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Moral Responsibility & the Justice System

Deterministic Factors in a system founded on Freedom of Choice

By Waleed Mahmud TariqPublished about a month ago 4 min read

In contemporary society, our laws and moral frameworks are deeply rooted in the notion of free will. This belief underpins our justice system, educational norms, and everyday interactions. We hold individuals accountable for their actions based on the premise that they possess the freedom to choose between right and wrong. However, the deterministic perspective, which suggests that our actions are the result of preceding causes and influences beyond our control, challenges this foundational belief.

One of the central arguments against absolute free will is the deterministic nature of our existence, as highlighted in my book “Probing Freewill.” The book dives into how our decisions are influenced by a myriad of factors, including genetics, neurobiology, and environmental constraints​​. This deterministic view posits that our actions are not purely the product of free choice but rather the outcome of a complex web of factors.

For example, consider the case of an individual who becomes a doctor. This decision might appear to be a freely made choice, but it is influenced by genetic predispositions, parental expectations, societal values, and educational opportunities. The deterministic factors at play shape the individual’s preferences and available options, guiding their choices in ways that may not be immediately apparent​​.

Legal Implications of determinism on Moral Responsibility

If our actions are influenced by deterministic factors, what does this mean for moral responsibility? Traditional moral frameworks based on free will assume that individuals can independently choose between right and wrong. However, if we accept that our decisions are shaped by factors beyond our control, we need to rethink these frameworks.

One approach is to adopt a more compassionate and understanding view of moral responsibility. Instead of focusing on punishment and retribution, we should aim to understand the root causes of behavior. This perspective aligns with the principles of compatibilism, which suggests that determinism and moral responsibility can coexist. Compatibilism holds that even if our actions are determined, they still originate from us and reflect our desires, beliefs, and goals​​.

Our legal systems, which operate on the assumption of free will, may also need to adapt to a deterministic perspective. Traditional punitive measures may not effectively deter crime if individuals’ actions are heavily influenced by their circumstances. Instead, a focus on rehabilitation and addressing the root causes of criminal behavior such as poverty, lack of education, and mental health issues, could be more effective.

For instance, studies have shown that restorative justice programs, which emphasize rehabilitation and reconciliation, are more successful in reducing recidivism rates compared to purely punitive approaches.

By Clay Banks on Unsplash

But What about the Victim’s Sense of Justice?

Rehabilitative justice aims to address the root causes of criminal behavior and reintegrate offenders into society. While this approach focuses on the offender’s rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, improving the society’s future, it also raises important questions about the victim’s sense of justice. How can we ensure that victims feel heard, validated, and compensated within a system that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment?

Victims of crime often experience a range of emotions, including anger, fear, and a desire for retribution. Traditional punitive justice systems can validate these feelings by delivering a clear consequence to the offender. However, rehabilitative justice does not necessarily negate the victim’s needs; rather, it can address them in different and potentially more holistic ways.

Restorative justice involves mediated encounters between the victim and the offender, allowing the victim to express their feelings, ask questions, and receive an apology. This process aims to restore a sense of control and closure for the victim, which is often lost in the aftermath of a crime. These encounters can be deeply healing. They provide victims with a platform to be heard and to understand the circumstances that led to the crime. Additionally, they allow offenders to acknowledge the harm they have caused, developing empathy and accountability.

Rehabilitative justice systems can also ensure that victims receive appropriate compensation and support. This can include financial restitution paid by the offender, psychological support services, and community resources aimed at helping victims rebuild their lives. Providing comprehensive support helps address the practical and emotional needs of victims, reinforcing their sense of justice.

Implementing a victim-centered approach within a rehabilitative justice framework means actively involving victims in the justice process. This involvement can take various forms, such as giving victims a voice in sentencing, allowing them to participate in rehabilitation plans, and ensuring their safety and well-being are prioritized.

For example, victim impact statements during court proceedings allow victims to articulate the impact of the crime on their lives. This practice not only provides a therapeutic outlet for victims but also ensures that their experiences and perspectives are considered in the sentencing process.

Ultimately, rehabilitative justice seeks to create a safer and more empathetic society by addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior and reducing the likelihood of reoffending. By focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration, society can potentially reduce the overall number of victims in the long term. This broader impact aligns with the interests of victims and communities by fostering a culture of prevention and healing.

By Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash


Rehabilitative justice does not have to be at odds with the victim’s sense of justice. By incorporating restorative practices, providing comprehensive support, and ensuring active victim involvement, the justice system can address the needs of victims while still focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders. This balanced approach aims to heal both victims and offenders, ultimately contributing to a more just and compassionate society.

Adopting a deterministic perspective challenges us to rethink how we address social issues and promote ethical behavior. If we recognize that individuals are influenced by their environments, we can focus on creating conditions that develop positive behaviors. This might include improving access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities.

As we continue to explore these themes, it is crucial to keep an open mind and engage in thoughtful dialogue. Whether we ultimately embrace determinism or maintain a belief in free will, the questions raised by this debate enhances our understanding of morality and ethics, guiding us toward a more just and empathetic society.

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Comments (1)

  • Annalise Zeraabout a month ago

    Adopting a deterministic perspective encourages us to rethink social issues and ethical behavior by focusing on environmental influences. By improving access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunities, we can foster positive behaviors. Engaging in thoughtful dialogue about determinism versus free will enhances our understanding of morality and ethics, guiding us toward a more just and empathetic society.

WMTWritten by Waleed Mahmud Tariq

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