Alexander of Aphrodisias
Richard J. Bernstein
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Joseph Keim Campbell
Mario De Caro
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
John Martin Fischer
Richard L. Franklin
Bas van Fraassen
Nicholas St. John Green
Georg W.F. Hegel
George Henry Lewes
C. Lloyd Morgan
Arthur O. Lovejoy
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
Paul E. Meehl
John Stuart Mill
William of Ockham
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Willard van Orman Quine
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Peter van Inwagen
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
C.F. von Weizsäcker
Alfred North Whitehead
John S. Bell
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Satyendra Nath Bose
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Arthur Holly Compton
E. P. Culverwell
Louis de Broglie
Abraham de Moivre
Arthur Stanley Eddington
George F. R. Ellis
Hugh Everett, III
R. A. Fisher
J. Willard Gibbs
James J. Gibson
A. O. Gomes
Dirk ter Haar
J. B. S. Haldane
John H. Jackson
William Stanley Jevons
E. T. Jaynes
Ruth E. Kastner
Martin J. Klein
William R. Klemm
James Clerk Maxwell
N. David Mermin
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Teilhard de Chardin
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Heinz von Foerster
Richard von Mises
John von Neumann
Jakob von Uexküll
C. S. Unnikrishnan
C. H. Waddington
John B. Watson
Paul A. Weiss
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Joseph Keim Campbell
Mario De Caro
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
John Martin Fischer
Richard L. Franklin
Nicholas St. John Green
Georg W.F. Hegel
John R. Lucas
Paul E. Meehl
John Stuart Mill
William of Ockham
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Willard van Orman Quine
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Peter van Inwagen
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Alfred North Whitehead
In his 1990 book The Non-Reality of Free Will, Richard Double claims that "there can be nothing that answers to the deep senses of free will and moral responsibility."
I shall argue that there can be no such thing as free will and moral responsibility. My argument is a metaphilosophical one that holds that neither concept can have discrete reference, Instead, these terms are merely honorific and subjective; they cannot be legitimized by appeal to the nature of extralinguistic reality, Free will and moral responsibility, as they are viewed in philosophical discourse and everyday life, are not to be counted as candidates among the class of real entities. I have come to the non-realist position grudgingly.(p.5) The ideas of free will and moral responsibility play a deep and central role in the way that we view ourselves. Because of this, almost all of the great figures in Western philosophy have addressed free will and moral responsibility, most of them attempting to vindicate these beliefs. In recent years, the importance of freedom and responsibility have been well documented. The belief that we often act freely and are at those times morally responsible for our behavior is an integral constituent of the Manifest Image of Man, the view of ourselves and the world that we hold before we entertain the postulation of theoretical entities that constitutes the Scientific Image (Sellars, 1963). The belief that persons are capable of moral responsibility and deserve moral consideration comprises (along with the logically prior intentional stance) the personal stance that we take toward each other (Dennett, 1978, Chapter 12). This personal attitude is characterized by "reactive attitudes" such as gratitude and resentment, which stand in distinction to the "objective" attitude that we take toward beings that we believe are not endowed with free will (Strawson, 1962; Nagel, 1986). The capacity for free will has been alleged to be a criterion for distinguishing persons from non-persons (Frankfurt, 1971). And in law, besides the obvious issue of retributive justice, the ideas of free will and moral responsibility provide the moral rationale for legal responsibility. (p.3)
Double explains what he means by defining his terms and calling for three requirements, the ability to have chosen otherwise, control, and rationality.
Free choice (decision), freedom, free, free will, free act, free agent — Because the aim of this book is to see whether any theory of free will is acceptable (what "free will" really means), I cannot produce a complete definition here prior to that investigation. It is clear, though, that free will has to do with making choices that have the desirable property of being free, which enables agents who make such choices to be more worthy of dignity than agents who cannot. Free will seems, at first blush, to be something without which our moral responsibility for our actions will be jeopardized. At the same time, free will has connections with other highly desirable things like independence, autonomy, activeness rather than passivity, and rationality. There is reason to believe that these general desiderata might be generated by the satisfaction of three basic conditions that have produced much of the historical debate between the compatibilists and incompatibilists. The first condition is the requirement that free agents have the ability to choose and to act differently than they actually do. The point here is that free agents do not have to make the choices they do; they have the ability, in a sense to be established, to choose otherwise. The second condition, often subsumed under the first, is that free agents control what their choices shall be. The intuitive idea, accepted by compatibilists and incompatibilists, is that if I choose freely the choice that I make is 'up to me', again in a sense to be established. The third component of free will is rationality. Free choices are reasonable and sensible in the light of a belief-desire psychology where we choose in order to maximize the likelihood of achieving our goals. (p.12)
The simple answer to Double's point about rationality is that we are not "just as likely" to opt for something different from "rational self control", but as human beings we can and do choose occasionally to be irrational.
