The moral psychology of determinism

Philosophical Psychology 26 (5):639-661 (2012)
Abstract
In recent years, philosophers and psychologists have resurrected a debate at the intersection of metaphysics and moral psychology. The central question is whether we can conceive of moral agents as deterministic systems unfolding predictably and inevitably under constant laws without psychologically damaging the pro-social attitudes and moral emotions that grease the wheels of social life. These concerns are sparked by recent experiments documenting a decline in the ethical behavior of participants primed with deterministic metaphysics. But this literature has done little to sway most contemporary philosophers who have instead emphasized determinism's positive social impact in motivating more compassionate responses to social deviance. This article presents the case for a middle position. It argues that the ?deterministic conception of human action? (the DCA) is likely to have a dual impact on human moral psychology. On one hand, the DCA is likely to mollify one of our species? least admirable tendencies involving retributive moral anger, while concomitantly exacerbating one of our worst, namely our tendency toward moral apathy. This article begins with an overview of this emerging interdisciplinary debate, offers the evidence for a middle position, and concludes with suggestions for mitigating the negative social impact of deterministic metaphysics
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