Thursday 28th February

Although there is no collusion between secretaries, often as not their separate papers provide sufficient common ground to create a linking theme between them. This evening the emergent idea was how far and in what way are we morally responsible for our actions.

Alex Bridgland OS (MAG) spoke on the thorny issue of free will and determinism. His contention was that although causal determinacy suggests that we are not formally free, our experience of choosing and making choices is all that is necessary to suggest that existentially we do indeed make genuine choices. The alternatives do not add up. So, for example, to say that a wasp and humans are equally determined because both are subject to the same causal powers is manifestly wrong: we do make choices, wasps do not. The causally indeterminate solution (that at some level events occur randomly) is also nonsense as the lack of control of any event would be very much like a satellite moving outside the range of the control station – its purpose would become arbitrary and meaningless. The fact is that we don’t choose our circumstances and we could have acted one way or the other, but within these limitations my sense of choosing is real and accounts for who I am and why I am responsible for my choices.

Fred Robson ma (TEJN) tackled the intriguing and under-discussed notion of amoralism. The central question is whether a rational person can act in a way which does not take into account any morally considerable conditions. This suggests that choosing is significant even for the amoralist, for in a strongly deterministic world all so-called choices would be equal. This would not lead to amoralism but to non-moralism. So, is the person who acts and chooses in a totally self-centred way a candidate for amoralism? The answer is that if we think there are only to be subjective values (as suggested by utilitarianism) then amoralism cannot exist as there are no non-moral situations as far as humans are concerned as all choices are value laden. The question is different as soon as we postulate universal and objective values; in this case the person who acts with no concern for any of these values might be considered amoral. The debate which followed focussed largely on the relationship of subjective/objective values and the place of rationality.

Both secretaries are to be congratulated on the sophistication of their papers and their ability to handle the wide range of questions which followed.

Michael Wilcockson

Master in charge of Wotton’s Society