Valerian, Non-Valerian and Delay LibertarianismIn his "Trouble with Libertarianism" chapter (p. 190), Double has an excellent review of three kinds of libertarian theories, based on how each allows indeterminism to enter. One he calls "Valerian" two-stage theories after Daniel Dennett's decision model (named for the poet Paul Valery). Valerian models introduce indeterminism in the early stages of deliberation, before the decision itself. The next he calls "Non-Valerian." These allow indeterminism in the decision process itself, which means that chance is sometimes the direct cause of actions. The last is his own theory, which he calls "Delay Libertarianism." The main idea is to recognize that free will is a process that takes place over a period of time. This gives Double the opportunity to locate the indeterminism in a delay between deliberations and resultant decisions. But he still argues that the deliberations "set the stage" for whatever decision will be made - if any decision is made. So he leaves himself open to the randomness objection. Double recognizes that the act of the will might be simply to avoid a decision, and send the problem back for more deliberations, which could involve generating more alternative possibilities, as in our Cogito mind model. But in the end, says Double, delay libertarianism fails, for the same reason as the others, the dual rational control condition.
Delay LibertarianismI now want to sketch another Valerian theory that relies on the possibility of quantum indeterminacies, which I call delay libertarianism. This theory makes the possibility of time gaps a common feature of our decision making, and, to the extent that is empirically warranted, an ubiquitous feature of the rest of our cognitive and biological lives. On this view, for most decisions it is indeterminate whether the decision will follow the deliberation immediately or whether it will be delayed a small fraction of a second. (I leave this imprecise, because the length of the delays needs to be specified empirically.) Sometimes delays may occur in sequence, producing longer delays between the deliberations and the resultant decisions. Delay libertarianism locates indeterminacy at the point where our deliberations are followed by our decisions. (To make this more psychologically realistic, we could suppose that not all deliberative processes are conscious, but that supposition is tangential to understanding the delay concept. The important thing is that delay theorists want to focus on the point at which the determinists believe that deliberations cause decisions.) The delay theory holds that, in the case of free choices, the deliberations "set the stage" for the ensuing decision in the sense that the former establish which decision will be made if any decision is made. The deliberations do not, however, make the decision physically necessary, since the decision is indeterminate, and may either occur or not occur.
This is dual controlIf the indeterminate decision occurs, then it immediately follows the deliberation and appears exactly as it would if it were caused by the deliberation. If the indeterminate decision does not occur, there is a delay. In this case, there are two possibilities. First, since most of the psychological factors that went into the deliberation that led up to the initial indeterminate decision remain intact, the stage remains set for the same decision to be made. (Metaphorically, the deliberative state of the agent has another chance to push the decision across the threshold.) If, on the next try, the decision fails to occur (thereby producing an iterated delay), the same process may be repeated, and so on.
Here Double imagines our second thoughtsThe second possibility is that during any of the delays brought about by the failure of the indeterminate decision to occur, agents may think of some other considerations that prompt them to extend their original deliberations, possibly leading them to different decisions than they would have made had no delays occurred. Thus, at no single instant are the two alternatives, e.g., decide A and decide not A, physically possible; yet in free decisions the alternatives of deciding A and not deciding A (that is, having one's decision delayed) are physically possible.
Double recognizes the problem of when and where quantum effects occur.There are some reasons why a libertarian might prefer delay libertarianism to the theories considered above. First, it has always been difficult for libertarians who try to avail themselves of quantum indeterminacy to explain why the sub-atomic indeterminacies occur just when we manifest libertarian freedom. It cannot be, for instance, that when we prepare to make a decision, the sub-atomic particles 'know' that they should 'go on a spree'. So, is it not miraculous that the sub-atomic and macro-levels correspond in any significant way? Delay libertarianism answers this objection. Because the possibility of delays is a common feature of our mental lives, there is no problem in seeing how they correspond to free decisions. They are always, or almost always, there. A second, related, advantage of delay libertarianism is that it allows free will to be as frequent a phenomenon as common sense believes it is. (The libertarian should not claim that delays are sufficient for free will, since unfree agents will also experience delays.)
