Sidgwick on Free Will and Ethics

In Maximilian Kiener (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Responsibility. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. pp. 82-94 (2023)
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In The Methods of Ethics, Henry Sidgwick maintains that resolution of the free will problem is of “limited” importance to ethics and to practical reasoning. Despite the view’s uniqueness, surprisingly little sustained attention has been paid to Sidgwick’s view. This chapter tries to remedy this situation. Part one clarifies Sidgwick’s argument for the claim that resolving the free will controversy is of only limited importance to ethics. Part two examines and tries to deflect objections to Sidgwick’s position raised by J. B. Schneewind and Roger Crisp while putting forward a different objection. Part three raises objections to Sidgwick’s claim that “it is practically impossible to be guided, either in remunerating services or in punishing mischievous acts, by any other considerations than those which the Determinist interpretation of desert [and responsibility] would include”. The chapter concludes by noting that although Sidgwick’s view is not without its problems, his discussion forces us to consider which aspects of moral thinking (if any) survive the conclusion that free will is illusory.



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Anthony Skelton
University of Western Ontario

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References found in this work

Achievement.Gwen Bradford - 2015 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.
Living without Free Will.Derk Pereboom - 2001 - Philosophical Quarterly 53 (211):308-310.
Living without Free Will.Derk Pereboom - 2003 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67 (2):494-497.
The Public Health-Quarantine Model.Gregg D. Caruso - 2022 - In Dana Kay Nelkin & Derk Pereboom (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press.

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