Most people assume that, even though some degenerative or criminal behavior may be caused by influences beyond our control, ordinary human actions are not similarly generated, but rather are freely chosen, and we can be praiseworthy or blameworthy for them. A less popular and more radical claim is that factors beyond our control produce all of the actions we perform. It is this hard determinist stance that Derk Pereboom articulates in Living Without Free Will. Pereboom argues that our best scientific (...) theories have the consequence that factors beyond our control produce all of the actions we perform, and that because of this, we are not morally responsible for any of them. He seeks to defend the view that morality, meaning and value remain intact even if we are not morally responsible, and furthermore, that adopting this perspective would provide significant benefit for our lives. (shrink)
Derk Pereboom articulates and defends an original, forward-looking conception of moral responsibility. He argues that although we may not possess the kind of free will that is normally considered necessary for moral responsibility, this does not jeopardize our sense of ourselves as agents, or a robust sense of achievement and meaning in life.
In this book, Derk Pereboom explores how physicalism might best be formulated and defended against the best anti-physicalist arguments. Two responses to the knowledge and conceivability arguments are set out and developed. The first exploits the open possibility that introspective representations fail to represent mental properties as they are in themselves; specifically, that introspection represents phenomenal properties as having certain characteristic qualitative natures, which these properties might actually lack. The second response draws on the proposal that currently unknown fundamental intrinsic (...) properties provide categorical bases for known physical properties and would also yield an account of consciousness. While there are non-physicalist versions of this position, some are amenable to physicalism. The book's third theme is a defense of a nonreductive account of physicalism. The type of nonreductivism endorsed departs from others in that it rejects all token identity claims for psychological and microphysical entities. The deepest relation between the mental and the microphysical is constitution, where this relation is not to be explicated by the notion of identity. (shrink)
As philosophical and scientific arguments for free will skepticism continue to gain traction, we are likely to see a fundamental shift in the way people think about free will and moral responsibility. Such shifts raise important practical and existential concerns: What if we came to disbelieve in free will? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings? Would it cause nihilism and despair as some (...) maintain or would it rather have a humanizing effect on our practices and policies, freeing us from the negative effects of belief in free will? In this chapter we consider the practical implications of free will skepticism and argue that life without free will and basic desert moral responsibility would not be as destructive as many people believe. We argue that prospects of finding meaning in life or of sustaining good interpersonal relationships, for example, would not be threatened. On treatment of criminals, we argue that although retributivism and severe punishment, such as the death penalty, would be ruled out, preventive detention and rehabilitation programs would still be justified. While we will touch on all these issues below, our focus will be primarily on this last issue. -/- We begin in section I by considering two different routes to free will skepticism. The first denies the causal efficacy of the types of willing required for free will and receives its contemporary impetus from pioneering work in neuroscience by Benjamin Libet, Daniel Wegner, and John-Dylan Haynes. The second, which is more common in the philosophical literature, does not deny the causal efficacy of the will but instead claims that whether this causal efficacy is deterministic or indeterministic, it does not achieve the level of control to count as free will by the standards of the historical debate. We argue that while there are compelling objections to the first route—e.g., Al Mele (2009), Eddy Nahmias (2002, 2011), and Neil Levy (2005)—the second route to free will skepticism remains intact. In section II we argue that free will skepticism allows for a workable morality, and, rather than negatively impacting our personal relationships and meaning in life, may well improve our well-being and our relationships to others since it would tend to eradicate an often destructive form of moral anger. In section III we argue that free will skepticism allows for adequate ways of responding to criminal behavior—in particular, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and alternation of relevant social conditions—and that these methods are both morally justified and sufficient for good social policy. We present and defend our own preferred model for dealing with dangerous criminals, an incapacitation account built on the right to self-protection analogous to the justification for quarantine (see Pereboom 2001, 2013, 2014a; Caruso 2016a), and we respond to recent objections to it by Michael Corrado and John Lemos. (shrink)
