Tag Archives: compatibilism

William James

Old-fashioned determinism was what we may call hard determinism. It did not shrink from such words as fatality, bondage of the will, necessitation, and the like. Nowadays, we have a soft determinism which abhors harsh words, and, repudiating fatality, necessity, and even determinism, says that its real Dame is freedom; for freedom is only necessity understood, and bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom. Even a writer as little used to making capital out of soft words as Mr. Hodgson hesitates not to call himself a “free-will determinist.”

Now, this is all a quagmire of evasion under which the real issue of fact has got entirely smothered up. Freedom in all these senses presents simply no problem at all. No matter what the soft determinist mean by it, whether he, mean the acting without external constraint, whether he mean the acting rightly, or whether he mean the acquiescing in the law of the whole, who cannot answer him that sometimes we are free and sometimes we are not? But there is, a problem, an issue of fact and not of words, an issue of the most momentous importance, which is often decided without discussion in one sentence, nay, in one clause of a sentence, by those very writers who spin out whole chapters in their efforts to show what “true” freedom is[.]

William James, ‘The Dilemma of Determinism’, Unitarian Review and Religious Magazine, Vol. 22, No. 8. (September, 1884), pp. 197-198

John McTaggart

So far as punishment is vindictive, it makes a wicked man miserable, without making him less wicked, and without making any one else less wicked or less miserable. It can only be justified on one of two grounds. Either something else can be ultimately good, besides the condition of conscious beings, or the condition of a person who is wicked and miserable is better, intrinsically and without regard to the chance of future amendment, than the condition of a person who is wicked without being miserable. If either of these statements is true—to me they both seem patently false—then vindictive punishment may be justifiable both for determinists and indeterminists. If neither of them is true, it is no more justifiable for indeterminists than it is for determinists.

John McTaggart, Some Dogmas of Religion, London, 1906, p. 163