Accountability and Responsibility: morality in the lack of free will

It is a well established scientific and philosophical fact that free will – as in absolute freedom in making choices – is no more than a silly idea. If choices were made randomly, free will would be false as chance is making the choices, not you. If choices are causal, then free will would still be false, as it would be the outcome of a prior cause, still not you. It is true that you are conscious of and can influence making your own choices, but even then – you – are still just memory that was caused by – all the past events in your life – ie. not you.

But if free will does not exist and no one causes their actions, then nobody is responsible for anything, right? Certainly nobody can be held accountable, right?

That’s the religious guilt trip machine talking. When primitive clergymen were trying to convert primitive sheepherders into believing the whole original sin fiasco, they encountered one annoying problem – after all, god created the world, and god put the tree of knowledge right within Man’s reach, and god created Man to his specifications, and god being omniscient knew about that evil talking snake yet didn’t even try to protect man from the snake’s words. Anyone with a hint of sense would see that the outcome was inevitable, it was clearly god’s fault. Then why blame the man?

So the clergy came up with the idea that – what if man’s decision wasn’t caused by god, nor the snake that god let sweet talk man, and certainly not yet another a glaring plot hole? What if man had the ability to make decisions detached from all causal reasoning and outside influences? What if man had the freedom to choose, and thus could be held accountable?

It defies all logic, but in 2014 we still hold “sane” people philosophically accountable for their own actions. Accountability is the sense that someone is responsible because they caused the action. But you can’t be held accountable (at least in that sense of being the root cause) when you are the action. So accountability looks back further to the sequence of events that eventually caused you to perform the action, and ultimately, nobody is accountable for their actions because nobody causes their own actions. Yes we do have a decision making process but ultimately we are not in charge of that either.

However, accountability does not negate responsibility. Responsibility is the phenomena in which the presence of a consciousness (which I can’t confirm anyone else’s but my own, however its a safe assumption) and awareness, particularly that of strong emotion and physiological suffering/ pleasure, drives us towards attempted improvement of the various conditions that affect such emotion and nerve signals so that they cause less suffering and more pleasure. Responsibility is what makes us significant, it doesn’t matter that we are not the cause, but that we are part of it. We are not and cannot be held accountable for this – our consciousness experience is caused by memory, and it does react to and is responsible for our constant drive towards improving life as we know it (as the reaction, not the original cause).

What is this “improving life” you ask? If there ever were a meaning of life, it would be enjoy life. We all go about different means, but that is the undeniable core goal. Some people find enjoyment in nihilistic pleasure, some in mind enhancing academia, some in involving themselves in strong ideological zealotry, developing a sense of accomplishment in building things and raising families, others in performing acts of cathartic cruelty or a happy-go-lucky form of perceived altruism. Whatever floats their boat, but no behavior deviates from the core idea of maximizing fulfillment gained from life, needless to say some are more successful than others in doing so.

And how is morality defined? To define morality and judge actions by morals, you have to identify a cause to judge morality by. Morality is good, and good is living a fulfilling, enjoyable life. Murder rape and theft usually don’t cause fulfilling lives – at least on the receiving end, therefore they are usually immoral. Antisocial behavior places an individual’s level of enjoyment (eg. public puking) above society – multiple individual’s (eg. the people being puked onto) enjoyment, therefore they are also usually immoral behaviors. Oppression hugely decreases the life enjoyment factor of the oppressed, therefore also may be considered immoral.

Now keep in mind at this point that even though murderers rapists and thieves engage in such immoral acts, they do not cause these actions they commit and there’s no such thing as a bad soul (or even a soul but that’s another article). To punish them for something they are not accountable for is wrong as you are essentially punishing a puppet for the puppet master’s crimes, except that the puppet has pain neurons as well as hopes and dreams just like everyone else, and the puppet master itself is an nonpunishable entity (eg. try to punish god, you can’t because god is a fictitious concept).

As a solution, society and people act responsible. The consciousness occupying our brains says “you have to protect me from attacks”, and it tries to steer our brains towards various ways of preventing immorality, and this is what justice is really about. Punishing a murderer won’t bring back the victim, the punishment itself is probably immoral, but what we find that we can do is to prevent the murder from happening in the first place, and perhaps even eventually eliminate the crime from existence. We educate when we can, protect when we can, rehabilitate when we can, quarantine if we have to, and only kill as an admittance of defeat. That is our responsibility.

For some acts of immorality, we also have to consider the source of the immorality. For example in the gay marriage “debate”, gay marriage is only immoral because some people think homosexuals are icky (and because of some random book that everyone believes and no one reads). But the only reason homosexuals are hurting the religious fundamentalists is because of a non-essential and illogical cultural decision on part of the “victims”, perhaps it would be more moral just to deal with that illogical cultural decision than to infringe on the sexual happiness of a significant demographic – “is it really that bad? Can the LGBT live happy lives without conforming to an archaic religious tradition? Can the fundamentalists live happy lives with the knowledge that LGBT are… exist? Would taking a/which side benefit society the most? Is there an alternative to this false dichotomy?” All items to consider when considering the morality debate of any subject.

We don’t have a choice, we are not accountable for our actions. We do have a decision making process and we are responsible – like it or not – towards upholding our own (and to certain extent other’s) enjoyment of life. And that is morality in the lack of free will, a natural phenomena of never-ending attempted improvement on the conditions that affect our conscious experience.


P.S. Compatibilitists, I’m not talking about the meaningless version of “free will” here (acting of your own motivation? pffft where does that motivation come from?). This debate is about the free will that gets people “what they deserved”. And whatever you say, you are wrong (aside from the right words).

P.P.S. Deservance is heavily related but a topic for another time. But basically people who work hard think they deserve better while in reality nobody deserves to work hard.


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