In _Living Without Free Will_, I develop and argue for a view according to which our being morally responsible would be ruled out if determinism were true, and also if indeterminism were true and the causes of our actions were exclusively events.1 Absent agent causation, indeterministic causal histories are as threatening to moral responsibility as deterministic histories are, and a generalization argument from manipulation cases shows that deterministic histories indeed undermine moral responsibility. Agent causation has not been ruled out as (...) a coherent possibility, but it is not credible given our best physical theories. Hence we must take seriously the prospect that we are not free in the sense required for moral responsibility. I call the resulting view _hard incompatibilism_. Furthermore, contrary to widespread belief, a conception of life without free will would not at all be devastating to morality or to our sense of meaning in life, and in certain respects it may even be beneficial. (shrink)
During the 'sixties and 'seventies, Hilary Putnam, Jerry Fodor, and Richard Boyd, among others, developed a type of materialism that eschews reductionist claims.1 In this view, explana- tions, natural kinds, and properties in psychology do not reduce to counterparts in more basic sciences, such as neurophysiology or physics. Nevertheless, all token psychological entities-- states, processes, and faculties--are wholly constituted of physical entities, ultimately out of entities over which microphysics quantifies. This view quickly became the standard position in philosophy of mind, (...) and reductionism fell out of favor. Recently, however, reductionism has been experiencing a rebirth, and many have suggested that the non-reductive approach was accepted too quickly and too uncritically. In this paper, we attempt to provide a more thorough account of the anti-reductionist position, and, in the process, to defend it against its recent critics. (shrink)
Examines the relevance of empirical studies of responsibility judgments for traditional philosophical concerns about free will and moral responsibility. We argue that experimental philosophy is relevant to the traditional debates, but that setting up experiments and interpreting data in just the right way is no less difficult than negotiating traditional philosophical arguments. Both routes are valuable, but so far neither promises a way to secure significant agreement among the competing parties. To illustrate, we focus on three sorts of issues. For (...) illustration, we discuss an error theory for incompatibilist intuitions proposed by Eddy Nahmias and colleagues, the role that empirical studies might have in the assessment of manipulation arguments for incompatibilism, and the suggestion that empirical studies reveal that core criteria for moral responsibility ought not to be applied invariantly across different sorts of cases. (shrink)
I have argued we are not free in the sense required for moral responsibility, while at the same time a conception of life without this type of free will would not be devastating to morality or to our sense of meaning in life, and in certain respects it may even be beneficial (cf. Pereboom 2001). In ..
The question I raise is whether Mark Balaguer’s event-causal libertarianism can withstand the disappearing agent objection. The concern is that with the causal role of the events antecedent to a decision already given, nothing settles whether the decision occurs, and so the agent does not settle whether the decision occurs. Thus it would seem that in this view the agent will not have the control in making decisions required for moral responsibility. I examine whether Balaguer’s position has the resources to (...) answer this objection. (shrink)
This paper features Derk Pereboom’s replies to commentaries by Victor Tadros and Saul Smilansky on his non-retributive, incapacitation-focused proposal for treatment of dangerous criminals; by Michael McKenna on his manipulation argument against compatibilism about basic desert and causal determination; and by Alfred R. Mele on his disappearing agent argument against event-causal libertarianism.
