In the discussion of the argument from evil the question was raised whether God can have free will, if there is some sense in which he cannot do wrong. This has got me thinking about another issue: There has been something that’s bugged me about Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel for quite a while now, so I thought I’d include my worries in a post in order to get this off my chest. My worries regard the show’s view of free will and responsibility. Why worry about what a show thinks about a metaphysical issue? Well, assuming they they are applying the concepts of free will and moral responsibility fairly accurately, perhaps we can learn something about the metaphysical issue by exploring how the show (and hence, how most of us) concieves of these things.
Free will and moral reponsibility are usually thought to be intricately tied: that is, we usually think we can only be morally responsible for those things that we are free to do. This can easily be seen by the ways in which we often excuse our actions: “I had no choice” is a common defense, and one that is used to relieve us of responsibility for an action. (e.g., Someone that is a kleptomaniac — someone that has an irresistable compulsion to steal — can be excused of their theft in a way that a person not afflicted with this condition is not. The kleptomaniac doesn’t have a CHOICE no to steal; the normal person does.)
So, what does this have to do with Buffy and Angel? Well, it seems, in these series, free will and moral responsibility do NOT have such an intricate tie. It is repeatedly said in the show that vampires (and other demons) do NOT possess free will. Why is that? Well, it seems to be due to thier intrinsically evil natures. That is, humans have free will because they have a soul, which gives them a conscience: so they have something within them that pulls them towards the good; there is some motivation in them, intrinsically, to do the right thing. Vampires do not have this: there is nothing in them that motivates them to do what is right, nothing telling them that they ought to do one thing rather than another (although, given the actions of some vampires — like Spike — I doubt this is really the case; but that’s beside the point). So, the picture seems to be that they act according to their primal desires at the time, with nothing to put those desires in check. So, there is a sense in which they cannot do good: while there is no one forcing them to perform the heinous acts that they do (i.e., they could do good if they so chose), they simply will never choose to do good, because their natures lack any motivation to do the right thing.
Yet, while the characters recognize that vampires don’t have free will, they nonetheless seem to hold them morally responsible for their actions. Buffy has no problem killing creatures that simply cannot help doing what they do. But she will never kill a human being, on the grounds that they do have a soul (i.e., free will). This seems rather mysterious to me: so you willingly kill those that had no freedom to anything but evil, but will not kill those that freely do evil. I’m supposing that ultimate reasoning is that humans, given their conscience, have a potential to do good, while vampires do not. So, to kill a human bieng is to kill off a being that still had the potential to do what is right.
Furthermore, the characters will seek vengeance on vampires that have done them wrong (e.g., as when Giles hunts down Angel after Angel kills Jenny Calendar). Granted, this vengeance could be unjustified (as a result of enraged grief), but, if so, is never depicted as such (i.e., the characters in the show seem to see such actions as justified…although perhaps a bit ill-advised).
So, in short, it seems that the characters in the Buffy universe hold vampires and other intrinsically evil creatures to be devoid of free will, but yet still hold them morally responsible (and thus blameworthy) for their actions. Why is this?
Perhaps it is just do to a very strong, deeply ingrained reaction to seeing beings (human or otherwise) cause suffering and derive pleasure from it. So, no matter how we may intellectually view creatures such as vampires (as lacking free will), this is overrided by the strong emotional reaction we have to the actions of these creatures.
What I think is the more intesting consideration is the following: there are two different ways in which we can lack free will: this lack can be due to external constraints, such that I can’t perform an action even if I wanted to (e.g., I can’t jump off a building and fly — even if I wanted to — and thus am not free do so), or due to internal constraints — I am made such that I will never choose a certain action (e.g., as in the kleptomania case — the kleptomaniac chould refrain from stealing, if he so chose, but simply is unable to do so).
And perhaps the latter kind more controversially precludes our free will (or, at least, it is more difficult to tell whether or not internal constraints are in place). That is, there are always things within us that constrain our actions — I will never become a serial killer, for example, because I have desires and beliefs that constrain me from doing so (I believe it is horribly wrong, and I am have too much empathy for others’ suffering that I simply could not bring myself to do it.) Is this the kind of internal constraint that precludes my free will? Well, intuitively no, because those kinds of desires and beliefs are thought to be a part of me in a way that compulsions to steal, for example, are not (and perhaps said desires and beliefs are part of me due to the way that the desires and beliefs are formed).
So, perhaps the characters in the show are really just a bit confused about how they really regard the metaphysical status of vampires. On the one hand, they recognize that vampires cannot choose to do good, but also recognize that ther actions are not due to external constraints, but are due to the natures of these creatures. So, on the one hand, they have reason to believe that vampires do not have free will, but on the other hand, there is some doubt as to whether the internal constraints that prevent them from choosing good are really the kind of constraints that preclude free will.
I could go on about this…but I’m getting tired. Any thoughts on the matter would be more than welcome!