefore, in World
D, if people have reason to believe that praise affects the subconscious
mind to change the determining factors then there would be reason for
there to be a system of praise. The argument for blame is parallel. If
there is reason to believe that blame for an action will effect the
determining factors to discourage a person from repeating an action,
then there is justification for a system of blame.
This argument ignores a crucial piece of our actual system of praise
and blame, however. Implicit in our system is the belief that a person
is morally responsible because he or she could have done otherwise. In
World D, everyone recognizes that a person could have done nothing other
than exactly what he or she did. Therefore, some Kantians might object
that there is not justification for a system of praise and blame. If a
person is not free to choose to do otherwise, how can they be blamed or
praised for this choice?
This objection clarifies the difference between our actual system of
praise and blame and that which would exist in World D. The World D
system would be purely consequentialist. If praising someone for certain
actions will have good consequences, then it is done. Similarly, if
blaming someone for certain actions will have good consequences, then it
is also done.
In our current system, there is a judgement placed on the choice to
commit the action. If this choice is considered freely made, then
judgement is passed on the individual who made such a praiseworthy or
blameworthy choice. If everyone recognized a lack of free will, as they
do in World D, such judgement would clearly be unfounded. The World D
system would not reflect a judgement on the person committing the
action, or the choice to commit the action (because the choice was
determined, not chosen); rather the system merely judges the merit of
the action itself. Therefore, this consequentialist system is not
weakened by the objection that praise and blame cannot exist because the
person who committed a certain action did not have free will and
therefore could not have done otherwise.
This raises a further question, however. The reason that praise and
blame are believed to be effective is because they effect the human
desire to be liked and to be a good person. Yet if everyone accepts that
the praise and blame merely reflect on the action and not on the person
performing the action, then the praise and blame would not have the
desired effect on the subconscious desires and thereby alter the
determining factors. Basically, praise and blame are effective as
incentives and deterrents because people feel they could have done
otherwise and should the situation arise again, will be able to do
otherwise. If, however, the possibility of changing the action is known
to be out of one’s control, then to be praised or blamed for such
actions would not alter the motivations.
In order to clearly determine the effects that a consequentialist
system of praise and blame would have on the inhabitants of World D, it
would be necessary to have an understanding of the determining factors
surrounding actions and thoughts. Such information is unavailable to us
in the actual world, and could be unavailable to the inhabitants of
World D. Yet without such information, the system of praise and blame
could not be effective.
Perhaps they consequentialist system of praise and blame could still
work in World D if the people believe that it will have an effect on
their actions. Even if they recognize that they are not able to change
their actions, they would also know that if the determining factors are
different, the outcome may be different. Therefore, the system of praise
and blame could be based merely on the belief that praising or blaming
someone will change the determining factors and not on the belief that
the person could have done otherwise.
Furthermore, the system of praise and blame could be maintained on the
basis that although actions are caused by prior events, if a person does
something morally wrong, they are still morally responsible as long as
they know the difference between right and wrong. This system of praise
and blame is the same as that advocated by Carolyn in William’s
Dialogue. She says, “We do not absolve people of moral responsibility
when we realize that all of their actions are caused” (55). Clearly, it
is conceivable to hold people morally responsible for actions even in
The causes of actions may be things like internal wishes or desires,
which were themselves caused by previous factors. This fact does not
meant that people don’t know the difference between right and wrong. As
long as people can discriminate between good and bad and right and
wrong, it is logical to hold them morally responsible because no one
prevents them from acting differently. Even in our actual concept of
praise and blame, we do not consider internal determining factors to
prevent praise or blame. One is morally responsible for an action if one
causes it. For example, a woman is morally responsible for a crime
because she herself caused it (even though it was determined that she
would by her internal motivations).
Therefore, the system of praise and blame for World D could be based
upon both the consequentialist view that praise and blame would effect
people’s later actions and upon the belief that people are morally
responsible for those actions which they themselves cause, even if they
could not have acted otherwise under such circumstances. Such a system
stands up to the claim that praise and blame lose all meaning in such a
world. In fact, they retain much of the common meaning attributed to
them in the actual world.
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