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Applied ethics. History of Western Philosophy. Normative ethics. In the second, we mean to say that when one assumes the role of judge, certain duties, or obligations, follow. Although these concepts are connected with the concept of moral responsibility discussed here, they are not the same, for in neither case are we directly concerned about whether it would be appropriate to react to some candidate here, the rainfall or a particular judge with something like praise or blame. Philosophical reflection on moral responsibility has a long history.
Many who view persons in this way have wondered whether their special status is threatened if certain other claims about our universe are true. For example, can a person be morally responsible for her behavior if that behavior can be explained solely by reference to physical states of the universe and the laws governing changes in those physical states, or solely by reference to the existence of a sovereign God who guides the world along a divinely ordained path?
Concerns of this sort have often motivated reflection on moral responsibility. A comprehensive theory of moral responsibility would elucidate the following: 1 the concept, or idea, of moral responsibility itself; 2 the criteria for being a moral agent, i. Although each of these will be touched upon in the discussion below see, e.
The section immediately following this introduction is a discussion of the origin and history of Western reflection on moral responsibility. This is followed by an overview of recent work on the concept of moral responsibility.
Gerald B. Dworkin (ed.), Determinism, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility - PhilPapers
For further discussion of issues associated with moral responsibility, see the related entries below. What follows in this section is a brief outline of the origins and trajectory of reflection on moral responsibility in the Western philosophical tradition. Against this background, a distinction will be drawn between two conceptions of moral responsibility that have exerted considerable influence on subsequent thinkers. An understanding of the concept of moral responsibility and its application is present implicitly in some of the earliest surviving Greek texts, i.
Reflection on these factors gave rise to fatalism —the view that one's future or some aspect of it is predetermined, e. If some particular outcome is fated, then it seems that the agent concerned could not be morally responsible for that outcome. Likewise, if fatalism were true with respect to all human futures, then it would seem that no human agent could be morally responsible for anything.
Though this brand of fatalism has sometimes exerted significant historical influence, most philosophers have rejected it on the grounds that there is no good reason to think that our futures are fated in the sense that they will unfold no matter what particular deliberations we engage in, choices we make, or actions we perform. Aristotle — BCE seems to have been the first to construct a theory of moral responsibility. A bit later, he clarifies that only a certain kind of agent qualifies as a moral agent and is thus properly subject to ascriptions of responsibility, namely, one who possess a capacity for decision.
For Aristotle, a decision is a particular kind of desire resulting from deliberation, one that expresses the agent's conception of what is good b5—b3. The remainder of Aristotle's discussion is devoted to spelling out the conditions under which it is appropriate to hold a moral agent blameworthy or praiseworthy for some particular action or trait. According to Aristotle, a voluntary action or trait has two distinctive features. First, there is a control condition: the action or trait must have its origin in the agent. That is, it must be up to the agent whether to perform that action or possess the trait—it cannot be compelled externally.
Second, Aristotle proposes an epistemic condition: the agent must be aware of what it is she is doing or bringing about ab4.
There is an instructive ambiguity in Aristotle's account of responsibility, an ambiguity that has led to competing interpretations of his view. Aristotle aims to identify the conditions under which it is appropriate to praise or blame an agent, but it is not entirely clear how to understand the pivotal notion of appropriateness in his conception of responsibility. Scholars disagree about which of the above views Aristotle endorsed, but the importance of distinguishing between them grew as philosophers began to focus on a newly conceived threat to moral responsibility. While Aristotle argued against a version of fatalism On Interpretation , ch.
Causal determinism is the view that everything that happens or exists is caused by sufficient antecedent conditions, making it impossible for anything to happen or be other than it does or is.
One variety of causal determinism, scientific determinism, identifies the relevant antecedent conditions as a combination of prior states of the universe and the laws of nature. Another, theological determinism , identifies those conditions as being the nature and will of God. It seems likely that theological determinism evolved out of the shift, both in Greek religion and in Ancient Mesopotamian religions, from polytheism to belief in one sovereign God, or at least one god who reigned over all others. The doctrine of scientific determinism can be traced back as far as the Presocratic Atomists 5th cent.
BCE , but the difference between it and the earlier fatalistic view seems not to be clearly recognized until the development of Stoic philosophy 3rd. Though fatalism, like causal determinism, might seem to threaten moral responsibility by threatening an agent's control, the two differ on the significance of human deliberation, choice, and action. If fatalism is true, then human deliberation, choice, and action are completely otiose, for what is fated will transpire no matter what one chooses to do.