I have presented a Frankfurt-style argument (Pereboom 2000, 2001, 2003) against the requirement of robust alternative possibilities for moral responsibility that features an example, Tax Evasion , in which an agent is intuitively morally responsible for a decision, has no robust alternative possibilities, and is clearly not causally determined to make the decision. Here I revise the criterion for robustness in response to suggestions by Dana Nelkin, Jonathan Vance, and Kevin Timpe, and I respond to objections to the argument by (...) Carlos Moya and David Widerker, in the process of which I refine the Tax Evasion example. (shrink)
Transcendental freedom consists in the power of agents to produce actions without being causally determined by antecedent conditions, nor by their natures, in exercising this power. Kant contends that we cannot establish whether we are actually or even possibly free in this sense. He claims only that our conception of being transcendentally free involves no inconsistency, but that as a result the belief that we have this freedom meets a pertinent standard of minimal credibility. For the rest, its justification depends (...) on practical reasons. I argue that this belief satisfies an appropriately revised standard of minimal credibility, but that the practical reasons Kant adduces for it are subject to serious challenge. (shrink)
A traditional concern for determinists is that the epistemic conditions an agent must satisfy to deliberate about which of a number of distinct actions to perform threaten to conflict with a belief in determinism and its evident consequences. I develop an account of the sort that specifies two epistemic requirements, an epistemic openness condition and a belief in the efficacy of deliberation, whose upshot is that someone who believes in determinism and its evident consequences can deliberate without inconsistent beliefs. I (...) argue that conditions of both types are indispensable, and that they can be formulated so as to withstand the relevant objections. (shrink)
In this article I review the core elements of Carolina Sartorio’s actual causal sequence account of free will and moral responsibility, and propose two revisions. First, I suggest replacing the contested notion of absence causation by the relatively uncontroversial notion of causal explanation by absences. Second, I propose retaining explanation by unreduced dispositions, of which Sartorio appears to be wary. I then set out a response to her critical treatment of manipulation arguments against compatibilism. Lastly, I point out that Sartorio’s (...) reasons-sensitivity condition on moral responsibility is amenable to a conception of moral responsibility that, unlike the one she endorses, dispenses with basic desert. (shrink)
In this article I develop several responses to my co-authors of Four Views on Free Will. In reply to Manuel Vargas, I suggest a way to clarify his claim that our concepts of free will and moral responsibility should be revised, and I question whether he really proposes to revise the notion of basic desert at stake in the debate. In response to Robert Kane, I examine the role the rejection of Frankfurt-style arguments has in his position, and whether his (...) criticism of my version of this argument is sound. In reply to John Fischer, I argue that the reasons-responsiveness central to his account of moral responsibility is not best characterized counterfactually, and I provide a suggestion for revision. (shrink)
: What is at stake in the debate between those, such as Sam Harris and me, who contend that we would lack free will on the supposition that we are causally determined agents, and those that defend the claim that we might then retain free will, such as Daniel Dennett? I agree with Dennett that on the supposition of causal determination there would be robust ways in which we could shape, control, and cause our actions. But I deny that on (...) this supposition we would have the control in action required for us to basically deserve to be blamed, praised, punished or rewarded. In this response, I argue that this is the core issue that divides compatibilists and incompatiblists about free will and causal determination, and that the incompatibilist position is the right one to accept. Keywords: Sam Harris; Daniel Dennett; Free Will Skepticism; Compatibilism; Incompatibilism Risposta a Daniel Dennet sullo scetticismo circa il libero arbitrio Riassunto: Qual è la posta in gioco nel dibattito che vede contrapporsi chi – come Sam Harris e me – sostiene che non avremmo libertà di volere sulla scorta dell’ipotesi per cui siamo agenti causalmente determinati e chi, al contrario – come Daniel Dennett – difende l’idea che possa darsi un libero volere? Concordo con Dennett circa il fatto che, anche nell’ipotesi della determinazione causale, resterebbe lo spazio per sostenere che per vari e importanti aspetti saremmo comunque noi a modellare, controllare e causare le nostre azioni. E tuttavia rifiuto che su questa base avremmo il controllo in azioni richieste per meritare di essere biasimati, lodati, puniti o premiati. A mio avviso questo è l’elemento cardine che divide i compatibilisti dagli incompatibilisti all’interno del dibattito sul libero arbitro e sulla determinazione causale e ritengo che la posizione corretta sia quella incompatibista. Parole chiave: Sam Harris; Daniel Dennett; Scetticismo verso il libero arbitrio; Compatibilismo; Incompatibilismo. (shrink)
The claim that moral responsibility for an action requires that the agent could have done otherwise is surely attractive. Moreover, it seems reasonable to contend that a requirement of this sort is not merely a necessary condition of little consequence, but that it plays a decisive role in explaining an agent's moral responsibility for an action. For if an agent is to be blameworthy for an action, it seems crucial that she could have done something to avoid this blameworthiness. If (...) she is to be praiseworthy for an action, it seems important that at least she could have done something less admirable. Libertarians, in particular, have often grounded their incompatibilism precisely in such intuitions. By contrast, I shall argue that the availability of alternative possibilities is in a significant sense irrelevant to explaining an agent's moral responsibility for an action. At the same time I do not want to disavow incompatibilism, but rather to defend a version in which the pivotal explanatory role is assigned to features of the causal history of the action, and not to the availability of alternative possibilities. (shrink)
I argue that agent-causal libertarianism has a strong initial rejoinder to Mele's luck argument against it, but that his claim that it has yet to be explained how agent-causation yields responsibility-conferring control has significant force. I suggest an avenue of response. Subsequently, I raise objections to Mele's criticisms of my four-case manipulation argument against compatibilism.
