To have free will is to have what it takes to act freely. When an agent acts freely—when she exercises her free will—what she does is up to her. A plurality of alternatives is open to her, and she determines which she pursues. When she does, she is an ultimate source or origin of her action. So runs a familiar conception of free will.
In this article I argue that it is possible to be blameworthy for doing something that was not objectively morally wrong. If I am right, this would have implications for several debates at the intersection of metaphysics and moral philosophy. I also float a view about which actions can serve as legitimate bases for blame that allows for the possibility of blameworthiness without objective wrongdoing and also suggests an explanation for the appeal of the commonly held view that blameworthiness requires (...) objective wrongdoing. (shrink)
Frankfurt cases are supposed to provide us with counterexamples to the principle of alternative possibilities. Among the most well known responses to these cases is what John Fischer has dubbed the flicker of freedom strategy. Here we revisit a version of this strategy, which we refer to as the fine-grained response. Although a number of philosophers, including some who are otherwise unsympathetic to Frankfurt’s argument, have dismissed the fine grained response, we believe there is a good deal to be said (...) on its behalf. We argue, in particular, that reflection on certain cases involving omissions undermines the main objections to the response and also provides the groundwork for an argument in support of it. (shrink)
:Strict liability in tort law is thought by some to have a moral counterpart. In this essay I attempt to determine whether there is, in fact, strict liability in the moral domain. I argue that there is, and I critically evaluate several accounts of its normative foundations before suggesting one of my own.
Libertarianism about free will conjoins the thesis that free will requires indeterminism with the thesis that we have free will. Here the claim that we have experiential evidence for the libertarian position is assessed. It is argued that, on a straightforward reading, the claim is false, for our experiences as agents don't support the claim that free will requires indeterminism. However, our experiences as agents may still have a role to play in an overall case for libertarianism, insofar as they (...) give us some (defeasible) reason to think that we have free will. This latter claim is defended against a pair of objections that have been leveled against it. (shrink)
Rule A: if it's metaphysically necessary that p, we may validly infer that no one is even partly morally responsible for the fact that p. Our principal aim in this article is to highlight the importance of this rule and to respond to two recent challenges to it. We argue that rule A is more important to contemporary theories of moral responsibility than has previously been recognized. We then consider two recent challenges to the rule and argue that neither challenge (...) successfully undermines the rule's initial appeal. (shrink)
The W-defense is among the most prominent arguments for the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP). Here I offer some considerations in support of the W-defense and respond to what I see as the most forceful objections to it to date. My response to these objections invokes the well-known flicker of freedom response to Frankfurt cases. I argue that the W-defense and the flicker response are mutually reinforcing and together yield a compelling defense of PAP.
Here it is argued that in order for something someone “does” to count as a genuine action, the person needn’t have been able to refrain from doing it. If this is right, then two recent defenses of the principle of alternative possibilities, a version of which says that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have refrained from doing it, are unsuccessful.
It’s often assumed, especially in discussions of free will and moral responsibility, that unavoidable actions are possible. In recent years, however, several philosophers have questioned that assumption. Their views are considered here, and the possibility of unavoidable actions is defended and then applied to issues in action theory and in the literature on moral responsibility.
