How would a personal belief in determinism affect your view of crime and punishment? Do you think that people are generally responsible for their crimes, or are they not responsible due to deterministic forces beyond their control?

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Beliefs about determinism span a spectrum from hard determinism to an insistence on complete free will. Belief in absolute free will is comparatively rare in the general population and effectively unknown among philosophers. Most of us, therefore, are determinists to some extent. A hard determinist has an outlook close to...

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Beliefs about determinism span a spectrum from hard determinism to an insistence on complete free will. Belief in absolute free will is comparatively rare in the general population and effectively unknown among philosophers. Most of us, therefore, are determinists to some extent. A hard determinist has an outlook close to fatalism in believing that there are no actions, only reactions; that is to say, everything we do is determined by something that has been done to us or the circumstances in which we have been placed.

Someone who believes this would clearly see no value in retributive punishment. If a criminal could not help acting as s/he did, it would be as unfair to punish that person for any crime as it would be to punish someone for being ill. However, to continue the same analogy, though we would not punish someone for being ill, we would certainly see the value of giving that person medical treatment.

The hard determinist, therefore, could be expected to favor rehabilitative theories of justice, in which the aim of punishment is to prevent the criminal from reoffending. A pure fatalist, however, who sees human beings as helpless puppets of the cosmos, would see no point in attempts at rehabilitation.

Even the hardest of hard determinists would have to accept that the punishment of a criminal, though a reaction to their crime, becomes one of the elements shaping their future actions. As such, punishment may be an important factor in preventing or dissuading the criminal from committing further crimes.

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