The aim of this article is to set out a theory for treatment of criminals that rejects retributive justification for punishment; does not fall afoul of a plausible prohibition on using people merely as means; and actually works in the real world. The theory can be motivated by free will skepticism. But it can also be supported without reference to the free will issue, since retributivism faces ethical challenges in its own right. In past versions of the account I’ve emphasized (...) the quarantine analogy for incapacitation together with the value of rehabilitation and reintegration. Here I pay special attention to the permissibility and the limits of general deterrence. (shrink)
This book brings together thirteen articles on the most discussed thinkers in the rationalist movement: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Malebranche. These articles address the topics in metaphysics and epistemology that figure most prominently in contemporary work on these philosophers. The articles have all been produced since 1980, and their authors are among the most respected in the field.
In a recent article Gary Watson instructively distinguishes two faces or aspects of responsibility. The first is the self-disclosing sense, which is concerned centrally with aretaic or excellence-relevant evaluations of agents. An agent is responsible for an action in this respect when it is an action that is inescapably the agent’s own, if, as a declaration of her adopted ends, it expresses what the agent is about, her identity as an agent. An action for which the agent is responsible in (...) this sense expresses what the agent is ready to stand up for, to defend, to affirm, to answer for. (1996: 233-4) . The second face of responsibility has perhaps had a more explicit role in debates about free will — it concerns control and accountability. Watson argues that when one is skeptical about the second "accountability" face, one need not also be skeptical about responsibility as self-disclosure. I agree, and in my view, this helps us see why maintaining that determinism precludes accountability need not also commit one to the view that determinism precludes responsibility in a way that threatens meaning in life. Part of the reason for this is that when responsibility as accountability is undermined, less of what we deem valuable needs to be relinquished than often believed. But in addition, it turns out that the kind of accountability precluded by determinism is not nearly as important to what is most significant in human life as is responsibility as self-disclosure. Indeed, it may be that an unfortunate fusing of these two notions underlies the concern that if determinism imperils accountability, it also threatens what most fundamentally makes our lives meaningful. (shrink)
Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility is an edited collection of new essays by an internationally recognized line-up of contributors. It is aimed at readers who wish to explore the philosophical and scientific arguments for free will skepticism and their implications.
The psychotherapeutic theories of Descartes and Spinoza are heavily influenced by Stoicism. Stoic psychotherapy has two central features. First, we have a remarkable degree of voluntary control over our passions, and we can and should exercise this control to keep ourselves from having any irrational passions at all. Second, the universe is determined by the providential divine will, and in any situation we can and should align ourselves with this divine will in order to achieve equanimity. Whereas Descartes largely endorses (...) the Stoic picture, Spinoza develops a distinctive, intellectualized version of this view. (shrink)
This critical notice highlights the important contributions that Eric Watkins's writings have made to our understanding of theories about causation developed in eighteenth-century German philosophy and by Kant in particular. Watkins provides a convincing argument that central to Kant's theory of causation is the notion of a real ground or causal power that is non-Humean (since it doesn't reduce to regularities or counterfactual dependencies among events or states) and non-Leibnizean because it doesn't reduce to logical or conceptual relations. However, we (...) raise questions about Watkins's more specific claims that Kant completely rejects a model on which the first relatum of a phenomenal causal relation is an event and that he maintains that real grounds are metaphysically and not just epistemically indeterminate. -/- . (shrink)