Determined? Reduced? Does it matter?
I've been reading Teach Yourself Ethics by Mel Thompson. This is not because it was recommended by the Sarah or Preston but rather because it was less expensive than the books that they suggested and seemed to give a good overview of the topic. I like overviews, they provide you with the opportunity to read a little about everything and then zoom in on what you find most interesting.
So far the book has talked about determinism and reductionism. From what I have gathered from the book, determinism is based on a theory that things, like say our actions, may be determined by causes our in the world, such as our genetics or the surrounding environment. So, its a bit like karma in that determinism argues that there is may be a verifiable link between cause and effect.
Thompson says about Reductionism that it is, "a philosophical rather than an ethical problem, but it is relevant because it claims to render moral language, and the whole idea of personal freedom, meaningless." (2006:21) Reductionism suggests that we are nothing more than the electrical impulses in the brain that cause us to do the things that we do.
Why are either of these things important, you may ask? They are important because in order to be able to have ethical dilemmas, we have to be able to make choices. If what we do is predetermined by our biochemistry or by the environment or if we are nothing more than the biochemical/electrical impulses in our brains then we are not responsible for our actions. As Thompson puts it, "For moral choice (and therefore ethics) to make any sense, I have to believe that a person is more than determined electrical impulses." (2006: 22)
Now, there are things we obviously don't have control over. Like the weather. I can not help that it is raining outside because I did not cause the low pressure centre that is currently over Cardiff (Although chaos theory would suggest that I may have done things that have contributed to the low pressure centre. This, however, is definitely outside the scope of this discussion.) So, in order to discuss ethics, it seems we have to come to a decision about the extent to which people are free to make the choices that they make.