Causality, Human Will, and Responsibility

For any circumstance, when one asks “What is the cause of x?”  what we are asking for is an essential explanation that fits our context of inquiry.  For example, if  a house is burned down, it does not serve our purpose if the answer is “The house burned down because it was built in the first place; without the house, there would have been no house fire.”  Our question presumes the existence of the house and not its origins.  The essence or clarification of our question here would be “What are the significant factors that started the fire in this house?”  Again, it will not do to say that the cause of the fire is oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.  No, we actually need an answer that is most proximate and meaningful to our needs.

Suppose that the burned house was our home.  Our home might have been quite a material value to us.  It might have been difficult to acquire, and afforded many benefits while possessing it, not to mention many other material and even spiritual values it contained.  When we break down the question of “What caused the house fire?” in this context, we are asking implicitly a) Was the cause an accident or a deliberate act of human will and b) if an accident, what are the details of it or if the fire was deliberately set by some one, who is that person and what was their motive?

If the fire was an accident, we would look to determine who would suffer the entire loss.  If the house burned down because of some faulty electrical work, we might want to recover damages from the electrician involved.  If the fire was caused by errant lightning, perhaps no negligence is involved.   Given such a case, we determine that we must suffer the entire loss.  Now, we might have insurance which we purchased to recover most damages, but we at least suffered having to pay the premiums.

If the fire were deliberately set by someone, if we know who they are and why they did it is sufficient answer to the basic question.  We need the answer because, since the act was deliberate, we need to see how we can recover damages as well as examine the value implications coming from the personality which decided to act this way.  If the personality is likely to repeat this behavior, we might well label the person a criminal and want to determine how to restrain him in general.  The criminal’s act of will might be sufficient determination of the values involved as to serve as a final and essential cause of this situation.  Questions of his antecedents, such as his childhood upbringing are, strictly speaking, irrelevant.  While a psychologist may find that worth looking into, most victims and the law, for the most part, are satisfied that the criminal’s act of will is sufficient to explain the current situation and the values involved.

We see that free will is an important or essential concept to explain our human situation and to fix responsibility for actions, which imply further actions by us or others.  If we act, we are responsible.  This is no less true for achievements as it is for crimes.

We might ask, “What was the cause of the Mona Lisa?”  Immediately we see that the question is usually spoken as “WHO created the Mon Lisa?”  Just as we blame a criminal for crime, we must credit creators or builders for their work.  The creator of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, is rightly credited and extolled for this and a number of other works.  He is rightly thought to be a benefactor of mankind and deserving of both spiritual and material rewards.

This is also the case for many other valuable works or achievements.  “Who created the airplane?”  “Who built the US Steel company?”  “Who built American capitalism?”  The answers are all people who exercised their human will to make something of worth.  Now we can see the proper rejoinder to President Obama’s remark “You didn’t built that!”  The proper rejoinder is “Human wills – the people – in fact built that and deserve the fruits of their labor.”

So we see that free will implies not only values but a social order that respects values, which can only be free enterprise or Capitalism.

About admin

Computer Geek and philosopher.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.