Philosophers cannot help being depressed when criminologists, forensic psychiatrists and social workers rush in to make pronouncements about free will and determinism. If, as the old saying goes, “philosophy bakes no bread,” it may well be because the above mentioned persons are niggardly in supplying them with dough. The opinions of the criminologists and psychiatrists are too impoverished for us to munch on.
It is astonishing that so many people assume we must either come down on the side of determinism or else on the side of the free will advocates. Philosophers read such titles as “free will versus determinism” and are dumbfounded. Somehow or other, the many books and articles we have written disputing the “versus” have never been brought to the attention to those who feel they must make a choice between free will and determinism.
The general view (not the unanimous view, of course) of philosophers for the last couple of centuries [see David Hume, J.S. Mill, et al] is that free will is not incompatible with determinism. Indeed, in 1934, a very influential essay titled “Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It” appeared in print and while it has had its critics, set the dominant tone for contemporary philosophy. Obviously, as the title makes pellucid, philosophers think the ball is in the court of those who imagine some incompatibility in the two concepts. Certainly, most criminologists and forensic psychiatrists merely take for granted they must choose and equally certainly and sadly, not one article has ever been written by these people defending that position. Not one! It is simply a bare bones assumption within their professions.
The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the godfather, Sigmund Freud, who wrote, “For some time now I have been aware that it is impossible to think of a number, or even a name, of one’s own free will.” This is, indeed, a dark and totally incomprehensible remark but it has set the pace for generations of his adulators.
What did Freud suppose he could not do and how would he have recognized the falsity of his claim just in case it was? No philosopher has been able to unpack the sentence and give it even an air of intelligibility. Still, others have followed with an insouciant abandon in his footsteps. D.N. Stott contentedly wrote, “The most commonplace of acts can be shown to be the outcome of years of complicated causation.” But what of it, dear Sir? Who would deny it and if it were false, how would that advance the cause of free will?
There is a great deal more of this but the worst of it is that criminologists use these shopworn ideas to challenge the idea that criminals should be put in prison. Thus, Benjamin Karpman wrote “Imprisonment and punishment do not present themselves as the proper method of dealing with criminals. We have to treat them physically as sick people, which in every respect they are.” J.R. Rees tacked on the observation, “All failure to comply with the rules of the game is evidence of some psychological failure in the conduct of life.” Shockingly, D. Taft wrote that “If choice is free there can be no prevention of crime…The mentally sound are no more responsible than the mentally unsound.”
No end to this madness is in sight. So long as psychiatrists and criminologists are given their head, they will bombard us with pompous drivel and congratulate one another for their keen insights that poor laymen cannot understand but must accept.