My recent statements that smoking, overeating, and under-exercise are (sometimes) a matter of choice, and that people should bear the costs if their own choices, naturally leads to a discussion of free will and morality.
It is widely held that if you can show that something (e.g., smoking, obesity) sits outside of the realm of free will them moral concepts do not apply. My assertion that they are responsible for the medical costs they create, then, would be rejected.
Some who agree with this view on the relationship of morality to free will hold that there is no such thing as free will - so moral concepts never apply. We are all innocent, no matter what we do. Of course, we are also determined to blame others, even if it is unfounded.
I agree with the claim that free will does not exist. This means that if you demonstrate to me that some aspect of behavior was determined and that free will played no role, I will shrug my shoulders and say, "So?"
I reject the idea that morality requires free will. This means that if you then go on to infer that moral concepts do not apply, I will stop and raise objections.
Desirism - the moral theory on which I rely on in writing these posts - is not only compatible with determinism. It requires determinism. Free will, if it did exist, would throw the theory that I use into complete turmoil.
But it doesn’t exist, so I am safe on that front.
Desirism holds that people act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of their current desires, given their beliefs. You can alter a person’s intentional actions either by altering his beliefs or altering his desires.
The tools we have for altering desires are praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment.
This is where morality comes in. Morality concerns the use of these tools - praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment - to promote desires that people generally have the most and strongest reasons to promote, and inhibit desires people have the most and a strongest reason to inhibit.
Well, that’s the aim. People often do not know what desires they actually have the most and strongest reason to promote or inhibit. False beliefs get in the way. But it only makes sense to promote desires people have the most and strongest reason to promote, and inhibit desires that people have the most and strongest reason to inhibit.
So the question, with respect to health, is not whether individuals have the ability to draw upon some supernatural force called "free will" to avoid eating or smoking or to exercise, but whether the agents' desires can be molded by environmental factors such as the praise and condemnation of others.
Do incentives work as a way to get people to exercise? To quit smoking? To avoid over-eating?
I can praise and condemn people until I am blue in the face, but it will not affect their eye color. If I threaten to punish people who have blue eyes, and reward those who have brown eyes, nobody's eye color will change as a result. So, eye color actually is something that stands outside of the realm of morality.
On the other hand, by praising those who are honest and condemning those who lie, we do have the ability to create an affection for honesty and an aversion to deception. Similarly, where deception is rewarded and honest people are punished, we can expect people to practice dishonesty to a greater degree and shun honesty.
The ability to influence the prevalence of honesty and dishonesty using these tools means we have a question to answer regarding how we are going to use these tools. We can get more honesty by praising honesty. So, if we have many and strong reasons to be surrounded by honest people, we have many and strong reasons to praise honesty.
Are eating habits responsive to social forces? Can social norms influence what we eat, when we eat, and how much we eat? Do they influence whether we spend an afternoon on the basket ball court or in front of the television?
My claim that people should pay for the medical costs associated with smoking, overeating, and under-exercise only requires that it be the case that people who engage in this behavior respond to incentives. Demonstrating that the behavior is determined is irrelevant. Demonstrating that the behavior is influenced by things other than praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment will have limited relevance. Ultimately, what will be required in rejecting these claims is demonstrating that praise, condemnation, reward, and punishment will have no effect at all on bringing about the intended behavior.
The thesis that some desires can be molded through the use of these forced is not only compatible with determinism. It requires determinism. Without it, we can't make reasonable claims about whether or how to use these social tools.
Without determinism, there can be no morality.