According to what I will call mitigating soft compatibilism, although the truth of determinism is consistent with free action and moral responsibility, determinism nevertheless mitigates praiseworthiness and blameworthiness. In this paper, I take a closer look at this novel brand of compatibilism. My principal aim in doing so is to further explicate the view and to explore ways in which it can be deployed in defense of the more general compatibilist thesis. I also discuss one of the most pressing challenges (...) facing a compatibilist view of this sort, and I offer some suggestions as to how proponents of the view might attempt to address that challenge. (shrink)
Arguments for the incompatibility of determinism and moral responsibility sometimes make use of various transfer of non-responsibility principles. These principles purport to specify conditions in which lack of moral responsibility is transmitted to the consequences of things for which people are not morally responsible. In this paper, after developing what I take to be the most serious objections to extant principles of this sort, I identify and defend a new transfer of non-responsibility principle that is immune to these and other (...) objections. This new principle says, roughly, that if you are not morally responsible for any of the circumstances that led to a particular outcome, and if you are not morally responsible for those circumstances leading to that outcome, then you are not morally responsible for the outcome either. After defending this principle against a number of objections, I use it to argue for the conclusion that no one is even partly morally responsible for anything, if determinism is true. (shrink)
In a fascinating article in The Journal of Ethics, Eleonore Stump contends that while the flicker of freedom defense is the best available strategy for defending the principle of alternative possibilities against the threat posed to that principle by the Frankfurt cases, the defense is ultimately unsuccessful. In this article I identify a number of difficulties with Stump’s criticism of the flicker strategy. Along the way, I also clarify various nuances of the strategy that often get overlooked, and I highlight (...) the advantages of one version of it in particular. (shrink)
There has been a great deal of critical discussion of Harry Frankfurt’s argument against the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), almost all of which has focused on whether the Frankfurt-style examples, which are designed to be counterexamples to PAP, can be given a coherent formulation. Recently, however, David Widerker has argued that even if Frankfurt-style examples can be given a coherent formulation, there is reason to believe that an agent in those examples could never be morally blameworthy for what she (...) has done. Therefore, such examples do not undermine a version of PAP restricted to blameworthiness. Widerker refers to his argument for this claim as the W-defense. I examine the W-defense in some detail, along with three recent replies to it by defenders of Frankfurt’s argument. I contend that each of these replies is problematic and, indeed, that two of them play directly into the hands of those seeking to defend PAP. I then develop my own reply to the W-defense by calling into question an assumption which is at the heart of that argument regarding the nature of moral blame. (shrink)
I defend the principle of alternative possibilities against what are sometimes known as buffer cases, which are supposed by some to be counterexamples to the principle. I develop an existing problem with the claim that standard buffer cases are counterexamples to PAP, before responding to a recent attempt by Michael McKenna to modify the cases in a way that circumvents this problem. While McKenna’s strategy does avoid the problem, I argue that it faces a different difficulty. I conclude that buffer (...) cases pose no threat to PAP. (shrink)
Our actions have causes, some of which are beyond our control. Of that there can be no serious doubt. Some worry that this fact undermines the commonsense view that we perform free actions for which we are morally responsible. My aim in this article is to show that such worries are unfounded and, consequently, that pure non-causal theories of free action, according to which free actions must be entirely uncaused, are false. My argument for this conclusion doesn’t presuppose the cogency (...) of existing objections to non-causal theories of free agency. (shrink)
Penance is often said to be a part of the process of making amends for wrongdoing. Here I clarify the nature of penance as a remedial action, highlighting the differences between it and more familiar corrective actions such as reparation and apology, and I offer an account of how penance contributes to the expiation of wrongdoing. In doing so, I reject a popular view according to which one does penance primarily by either punishing oneself or voluntarily submitting to punishment at (...) the hands of others. I contend that non‐punitive actions such gifts or acts of service are typically more conducive to achieving the reparative aims of penance. (shrink)
The consequence argument is among the most influential arguments for the conclusion that free will and determinism are incompatible. Recently, however, it has become increasingly clear that the argument fails to establish that particular incompatibilist conclusion. Even so, a version of the argument can be formulated that supports a different incompatibilist conclusion, according to which free will is incompatible with our behavior being predetermined by factors beyond our control. This conclusion, though not equivalent to the traditional incompatibilist thesis that determinism (...) strictly precludes free will, is something many incompatibilists have had in mind all along and, indeed, is arguably the more central incompatibilist position. The consequence argument thus remains philosophically important, even if, as several of its critics have argued, it can't be used to establish the strict incompatibility of free will and determinism. (shrink)
