Scientific determinism is the philosophy that for every even and human action, a set of causal conditions exist that would preclude any other event from taking place. There are a number of causal factors, depending on which preconditions are considered the important determining factors related to that particular event. Determinism is the law of cause and effect. Causal factors can be categorized into psychological, linguistic, economic, and technological. Psychological factors are dictated by the concept that humans must act in accordance to reason. With this in mind, the human ego can always override reason. Humans will always act in accordance with their own best interests. Linguistic factors state that limits are placed on what humans can think by their language. Economic causes places economic factors above politics as driving factor in human history. Technology presumes that technology determines the development of social structure and cultural values.
In System of Nature, Baron d’Holbach states,
“Man is, as a whole, the result of a certain combination of matter, endowed with particular properties, competent to give, capable of receiving, certain impulses, the arrangement of which is called organization, of which the essence is, to feel, to think, to act, to move, after a manner distinguished from other beings with which he can be compared,” (d’Holbach, p. 15).
This statement by d’Holbach is the essence of determinist views. Behaviorists, such as B.F. Skinner would agree that freewill and free choice are an illusion. Free will is the concept that humans have a choice in their behavior and that they can override causal factors. Skinner and other behaviorist believe that human behavior is based on cause and effect. The human will base their future actions on the reward or punishment that they receive from the environment. The reward and punishment are part of the environment in which they live. Behaviorists believe that innate needs are part of the environment too. For instance, the person does not choose to be born with innate needs for warmth and attachment from other human beings, or the need for food and water. These things are thrust upon them by their environment.
When one takes a determinist point of view, it would approach that the human being is no more than a biological machine that responds to input, much like a computer. Consciousness is viewed as an activation of the nervous system and little else. Freud argued that human behavior is a result of our unconscious thoughts. This brings up the question of whether humans can be considered responsible for their actions, if they are simply acting in automatic response to their environment. The most obvious example is crime. If one has no control over their actions and reactions to their environment, they how can they be held responsible for their actions?
If, as determinists claim, our actions are a response to past events, then they would have a certain degree of predictability. If one knew how all of the causal factors fit together, they could determine when someone were more likely to commit a crime, or make an immoral action. The person could not be held responsible because something else caused them to do it. They are not responsible for their actions. This completely discounts the element of free will. Free will means that someone has to take responsibility for his or her own actions.
Determinists do concede that some instances of choice do arise where the causal factors lead to a juncture where there are several potential outcomes. The person chooses one of the possible actions. In this way, they have chance to make a morally correct or incorrect decision. They can act in their own interests or in a way that if for the benefit or the whole. They can choose to harm another for their own gain, or they can choose to make the moral choice and forego the former. Therefore, determinism does allow for some degree of ethical responsibility, but not to the extent that the concept of free will does.