On Free Will, Part 2: Justice

Previously, I discussed free will as it relates to love. More specifically, I argued that free will is necessary for love and concluded that if free will does not exist, then neither does genuine love. Here, I will discuss free will as it relates to justice.


Justice necessarily deals with the concept of right and wrong. If someone does wrong, we call it just for the wrongdoer to face the consequences, whether naturally or artificially imposed. On the other hand, if one does good, then we recognize it as right for the doer of the good act to be rewarded. But what if the wrongdoer is let free? What if a murderer is treated as if innocent? This, we know, is unjust. And if someone is punished despite being innocent, then we also know this to be unjust.


In a world without free will, can there be justice? I argue that there cannot be justice. If justice is to address right and wrong, then it follows that justice should only be exacted upon those who did right or wrong. Now, let us say that there is no free will. Would it then be consistent to bring a person before a judge and at the same time hold that the person did not commit any wrong of his own free will? I answer no. It would be preposterous, and in fact, unjust to bring someone who did no wrong intentionally or even as a mistake before a judge when the true culprit remains free, if there is a true culprit at all.

As I mentioned before, it can be said that there are two types of determinism–puppet-determinism and robot-determinism. (We can also call the latter mechanical determinism, or we can refer to these types as outer- and inner-determinism or extra- and intra-determinism. But I digress.) The first type of determinism, puppet-determinism, implies an agent that would be truly responsible for right and wrong. Whoever this agent is should be the one held responsible for any right or wrong actions committed. Now, in the second type of determinism, mechanical determinism, the situation becomes a little more complicated; for there would be no true agent. In other words, there would be no one to be held responsible for right and wrong actions. After all, it is a great injustice to punish an innocent person, and an even greater injustice is to punish a victim. Indeed, without free will, any so-called “criminal” is merely a victim, a victim of circumstance, unable to control his or her actions, without fault. Therefore, in a world without free will, courthouses should not be called institutions of justice but rather of injustice!


The idea of divine determinism is especially relevant to the discussion of free will’s relation to justice. If we are all puppets of a divine being, then we do no wrong or good. Instead, it is God who does both right and wrong. Therefore, it is God who should be held responsible in the case that there is no free will. A lack of human free will would become especially problematic in matters of salvation. If God determines that anyone should go to heaven or to hell because of decisions that were really God’s, then that is no just God. Furthermore, even if one is to say that God only determines that some go to heaven but does not determine who goes to hell, such as in Lutheranism, there is still an issue; in fact, there is a contradiction. If God only determines that select individuals will be saved, then it logically follows that God is choosing not to save others. It is not a paradox to say that God elects some to salvation but does not elect others to damnation; rather, it is a plain contradiction.


If we are to cry out for justice at all, there must be free will. Without human free will, no human being can be held responsible for wrongdoing: there would only be victims. However, I think that our sense of justice begs to differ; that is, we certainly act as if there is free will in matters of justice, whether free will truly exists or not. Nevertheless, I believe that we do have free will, by which our courthouses have the right to execute justice.

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