Delay libertarianism is not restrictivist.It has always seemed to me that theories like those of Campbell, Kane, and Kant, which make free will realized only under the greatest of efforts, were not really accounts of "free will," but of a much narrower concept. Delay libertarianism does not deny that the moral phenomenology that these theories describe occurs, but it explicates free will at a broader, more mundane level that cleaves more closely to the prephilosophical notion of freedom. Delay libertarianism makes free will more "egalitarian," since you do not need Taoist/ Buddhist receptivity (Kane) or an especially keen sense of duty (Kant, Kane, Campbell) to enjoy it. Third, more so than the other views examined, delay libertarianism satisfies the intuitive demands of rationality. It clearly does this better than Nonvalerian theories. It is even slightly better on this score than Dennett's or Kane's theories, because delay libertarianism's indeterminacy does not apply to the considerations generated or to the degree of effort expended. The delays simply give agents more time to deliberate. Thus, agents who are especially subject to delays are not, ipso facto, as whimsical or flighty as agents who are particularly prone to the occurrence of new considerations in their deliberations or to having their will power fluctuate. Such agents would simply be slower. One might say that the indeterminate possibility of delays constitutes the difference between rational decision making (if the delays fail to occur), and even more rational, one-last-chance-to-reconsider decision making (if they occur). All this notwithstanding, the hard question is whether delay libertarianism enables us to satisfy the libertarian requirements any better than the previous theories did. Ultimately, I think that delay libertarianism fails. Although it is better at providing one-way rationality than van Inwagen's, Dennett's, or Kane's view, it fails just as clearly at dual rationality. It shows how one choice could be rational provided the delays occur and another could be rational if the delays do not occur, but it does not show how we could rationally select either choice given the actual occurrence or nonoccurrence of the delays. The delay theory also fails to produce a sort of indeterminacy that libertarians want. An agent's ability to choose otherwise is, on this theory, dependent on whether the delays occur. But this condition creates the same type of situation that libertarians find objectionable in Dennett's and Kane's view. Indeterminacy needs to be located at the instant of the choice — keeping all previous factors the same — if it is to satisfy the libertarian notion of genuine categorical freedom. Thus, it seems that only a Nonvalerian view such as van Inwagen's can satisfy the desire that motivates the could-have-chosen-otherwise condition. The story is similar for the dual-control requirement. Delay libertarianism satisfies one-way control much the same way that Dennett's theory does. The 'randomizer' that the delay theory adds to the deterministic one-way control is simply the possibility of time gaps that enable agents to deliberate longer, but such delays do not give agents control over both possible outcomes. A chance to change one's mind that is contingent upon delays does not provide control over the alternative choices that are not made if the delays fail to occur. (pp.211-14)
The Moral Hardness of Libertarianism(Philo, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 226-234) ABSTRACT The following is a criticism designed to apply to most libertarian free will theorists. I argue that most libertarians hold three beliefs that jointly show them to be unsympathetic or hard-hearted to persons whom they hold morally responsible: that persons are morally responsible only because they make libertarian choices, that we should hold persons responsible, and that we lack epistemic justification for thinking persons make such choices. Softhearted persons who held these three beliefs would espouse hard determinism, which exonerates all persons of moral responsibility, or, at least, would not espouse libertarianism. I do not address the view held by some libertarians that we do have epistemic justification for thinking that persons make libertarian choices, a minority position that I believe cannot be sustained.
I propose four premises to argue that most libertarians are hard-hearted (unsympathetic, not morally conscientious). (1) Libertarians believe that we may hold persons morally responsible only if they exercise libertarian free will. (2) Libertarians believe that we should hold persons morally responsible. (3) Most libertarians believe that we have scant epistemic justification that persons have such free will. I believe, but shall not argue in this paper, that libertarians who believe they have epistemic justification for libertarian free will are mistaken.1 I add a fourth premise describing how soft-hearted persons would respond to accepting the first three premises, and conclude that those libertarians who do not believe they have epistemic justification that persons make free choices are hard-hearted. In the first section I present my argument. In section two I consider three implausible replies libertarians may make to my argument. In section three I examine three replies that are not available to libertarians.
