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Freedom and Morality

Culpable?

The concept of freedom is important because in some intellectual traditions a person is not culpable for an act unless they are free to do it or not.

That is; they CHOSE to do the act.
Without that choice they are not culpable.
And if they are not culpable how does it make sense to sanction them for the act?

There is a continuum here.
In general a person isn't held culpable for something somebody else does.
(There are exceptions: consider cases where you let a drunken person drive away from your party you are culpable for resulting damages).
And people who are insane aren't criminally culpable for their acts though they do face other sanctions.

Once we thought that that a drunk driver wasn't culpable for the harm harm caused because, well, they were drunk and didn't know what they were doing.

We also don't hold minors culpable for their actions the idea being that their minds aren't well enough formed for them to be considered culpable in the same way adults are.

Culpability doesn't depend on intentions.
You are culpable if somebody slips and falls on your icy sidewalk even if you were asleep and didn't know of the ice storm.
The law says you have to have the walks cleared by 10 am and no excuses.

OK what's happening here?

We've slipped from talk of morality to talk of culpability because we think that a person isn't culpable for an act unless the person is free to do it or not.

It's a concept that is embedded in our legal code.

Let's think about that a bit.
I take morality to deal with what is the right or wrong thing to do in a circumstance.
Culpability is narrower.
Culpability has to do with legal responsibility.
Morality is an individual evaluation done in real time about what is the right or wrong thing to do.

Our moral evaluations often get second guessed in hindsight. Morality isn't simple.
Culpability isn't simple either, but it's much more codified.

I've looked at how the concept of culpability rests on the concept of freedom. Does morality rest on the concept of freedom the same way?
Maybe not here's why.

We tend to think of something as right or wrong independently of whether it is actually done or not.
For instance I think it is wrong for somebody to steal from another. (stealing is an easy example fairly clear you take something from me that you aren't entitled to.
But the devil is in the details.
Why am I entitled to something and you not?

But let's keep it simple for discussion)
That is; stealing is wrong. Full stop.

That wrongness is there whether anyone actually steals anything or not.

Or to put it another way: I can choose whether to steal or not and if I do steal then I am culpable, and I am free to be culpable or not. But whether stealing is good or bad does not depend on anybody choosing anything.

That is, the concept of freedom (ie freedom to choose) does not apply to questions of whether situations or actions are good or bad (ie moral questions).

It must be acknowledged that different people make different moral judgments.
In my neighborhood there is a big single room occupancy building where the tenants have been without heat all this winter.
I think that's wrong.
Seems the landlord isn't culpable though.
He's free to take in his rents for years but when time comes for repairs he claims he is broke.
How can a stone be culpable if it has no blood ?
Meanwhile his tenants are stuck with no heat.

One might ask; why don't they move?

That brings up another issue of freedom.
How do you move when you have no money for moving expenses and no place to move to? So we see another aspect of the difference between morality and culpability.
The landlord is wrong, but is not culpable at all.
The case I'm presenting is one where the landlord is not practically culpable there is no way to cause him to fix the heat.

But libertarians would say he's not culpable at all if the tenants 'choose' to remain in the building then that absolves the landlord of culpability. So we can see that the idea of 'freedom' is closely tied to the idea of culpability.

Whence comes this idea that morality and culpability are the same? Perhaps we can think of this in terms of hegemons those who seek to define what is normal. (Think of the way Bill Gates has manipulated intellectual property laws when you think of hegemons.) Hegemons want us all to think that whatever is in THEIR interest is the norm. Now we all know that the hegemons control the legal system that determines culpability. And certainly we are all free to choose whether to go along with the hegemon's or not knowing the penalty if we get caught.

But are the hegemons free to define morality?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.