Blatchford Determinism

Philo 100 W D100                                Daniel Chang Tzu Jung


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Question 3: If Blatchford’s deterministic view is correct, does it follows that it is pointless to punish (or praise) people for what they do? Can you think of any justification for punishment that is compatible with hard determinism?

Blatchford’s deterministic view presents another method or perspective of reviewing the responsibility of human behaviors. It focused on the disentanglement of the several ideas and assumptions that had been incorporated to the concept of free will. Blatchford’s view is considered to be firmly in-line with hard determinism, which argued that human choice is caused by a chain of previous events or factors that were beyond human control leading to the proposition that free will is unreal or non-existent.

Blatchford’s deterministic view argued that there were two factors that caused a decision or urge the will to reason or feel and judge; heredity and environment. Heredity refers to anything the traits, characteristic, DNA or genes that are passed down from parents to child. For instance, this includes the skin pigments, eye’s shape, metabolism, diseases and/or disabilities caused by genetic factors, etc.

On the other hand, those that are included in the environment includes nationality, language, society or neighborhood, education, media, church/religious institutions, government, parents and relatives, etc. that affects the development of intelligence and reasoning, ethical considerations, emotions and reactions. By appealing to common sense, Blatchford had been able to create a series of arguments against the existence of free will.

 In general, Blatchford’s deterministic view implies that it is pointless to punish or praise people for what they do. This is rooted in his denial of human responsibility. Nevertheless, this does mean that all punishments are not justified since punishments through restrain and rehabilitation could establish better environment in the society.

When a citizen has a disagreement or conflict with another, there will be repulsion against the other person. In most cases, a middleman with certain power and authority would interfere and resolve the problem with reference to a certain justice system. More predominantly, the sense of justice lies on the concept of responsibility that the society promotes.

Blatchford pointed out that the circumstances (environment and heredity) experienced by citizens determine his/her action before it was done. An individual man is a member of a society but not its creator. Society creates an environment that has good and evil. In most societies, as can be affirmed by commonsense, good things were ought to be praised while evil things were to be punished.

The society was not under the sole influence of an individual man-as a matter of fact; an individual was born and influenced by the society. The will of the individual man was determined by heredity and environment. A good example would be Hitler’s Reich or rule in Germany. His rise into power was driven by the injustices that he perceived, such as the dominance and prominence of Jews in Germany while most Germans are working hard to pay for war damages. The story regarding the Aryan race had also affected the concept of justice that he espoused.

In Blatchford’s view, Hitler should not be punished since he was not responsible for his action, rather, his environment and heredity had made him think, act and feel the way he did. The positive feedback that he received from his fellowmen had reinforced his attitude or encouraged him to pursue his philosophy and actions. If they (his fellowmen) have laugh at him and did not believe him, his authority and influence might have diminished, restrained or hampered.

In this scenario, Germany under Hitler’s rule constructed new constitutions and laws to administer the citizens, prompting the institution of the “duties and responsibilities”. In a normal democratic country, murder was regarded as evil and therefore wrong. However, in Hitler’s time, attacking a Jew was regarded as serving the country (one of their duties and responsibilities).

In most country, those with psychological imbalance or with diseases were judged as innocent. In Hitler’s regime, they belong to the lower race and were executed to purify their country. Therefore, the view of the majority of the countries of the world was that Hitler was an evil person. Most people loathed his acts. However, some revere his position and principles.

The point is, people tend to judge and evaluate an action depending on how he or she was molded by society and how his/her heredity had shaped his/her possibilities (blind vs. not blind). Therefore, as Blatchford explained, people are never guilty because a person’s action was determined by the combination of heredity and environment and it will be pointless to punish a person based on these criteria. Nevertheless, since an individual man is a member of a society, for the benefit the whole society and for a citizen’s responsibility of personal action, it is necessary to judge and punish an individual.

Another case that could support hard determinism was the advent of accidents. First it is essential to elaborate on the definition of as accident. In this essay it would refer to actions or events that are not done voluntarily or that did not happened purposely. This does not imply that accidents have no cause, since every actions leading to the accident had a certain cause.

For example, a man accidentally killed a little girl when he was driving on the street, the girl did not follow the traffic light (or may not have known about the traffic light) and ran off from the traffic island. The little girl ran off because she did not know about the traffic sign or she was too young to understand the concept. The man was driving as usual and follows the traffic signs.

If there is a thing such as free will, the man should have willed his actions and its results without prior constrained or without the influence of other things. However, the example revealed that the man did not “will” to kill the girl. Clearly, Blatchford would not find a man guilty of murder since he was not responsible for his actions. In the same vein, a man who had killed a girl by accident should not be condemned. An accident, by itself, was unintentional. Therefore, the man did not choose to kill the girl. If one did not choose, how can he be responsible about it?

Man did not choose to be born or to live in a society. Man did not choose to have the parents, the siblings, the genes that he had. Man did not choose to have the character, abilities and disabilities that he had. Yet, in the society man was judge, scrutinized, seen, treated and understood depending on these grounds. Immigrants are usually discriminated. In some society, women are oppressed. The poor are marginalized. The royalties would give birth to a royalty while the peasants would be born from the peasants. The son of a murderer would be branded as such. And as the man grows up, he adapts the role that the society permits him to have. Usually, poor people remain in the slums working or begging to feed themselves. More likely, politicians and aristocrats enjoyed the frivolities and fame that were passed down to their generations. It is natural for the poor to aspire riches and wealth. It is natural for Aristocrats to despise the foul, the dirt and the darkness of the slums.

Every living organism is believed to follow their natural instincts. For instance, a dog naturally barks at someone running or bite if someone takes away the food he is eating. The proponents of free will might argue that things such as natural instincts are not determined since people are born with them. If they propose that choosing is something that belongs to natural instinct, Blatchford would simply argued that natural instinct, as well as personal intuitions, are products of heredity. The reason why plants can produce their own food while animals cannot is rooted on their genes. Height, weight, skin color, etc. are all determined by genes. The individual metabolism and the processes inside the human body are all dictated by genes. Therefore, it is inevitable that the existent of things such as instinct and intuition are also produced by the genes.

Basically, upon following this line of arguments, one may be convinced that indeed punishments are not necessary or merely an arbitrary use of power and/or authority to control society. Societies create the circumstances that led to the presence of good and evil. If the presence of evil is not controlled, the society would only be an instrument to expand the notion and influence of the things it calls evil. Blatchford sees those who are being called criminals or are blamed as evils as people who deserves pity and help rather than punishment and blame.

People should not be praised or punished for things that they are not responsible for. Blatchford’s view made it clear that people are not at fault since they did not choose their predisposition and the circumstances they are born with. They should not be punished if they steal, since it is their heredity and environment that made them steal. Nevertheless, a society would not flourish if murders are let out of the street. If alcoholics and drug addicts are freely driving on the road, there will be lots of accidents, injuries and even deaths.  If there will be no system of discipline and regulation, it will be impossible to be safe and secure in the society. Thus, there arise a utility to punish people through restraints and rehabilitation. Punishment to restrain or rehabilitate people from doing wrong or to prevent them from hurting other people is justified even in hard determinism. Offenders or violators are not held morally responsible for their actions but are merely brought under control, so as not to cause further harm to the society.


Ballard, Frank. (2004). Determinism False and True: A contribution to modern philosophy and ethics. Kessinger Publishing .

Blatchford, Robert. (2006). Not Guilty: A Defence of the Bottom Dog. Kessinger Publishing.

Noel, Conrad. (2007). Byways of Beliefs.  Kessinger Publishing.

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