Personhood and the Irrelevance of Determinism

  • Zahoor H Baber


Philosophers and physical scientists find it almost impossible to explain away human consciousness by subsuming it under the causal nexus of physical nature. However, there are questions that keep surfacing as to how consciousness has emerged in the form of human life. It seem quite problematic when our usual way of answering involves reference to some pre existing physical causal factor accounted for the emergence of the mental phenomenon. Our belief that we are free to think and act as we do, often conflicts with our belief that all physical events in nature are caused and therefore determined by other physical events in the spatio-temporal world. However, some philosophers have attempted to resolve this by pointing out certain aspects of our ordinary human attitudes that, for them, are neutral with regard to the causal or deterministic explanations. P. F. Strawson is famous for his thesis that the truth of determinism is irrelevant in so far as our interpersonal attitudes are involved. However, Strawson’s thesis of irrelevance is a form of compatibilism that remains questionable. For, even if we cannot give up our interpersonal attitudes despite determinism being true, still, we are stressed by its implications for human understanding. Though It may be almost impossible to prove that we sometimes think and act freely, still the question of a genuine contra-causal freedom does not seem to be resolved by the compatibilist thesis. Still, this impossibility has lead many philosophers, like Strawson, to seek a middle ground by arguing that determinism poses no threat since human interaction will always involve the language of free will even if determinism is true. Thus the present work is an attempt to explain this thesis and point out its shortcomings. In Strawson’s view determinism is irrelevant in so far as ordinary language cannot be replaced by the causal language of physical sciences. In other words, I have tried to show that where Strawson sees no problem, reconsideration shows the same problem still there!


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How to Cite
Baber, Z. H. (2019). Personhood and the Irrelevance of Determinism. Journal of History and Social Sciences, 1(2), 94-109. Retrieved from