UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Some aspects of the problem of moral responsibility Brown, Martin Lawther


In this thesis an attempt is made to shew that moral responsibility -- that a man merits praise or blame as he acts well or badly -- is compatible with the idea of an omnipotent God and a causal determinism. Moreover, a man's responsibility for his acts depends on their being his acts; i.e. he has a will, is free to choose, and acts voluntarily. Chapter one sets forth what the writer considers the best definitions of causality, chance, volition, freedom, determinism, indeterminism and necessity, Aristotle's systematic philosophy seeming the most practicable. The Christian concepts of will and predestination receive their first explanation in Saint Augustine. In the succeeding chapters the historical approach is used to set forth the attitudes of various philosophers to the problems Involved. The belief appears widespread that freedom (which is essential if one is to have responsibility) is incompatible with determinism; yet Aristotle and Spinoza shew that such is not the case. Indeterminism, rather than permitting freedom, makes it impossible, for then, man becomes subject to chance. The majority of the philosophies examined shew inconsistencies with a systematic theology and, although certain truths may be found in each, are rejected as being either unfruitful or incapable of being developed in the direction intended. The writer concludes that the most consistent and fruitful interpretation of moral responsibility Is given by Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle gives us a consistent philosophical system which Saint Thomas interprets in the light of Christian doctrine, and it is this philosophy which seems best to correlate with Catholic teaching. For Saint Thomas, that the will is free and human acts voluntary does not conflict with the idea of a divine, omnipotent Being; and necessity, providence and predestination do not conflict with free will in man. Both chance and determinism make freedom in man possible, more especially as man has intellect and reason to deliberate on courses of action. As all acts of the will are voluntary, man may be, and is, commended or censured for his acts as they are good or bad. He has choice, and this choice is free, so that the outcome of his actions is his own responsibility. As this view, despite its many difficulties, appears to be the most complete, it seems to be the best one on which to build in the future.

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