Thursday, September 16, 2010

Freedom of the Will in the Massachusetts Bullying Case

In Massachusetts, 6 young people are being charged with various crimes related to the suicide of a 15 year old girl. According to the prosecutors, the severe, repetitive, incessant bullying caused Phoebe Prince to commit suicide. At this point, the bullying case is hinging upon whether the defense will be able to have access to Ms. Prince's medical records, which the defense believes will demonstrate that Prince had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts.
Prosecutors are expected to argue that Ms. Prince’s vulnerability made the bullying all the more reprehensible. If the defendants’ acts are found to have prompted her suicide, they could be legally culpable, regardless of her past, said Andrew Goode, a defense lawyer in Boston.
Interestingly, many purveyors of libertarian freedom would gladly get behind the victim in this case. And yet I can't help but notice that the underlying assumption of this case is that someone's behavior can be "caused" by another. I wonder if there are any Arminians or Semi-Pelagians who would argue that Ms. Prince was not free when she chose to hang herself, since her behavior was caused by another.

In either case, the assumption is not that the defendants are innocent because you cannot "cause" another person's behavior. As the defense attorney says, "The state is trying to say that my client’s behavior was the catalyst for her taking her life, but these records might show there were other reasons." Rather, the argument is that there were other factors in Ms. Prince's case which show that the bullying was not the only cause. I wonder why the defense attorney does not simply cry out, "Free will! Free will! Ms. Prince did this of her own free will!" It seems like the simplest way to go, and a jury might just buy it.

In either case, notice that the entire assumption of the case hinges on the principle that one person can be then antecedent cause of another's behavior. This seems to confirm Jonathan Edwards' statement that the legal system rejects the Arminian notion of freedom and liberty.

On another telling note, this trial is taking place in Northampton, Mass.; home of none other than Jonathan Edwards himself. I wonder what President Edwards would have to say from his pulpit about this case if he were in Northampton today...

1 comment:

  1. If the legal system truly rejected the free will point of view, every defendant would be found not guilty because they were not in control of their actions.


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