According to causal determinism, however, one's deliberations, choices, and actions will often be necessary links in the causal chain that brings something about. In other words, even though our deliberations, choices, and actions are themselves determined like everything else, it is still the case, according to causal determinism, that the occurrence or existence of yet other things depends upon our deliberating, choosing and acting in a certain way Irwin —; Meyer —; and Pereboom ch. Since the Stoics, the thesis of causal determinism, if true, and its ramifications, have taken center stage in theorizing about moral responsibility.
During the Medieval period, especially in the work of Augustine — and Aquinas — , reflection on freedom and responsibility was often generated by questions concerning versions of theological determinism, including most prominently: a Does God's sovereignty entail that God is responsible for evil?
During the Modern period, there was renewed interest in scientific determinism—a change attributable to the development of increasingly sophisticated mechanistic models of the universe culminating in the success of Newtonian physics. The possibility of giving a comprehensive explanation of every aspect of the universe—including human action—in terms of physical causes became much more plausible. Many thought that persons could not be free and morally responsible if such an explanation of human action turned out to be true.
Others argued that freedom and responsibility would not be undermined by the truth of scientific determinism. In keeping with this focus on the ramifications of causal determinism for moral responsibility, thinkers may be classified as being one of two types: 1 an incompatibilist about causal determinism and moral responsibility—one who maintains that if causal determinism is true, then there is nothing for which one can be morally responsible; or 2 a compatibilist —one who holds that a person can be morally responsible for some things, even if both who she is and what she does is causally determined.
Above, an ambiguity in Aristotle's conception of moral responsibility was highlighted—that it was not clear whether he endorsed a merit-based vs. The history of reflection on moral responsibility demonstrates that how one interprets the concept of moral responsibility strongly influences one's overall account of moral responsibility. For example, those who accept the merit-based conception of moral responsibility have tended to be incompatibilists.
That is, most have thought that if an agent were to genuinely merit praise or blame for something, then he would need to exercise a special form of control over that thing e.
In addition to Epicurus, we can cite early Augustine, Thomas Reid — , and Immanuel Kant — as historical examples here. Those accepting the consequentialist conception of moral responsibility, on the other hand, have traditionally contended that determinism poses no threat to moral responsibility since praising and blaming could still be an effective means of influencing another's behavior, even in a deterministic world.
Thomas Hobbes — , David Hume — , and John Stuart Mill — are, along with the Stoics, representatives of this view. This general trend of linking the consequentialist conception of moral responsibility with compatibilism about causal determinism and moral responsibility and the merit-based conception with incompatibilism continued to persist through the first half of the twentieth century.
The issue of how best to understand the concept of moral responsibility is important, for it can strongly influence one's view of what, if any, philosophical problems might be associated with the notion, and further, if there are problems, what might count as a solution. Though versions of the consequentialist view have continued to garner support Smart; Frankena ch. Increased attention to the stance of regarding and holding persons morally responsible has generated much of the recent work on the concept of moral responsibility.
All theorists have recognized features of this practice—inner attitudes and emotions, their outward expression in censure or praise, and the imposition of corresponding sanctions or rewards.
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However, most understood the inner attitudes and emotions involved to rest on a more fundamental theoretical judgment about the agent's being responsible. In other words, it was typically assumed that blame and praise depended upon a judgment, or belief pre-reflective in most cases , that the agent in question had satisfied the objective conditions on being responsible. For the holder of the consequentialist view, this is a judgment that the agent exercised a form of control that could be influenced through outward expressions of praise and blame in order to curb or promote certain behaviors.
For those holding the merit view, it is a judgment that the agent has exercised the requisite form of metaphysical control, e. If holding responsible is best understood as resting on an independent judgment about being responsible, then it is legitimate to inquire whether such underlying judgments and their associated outward expressions can be justified, as a whole, in the face of our best current understanding of the world, e.
According to incompatibilists, a judgment that someone is morally responsible could never be true if the world were deterministic; thus praising and blaming in the merit-based sense would be beside the point. Compatibilists, on the other hand, contend that the truth of determinism would not undermine the relevant underlying judgments concerning the efficacy of praising and blaming practices, thereby leaving the rationale of such practices intact. Strawson sets out to adjudicate the dispute between those compatibilists who hold a consequentialist view of responsibility and those incompatibilists who hold the merit-based view.
2. The Nature of Free Will
According to Strawson, the attitudes expressed in holding persons morally responsible are varieties of a wide range of attitudes deriving from our participation in personal relationships, e. The reactive attitudes can be suspended or modified in at least two kinds of circumstances, corresponding to the two features just mentioned.
In the first, one might conclude that, contrary to first appearances, the candidate did not violate the demand for a reasonable degree of good will.