Philosophical Approach to Freedom and Determinism Essay


Philosophically, determinism refers to the belief that any event is an essential outcome of the earlier origins. The choices we make, the beliefs we hold and the actions we take are events. According to the determinist view, such events are the essential outcomes of the past origins. What occurs in nature and human behavior is the unavoidable result of the unpremeditated order.

On the other hand, freedom regards the outcome of the actions taken at an individual’s free will founded on choice. It reflects on what the individual wanted to do at that particular moment (Lawhead, 2011). This essay explores four different circumstances that led to the shooting of Todd by Dave. An examination of the circumstances is based on Dave’s moral responsibility in view of hard determinists, Libertarians and compatibilists.

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Main Body

1st Situation

In the first circumstance, hard determinists would argue that Dave was morally responsible. The rationale is that his action was an unavoidable result of the spasm originating from the undiagnosed tumor. Dave’s natural condition was the cause of the outcome. He should have sought the treatment for the brain condition. Libertarians would argue that Dave was not morally responsible. His situation was determined by external forces beyond his control. The spasm that originated from the tumor determined the pulling of the trigger.

Although he did not intend to shoot Todd, the outcome was inevitable as it was determined by a past force (the illness). The action did not come from his free will meaning that he would have acted otherwise if the spasm did not occur. He lacked the freedom essential to be morally responsible. Dave would not be morally responsible according to compatibilists. The rationale is that Dave’s action was not the outcome of who he was and what he believed, the values he held or his desires (Lawhead, 2011).

2nd Situation

In the second circumstance, hard determinists would hold Dave morally responsible for the death of Todd. His psychological condition was determined by the past events taking place during the war. Dave had a choice to pursue another career. The outcomes were determined by his life experience that shaped his psychology. Libertarians would argue that Dave was morally responsible. The rationale is that the choice to shoot ‘the enemy’ was at his disposal and was devoid of casual necessity.

In this view, Dave had metaphysical freedom, and his situation was determined given that he had the aptitude to be morally responsible. Compatibilists would hold Dave morally responsible. The rationale is that his situation was determined by the circumstance prior to engaging in a brutal war. He could not control the events that took place during the war. However, he had the freedom necessary to decide whether or not to shoot ‘the enemy’ despite the circumstances (Lawhead, 2011).

3rd Situation

In the third situation, determinists would hold Dave morally responsible after hypnotization by an evil psychiatrist and ordered to shoot Todd. The judgment would be based on circumstantial freedom since he had the ability and opportunity to perform the action of not visiting the psychiatrist. However, once under hypnotization, he could not make a choice whether to shoot his friend or not. The hypnotization compelled his action from external forces. The origin of the choices in this situation does not matter. Libertarians would not hold Dave morally responsible.

They would argue that he possesses metaphysical freedom. In this argument, they would assert that though he was not determined he had the freedom essential to be morally responsible. Despite the assertion, in principle Dave lacked the ability to predict the outcome of his own behavior under hypnotization hence not criminally implicated. Compatibilists would not hold Dave criminally and morally responsible. First, he was initially determined to avoid the hypnotization hence made a freewill choice. Second, he did not act out of his own free will given that he lacked circumstantial freedom to make a choice of killing Todd.

In the fourth situation, showing the gun to Todd and handling it carelessly would not make determinists hold Dave morally responsible. The argument would be made despite the fact that Dave did not realize the gun was loaded yet he pulled the trigger. They would argue that Dave’s intention was only to show his friend the gun. However, circumstances beyond his control that were determined by the presence of bullets in the gun were beyond his control. His intention did not include pulling the trigger of a loaded gun.

Under the compatibilists view, Dave believed that the gun was not loaded. However, the choice and action of carelessly handling the gun were the initial actions that resulted in the accidental shooting of Todd. The argument makes Dave morally responsible for Todd’s demise. On the other hand, libertarians would not hold Dave morally responsible. Dave did not receive praise for his action and consequently should not receive any blame for moral responsibility. The presence of the bullets was as a cause of external forces. It was not his free will to have the bullets in the gun while pulling the trigger (Lawhead, 2011).


I agree with determinism since it requires humans to be determined by several factors such as the environment they exist in and hereditary factors including genes. It is hence easy to understand the actions individuals take or fail to take. Determinism explains why humans are unpredictable due to various external forces that are determining actions and reactions. Given such circumstances, it is possible to evaluate whether or not an individual is morally responsible considering the circumstances of their actions and forces that drive such actions.


Lawhead, W. (2014). The philosophical approach: An interactive approach. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

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