1. The Moral Problem with Libertarianism
Libertarians believe that persons choose freely in such a way as to make them morally responsible at least some significant amount of the time, and that persons are free and morally responsible only because they make undetermined choices. Whatever variety of undetermined choices they postulate, few libertarians purport to provide epistemic justification that persons actually make such choices. Traditionally, the existence of agents in agent-cause theories has always been treated conjecturally, as evinced in the writings of Roderick Chisholm (1976), Richard Taylor (1966) and Peter van Inwagen (1983). More recent agent-cause advocates such as William Rowe (1995), Timothy O’Connor (1995A), and Randolph Clarke (1995) give more details, but provide little reason to suppose that such choices really occur. Robert Kane’s event-cause account (1996) sketches how choices made at times of conflicting motives might coincide with the amplification of quantum indeterminism in persons’ brains, but Kane provides little reason to believe that such choices occur. Mark Balaguer (1999) argues that we have as much reason for believing choices are undetermined as we do for believing they are determined, because nobody knows how the brain works. But his argument has to discount the inductive evidence that every other macroscopic event we understand seems to be causally determined by previous events. Even if one accepts Balaguer’s point, it provides no more reason to think that brains make undermined choices than we have reason to think we make determined choices.
Immanuel Kant proclaims that we can have no epistemic justification for believing that persons make libertarian choices, but recommends that we postulate on faith alone the existence of trans-empirical selves ‘in’ a noumenal world who (that?) make such choices. William James (1962) provides a will-to-believe type of argument for believing that persons make libertarian choices, but his reasoning, like his argument regarding belief in God, is designed to operate in lieu of epistemic justification, not to provide it.
Libertarians’ confessed lack of epistemic justification that persons make libertarian choices raises the issue of moral hardness. By the libertarians’ own lights, are they being morally conscientious when they (1) adopt libertarianism as a theory or (2) put their belief in libertarianism into practice in their own treatment of persons? Because the former question is intellectual, it might seem that the issue of moral hardness pertains only to the latter, which deals with action. But the theory of libertarianism supports the practice of holding persons morally responsible. If the practices sanctioned by libertarianism are morally objectionable, the charge of lack of moral conscientiousness seems to apply to libertarian theory. Moreover, a theory can be hard-hearted even if no one ever acts on it, such as Descartes’s denial of animal suffering or certain theodicy-arguments.
Holding persons morally responsible includes a wide range of positive and negative behaviors: expressed reactive attitudes, verbal recrimination, praise and blame, retributive punishment and just-deserts rewards, all the way to eternal torment in Hell and bliss in Heaven. Libertarians disagree among themselves over how much of that range moral responsibility includes. But because even the mildest of the adverse behaviors harms persons, libertarians use the assignment of moral responsibility as a justificatory mantra that turns otherwise immoral treatment into just-deserts goods. Whatever the degree of harshness of the assignments of moral responsibility they select, libertarians agree that to assign those adverse aspects of moral responsibility to persons who lack libertarian free will is to act wrongly. Such reasoning, no doubt, lies behind many libertarians’ expressed contempt for compatibilism. By the same reasoning, then, libertarians need to provide a moral justification for visiting these evils upon persons. By their own lights, if libertarians are to hold persons responsible while avoiding the charge of treating persons immorally, libertarians should provide epistemic justification that persons actually make libertarian choices. The mere hope will not suffice.
How much epistemic justification that free will exists must libertarians provide to avoid the accusation of endorsing unwarranted recrimination, blame, and retribution? I believe it requires a great deal, well over a 0.5 probability, which is more than any of the above-cited libertarians claim exists. If we have insufficient epistemic justification for believing that persons satisfy the conditions we deem necessary for them to deserve assignments of moral responsibility, then, unless there are overwhelming consequentialist reasons for doing so (I discuss this later), we have insufficient moral justification for those assignments. Consider a simple case stipulated so that there are no consequentialist reasons for the assignment of responsibility: If I lack evidence that you committed an arson, then I should not blame you for committing that arson—even if you did commit the arson.
