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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

reasonable possibility.

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

World D.

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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