Recently, Trenton Merricks has defended a libertarian view of human freedom. He claims that human persons have downward causal control of their constituent parts, and that downward causal control of this sort is sufficient for free will. In this paper I examine Merricks’s defense of free will, and argue that it is unsuccessful. I show that having downward causal control is not sufficient for for free will. In an Appendix I also argue that Merricks’s defense of free will, together with (...) assumptions implicit in his broader ontology, commit him to the implausible conclusion that determinism is incompatible with the existence of human persons. (shrink)
Frankfurt cases are designed to be counterexamples to the principle of alternative possibilities, a version of which states that an agent is blameworthy for what she did only if there was an alternative course of action available to her at the time, the availability of which is relevant per se to an explanation of why the agent is blameworthy for her action. In this article, I argue that the buffer cases, which are among the most promising and influential Frankfurt cases (...) produced in recent years, are not counterexamples to PAP. While the agent in these examples may be blameworthy for what she did, I contend that there was an alternative course of action available to her at the time, the availability of which is relevant per se to an explanation of why the agent is blameworthy for her action. I then compare my objection to the buffer cases with a similar, though importantly different objection to them. Whatever merits this other objection may have, I contend that the one on offer here has important advantages over it. (shrink)
While there is no shortage of disagreement about what is required for blameworthiness, it has traditionally been assumed that freely doing what you know to be wrong all things considered, despite being aware that it is within your power to do the right thing instead, suffices. Let us refer to this traditional assumption as the sufficiency thesis. The sufficiency thesis is plausible, but it is not beyond dispute. Reflection on certain situations in which a person can do the right thing (...) but only at great personal sacrifice highlights some particularly pressing difficulties for it. My principal aim in this article is to show that those difficulties are not insuperable. Along the way, I also make some observations about the sorts of considerations that can limit the amount of blame of which a person is worthy without rendering the person entirely blameless.The Challenge OutlinedThe following story will serve as the backdrop for much of the subsequent discussion.The story is an augmented ve .. (shrink)
The direct argument is among the most prominent arguments for the incompatibility of determinism and moral responsibility. Some critics of the argument have accused it, or certain defenses of its central premise, of begging the question. This article responds to that accusation.
According to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP), a person is blameworthy for what he did only if he could have avoided doing it. This principle figures importantly in disputes about the relationship between determinism, divine foreknowledge, free will and moral responsibility, and has been the subject of considerable controversy for over forty years now. Proponents of the principle have devoted a good deal of energy and ingenuity to defending it against various objections. Surprisingly, however, they have devoted comparatively little (...) effort to developing positive arguments for it, and, with few exceptions, the arguments they have proposed have received little, if any, critical attention. My dissertation is intended to help fill this gap in the literature on PAP. There are three main arguments for PAP. I critically evaluate each of these arguments, arguing that they are all unsuccessful. Where, then, does that leave PAP? I suggest that, in the absence of any further compelling arguments for or against the principle, debate over it is likely to end in dialectical stalemate. I conclude by highlighting several implications of this suggestion for recent debates about the metaphysics of moral responsibility. (shrink)
This book addresses a longstanding controversy concerning whether Frankfurt cases—thought experiments of a sort devised by Harry Frankfurt—are counterexamples to the principle of alternative possibilities (roughly, the principle that a person is morally responsible for what he did only if he could have avoided doing it). Frankfurt and many others contend that they are, but here it is argued that, far from being counterexamples to the principle, Frankfurt cases actually provide further confirmation of it, a conclusion that has important implications (...) for our understanding of free will and moral responsibility. (shrink)
A familiar Epicurean argument for the conclusion that death is not bad for those who die goes like this. The dead cannot experience anything, including being dead and its effects. But something is bad for an individual only if that person can experience it or its effects. Therefore, death is not bad for those who die. In this article, I consider several alleged counterexamples to this argument's second premise, along with some responses to them. The responses are not entirely without (...) merit, as we will see. However, I contend that even if none of the cases cited are straightforward counterexamples to the Epicurean premise, they can be used to challenge it indirectly. I conclude that this familiar Epicurean argument is unsound. (shrink)