Robert Kane (1985, 1996, and in correspondence) distances himself from other libertarians by pointing out that Kanian free choosers have only partial control over their choices and, hence, are only partially morally responsible for their actions. Because Kane’s theory makes indeterministic choices depend on and coincide with indeterministic (and indeterminate) quantum events, he acknowledges that Kanian free persons lack control over their choices before they make them. Kane (1999) disagrees with his critics over whether losing antecedent control means losing control per se, which Kane admits would eliminate responsibility. Regardless of this dispute, Kane gives a plausible reason why Kanian free persons would merit a less strident kind of moral responsibility than would non-materialist Kantian trans-empirical selves or Cartesian souls. The latter are postulated as dictators of choices irrespective of the influences from their bodies, including all genetic and environmental influences. Traditional libertarians will dislike this implication of Kane’s view precisely because lessened control fails to underpin the strong type of responsibility that libertarians historically have wished to assign. It would be difficult to over-emphasize the importance to libertarians of justifying the practices of holding persons morally responsible.
Despite the plausibility of the claim that partial control merits partial responsibility, Kane at most mitigates this paper’s objection without rebutting it. Regardless of the strength of moral responsibility they endorse, all libertarians are committed to exonerating all persons of all moral responsibility if they came to believe that persons are determined. All libertarians who confess that they lack epistemic justification that anybody chooses indeterministically should exonerate everyone of moral responsibility, whether the most blood-chilling type of blame or Kane’s milder variety.
2. Three Unsatisfactory Replies: Digging in One’s Heels, Conceptual Schemes, and the Pragmatic Value of Believing in Libertarianism
A first reply by libertarians might be to insist that moral responsibility requires libertarian free will and that nothing could ever make them surrender the belief that persons make libertarian choices, despite their lack of epistemic justification. One could put a happy gloss on this by seeing it as intransigence for a good cause, but this would be bad epistemology. Surely the belief that persons make libertarian choices—an a posteriori claim that is acknowledged as unknowable by almost everyone—is a paradigm of a defeasible claim. This is a strategically inapt place to dig in one’s heels.
A second reply might be that libertarianism, although not epistemically warranted in the face of deterministic skepticism, is acceptable because of its centrality to our conceptual scheme as persons.2 If we are to see ourselves as persons who deliberate about our actions, then we must see ourselves as making libertarian dual-choices, even if we have no knowledge that we are the libertarian deliberators we take ourselves to be. Thus, the following are synthetic a priori truths; if we take ourselves to be persons, then we must take ourselves to make libertarian choices.
In response, I see little merit in “conceptual frame” arguments to support substantive philosophical theories. I concede to the libertarians that we cannot deliberate about choices we believe are going to occur irrespective of our choosing them, but to my knowledge no compatibilist has ever maintained that determinism entails this absurdity. As to whether deliberation requires two-way, metaphysically open libertarian choices, I think it is clear that the only openness we need is an epistemological openness in which we do not know what we will choose until we choose it (Kapitan, 1986). Clearly, this is consistent with determinism.
As a counter-balance to the above libertarian argument, consider Peter Strawson’s (1963) famous argument for the irrelevance of determinism to moral responsibility based on his non-libertarian analysis that reactive attitudes would persist irrespective of what we learned about the determinism of human behavior. Even if Strawson were right about this, a highly questionable assumption, the fact that both compatibilists and libertarians can use conceptual scheme arguments to support their contradictory views suggests caution regarding such arguments.
A third reply might defend the claim that persons make libertarian choices, despite its lack of epistemic credentials, by claiming that our believing in libertarian free will and moral responsibility has salutary moral effects, a claim Kant shares with James. Of course, this claim is debatable armchair psychology. To the best of my knowledge, psychologists have not studied the results of the belief and non-belief in moral responsibility, so the whole issue seems to me conjectural. But so long as we are conjecturing, perhaps there are moral advantages to rejecting moral responsibility, as Saul Smilansky (1994) avers, or even advantages that make doing so morally superior to libertarianism, as B. F. Skinner (1948) and Bruce Waller (1990) claim. Libertarians are not obviously right on this conjecture.
But let us concede libertarians the dubious psychological premise and see if it helps to rebut my objection. Any libertarian who stresses the pragmatic value of believing in libertarianism is committed to consequentialist cost-benefit analysis. So, even if the psychological speculation were true, the benefit of inculcating better moral behavior among the public at large must be weighed against the possible cost of the unfairness of assigning moral responsibility to persons who do not deserve it. Instead of reveling in the hope that we might have libertarian freedom, a compassionate incompatibilist would consider the injustice we do to persons when we retributively punish them under the banner of libertarian free will and then consider the probability that we actually have such freedom. To ignore the probability that we have libertarian freedom when we adopt libertarianism is as confused as ignoring the probability that we will win the sweepstakes because we are inveigled by the size of the prize. Moreover, the belief in moral responsibility may do considerable damage even if persons generally are morally responsible: for example, retributive punishment dispensed to individuals who are mistakenly thought to have committed crimes.
Therefore, libertarians who endorse this pragmatic argument, by their own premises, find themselves in an unenviable position. They are committed to believing that an improbable moral good (encouraging better moral behavior at large) outweighs the probable moral evil of inflicting negative reactive attitudes, blame, and retributive punishment on undeserving victims. In sum, by their own lights, libertarians should not use the presumed pragmatic advantage of believing in libertarianism to justify imputing libertarian choices to persons. The probable cost of the pragmatic strategy should be enough to make any rational, morally sensitive libertarian reconsider using the pragmatic argument.
I find it odd for libertarians to do two things: (1) to condemn behavior modification as the sole rationale for punishment, because, following Kant, doing so treats persons as mere means, thereby doing them a moral injustice. Kant writes:
Judicial punishment can never be used merely as a means to promote some other good for the criminal himself or for civil society, but instead it must in all cases be imposed on him only on the grounds that he has committed a crime. (Kant, 1965, 100)
(2) to impute to persons libertarian free will (without epistemic justification) in order to make them act better morally. Both strategies of behavior modification and imputing libertarian free will have consequentialist motivations, and if the former strategy uses persons, so does the latter. Worse, there is a second degree of using persons operative when libertarians endorse the pragmatic strategy. Libertarian fans of the pragmatic argument impute libertarian free will to persons not simply to improve humanity’s moral conduct, which could be done just as well by endorsing compatibilism’s route to moral responsibility. Libertarians wish to improve moral conduct while holding on to their incompatibilist conviction that only libertarian free will underpins moral responsibility.
If “using” seems too strong, I could rephrase the last point. Libertarians underestimate the likelihood that their theory (incompatibilism and the belief in undetermined choices) is false and then discount the harm done if that theory is accepted and is false. If libertarians were softhearted, they would not risk hurting persons by imputing unknowable libertarian free will (and moral responsibility) to them simply on the strength of their libertarian vision. Fallibilism about one’s views is a desirable quality in general, but it is morally obligatory when dogmatism has potentially harmful repercussions for persons.
I can see two ways for libertarians to respond to my objection to the pragmatic argument. The first appeals to some barbarous moral thinking under the guise of an unjustifiable metaphysical premise. The second leads directly to compatibilism.
The first response would go like this. Libertarians could reply that if persons lack libertarian free will, then none of us have moral worth, and, hence, it does not matter if libertarians mistakenly subject persons to blame and retributive punishment. Libertarians might as well assume that persons exercise libertarian free will, because if persons do not, nobody can treat anybody immorally. One cannot treat a being lacking in moral worth immorally. (Kant thought our duties to beasts were only indirect: One must not mistreat beasts only because it may lead to mistreating humans.) A zany variant on this would be to insist that because “ought” implies a libertarian “can,” if libertarianism is false, no one ought to do otherwise than they do, which includes refraining from assigning unwarranted moral responsibility. The premise behind this response would be question begging against compatibilists. Worse, this response is unspeakably hard-hearted, using an unjustifiable philosophical premise to support a cruel moral position.
For a second response to my objection, consider Daniel Dennett’s (1984, 164) suggestion in Elbow Room:
we simply hold persons responsible for their conduct (within limits we take care not to examine too closely). And we are rewarded for adopting this strategy by the higher proportion of “responsible” behavior we thereby inculcate (1984, 164).
Dennett’s cavalier position appears heartless until Dennett adds to it the compatibilist premise that determined persons can be morally responsible. Until Dennett does this, his recommendation not to look closely at the causation of human actions will seem to overlook what incompatibilists see as the gross injustice of holding determined persons morally responsible. Thus, to avoid my objection to the Kant/James pragmatic line, Dennett needs to claim that determined persons could be responsible. As a compatibilist, Dennett happily endorses this premise, although, Dennett’s idea of moral responsibility is a milder variety than most libertarians endorse. Unfortunately for libertarians, accepting this premise would be to surrender libertarianism for compatibilism.
3. Three Replies Not Available to Libertarians
The following are reasonable responses to my argument, but each is unavailable to libertarians. First, libertarians might treat their theories as hypothetical: “I believe that if persons are morally responsible, they need to make libertarian choices; but because I have no epistemic justification for the claim that anyone makes such choices, I shall not hold anyone morally responsible until I find some.” Someone who says this combines conviction about incompatibilism with a reasonable skepticism about the likelihood of libertarian metaphysics, thus avoiding the worst excesses of dogmatism and heartlessness. The problem for the libertarian is that adopting this agnostic position would be a tentative acceptance of hard determinism. This position is contrary to what most historical libertarians want: If one’s libertarian theory recommends that one act like a hard determinist, then on epistemic and practical grounds, one probably should be a hard determinist. Erstwhile libertarians who adopted this move would, of course, leave open the possibility of endorsing libertarianism should new evidence for libertarian choices emerge.
One variation on this theme would be for the libertarians to refuse to endorse the negative aspects of moral responsibility, but continue to endorse the positive ones. This proposal reminds one of the compatibilist Susan Wolf’s (1980) proposal that blame requires libertarian free will, but praise does not. The problem with this modulated proposal is that it is not consistent with the traditional libertarian aim of vindicating the whole range of morally responsibility. It would be tantamount to accepting hard determinism for the part of moral responsibility that is most important to most libertarians and compatibilism for the rest.
Another variation on this theme suggested by Lee McCracken in correspondence is that libertarians might concede that human beings could never know whether persons make libertarian choices, but God would. So, libertarians might deny persons the right to hold persons morally responsible, but grant it to God. There are three things to note about this riposte. First, the result would be that libertarians should act like hard determinists, as noted above. This applies with even more force against libertarians such as Kane (1996, 81-89) who allege that an extremely wide array of qualities require libertarian free choices: not simply free will and moral responsibility, but creativity, autonomy, individuality, dignity, and worthiness of love and friendship. The more extensive the qualities the libertarians make depend on libertarian free will, the more extensive the qualities libertarians should withdraw in light of the epistemic problem.
Second, if we do not have epistemic justification that persons have free will, how could we have epistemic justification that God knows they do? An omniscient God would know all truths, but the question at stake is precisely whether persons make libertarian choices. Postulating that God would know who makes libertarian choices if they do is no more epistemically justified than our belief that persons make libertarian choices.
Third, I find it a curious metaphilosophical motivation to endorse a theory for which one has little epistemic justification, not to improve humanity’s lot (as do Kant and James, whose pragmatic argument I have criticized), but to exonerate a postulated entity. The theist might reply that ‘vindicating God’s justice,’ to paraphrase Leibniz, does serve humanity or, at least, makes some theists happy. If it difficult to see, though, the practical benefit to persons of being assured that if God exists, and if He discovers that persons make libertarian choices, then His punishment will be just.
A second libertarian response would be to become agnostic about incompatibilism to defend the belief in responsibility. Libertarians might say that the belief in responsibility is so important that even if persons cannot be shown to be morally responsible by incompatibilist lights, they are willing to reconsider those lights and adopt compatibilism, at least provisionally. This modest position looks much like Alfred Mele’s “agnostic autonomist” (1995), but it also is not libertarianism.
Finally, erstwhile libertarians might defend responsibility by saying that both determined choices and undetermined choices can be free. [In Double 1996 and 1999 I call this Free-Will-Either-Way Theory.] But because this view endorses compatibilism’s positive claim that one can be morally responsible for determined choices, it, too, is not libertarianism.
Libertarians can answer this paper’s objection if they (1) reject incompatibilism, or (2) quit holding persons morally responsible, or (3) provide epistemic justification that persons make enough libertarian choices to support the practices of expressing reactive attitudes, blaming, and punishing retributively. Because libertarians cannot do either of the first two and remain libertarians, and seem unable to do the third, the three strategies are unpromising. All in all, the wisest and kindest strategy for libertarians would be to let go of moral responsibility—for the time being, at least.3
Balaguer, M. (1999). Philosophical Studies. [vol. 93], 189-211.
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