Many philosophers ignore developments in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences that purport to challenge our ideas of free will and responsibility. The reason for this is that the challenge is often framed as a denial of the idea that we are able to act differently than we do. However, most philosophers think that the ability to do otherwise is irrelevant to responsibility and free will. Rather it is our ability to act for reasons that is crucial. We argue that the (...) scientific findings indicate that it is not so obvious that our views of free will and responsibility can be grounded in the ability to act for reasons without introducing metaphysical obscurities. This poses a challenge to philosophers. We draw the conclusion that philosophers are wrong not to address the recent scientific developments and that scientists are mistaken in formulating their challenge in terms of the freedom to do otherwise. (shrink)
This book shows why we can justify blaming people for their wrong actions even if free will turns out not to exist. Contrary to most contemporary thinking, we do this by focusing on the ordinary, everyday wrongs each of us commits, not on the extra-ordinary, “morally monstrous-like” crimes and weak-willed actions of some.
Recent empirical research results in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences on the “adaptive unconscious” show that conscious control and deliberative awareness are not all-pervasive aspects of our everyday dealings with one another. Moral philosophers and other scientists have used these insights to put our moral agency to the test. The results of these tests are intriguing: apparently we are not always the moral agents we take ourselves to be. This paper argues in favor of a refinement of our common perception (...) of moral agency that can accommodate these results; however, it also argues against the suggestion that this refined concept is the result of a radical new understanding of our everyday moral practices. (shrink)
According to some, contemporary social psychology is aptly described as a study in moral hypocrisy. In this paper we argue that this is unfortunate when understood as establishing that we only care about appearing to act morally, not about true moral action. A philosophically more interesting interpretation of the “moral hypocrisy”-findings understands it to establish that we care so much about morality that it might lead to self-deception about the moral nature of our motives and/or misperceptions regarding what we should (...) or should not do in everyday or experimental situations. In this paper we argue for this claim by elaborating on a fascinating series of experiments by Daniel Batson and his colleagues who have consistently contributed to the moral hypocrisy findings since the late nineties, and showing in what way they contribute to a better understanding of moral agency, rather than undermine the idea that we are moral agents. (shrink)
“I demote practical reason from the conductor’s podium on which it is traditionally pictured, leading the performance. I picture practical reason less as an orchestral conductor than as a theatrical prompter — out of sight, following the action in case it needs to be nudged back into an intelligible course.” (David Velleman 2009, p. 4)IntroductionIn this paper I discuss our practice of exchanging explanatory and justifying reasons with one another, that is, reasons with which we explain or justify our actions, (...) choices, and decisions. I argue that the general aim and importance of this practice—as well as the associated ideas of responsibility and free will—is compatible with the finding that we are often, or even most of the time, not deliberatively aware of the reasons for which we act, prior to our acting so. That is, in many cases there are no explicit reasons, considerations we have reflected on and are aware of, that precede our actions. It is in this sense, I argue, that human ag. (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.
Adina Roskies has argued that worries that recent developments in the neurosciences challenge our ideas of free will and responsibility are misguided. Her argument focuses on the idea that we are able to act differently than we do. However, according to a dominant view in contemporary philosophy, the ability to do otherwise is irrelevant to our judgments of responsibility and free will. It rather is our ability to act for reasons that is crucial. We argue that this view is most (...) significantly challenged by the recent discoveries. Those discoveries show that it is not as obvious and uncontroversial that we act for reasons as it seems. Hence, we have to rethink our concept of reasons-responsiveness. (shrink)
Basic Desert, Reactive Attitudes and Free Will addresses the issue of whether we can make sense of the widespread conviction that we are morally responsible beings. It focuses on the claim that we deserve to be blamed and punished for our immoral actions, and how this claim can be justified given the philosophical and scientific reasons to believe that we lack the sort of free will required for this sort of desert. Contributions to the book distinguish between, and explore, two (...) clusters of questions. The first asks what it is to deserve to be harmed or benefitted. What are the bases for desert – actions, good character, bad character, the omission of good character traits? The second cluster explores the disagreement between compatabilists and incompatibilists surrounding the nature of desert. Do we deserve to be harmed, benefitted, or judged, even if we lack the ability to act differently, and if we do not, what effect does this have on our everyday actions? Taken in full, this book sheds light on the notion of desert implicated in our practice of holding each other morally responsible. This book was originally published as a special issue of _Philosophical Explorations. _. (shrink)
In this paper it is argued that we can have defensible attributions of responsibility without first answering the question whether determinism and free will are compatible. The key to such a defense is a focus on the fact that most actions for which we hold one another responsible are quite ordinary—trespassing traffic regulations, tardiness, or breaking a promise. As we will show, unlike actions that problematize our moral competence — e.g. akratic and ‘moral monster’- like ones—ordinary ‘wrong’ actions often disclose (...) this competence. Hence, no counterfactual assumption is needed to establish that some of us are sometimes responsible for some of the actions we perform. (shrink)
In 1969 Prof. Frankfurt has introduced a famous class of counterexamples to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. The principle that states that a person x is only responsible for an action y, if she could have done otherwise than y. In these examples a so called ‘counterfactual intervener’ figures that pre-empts all alternate possibilities counterfactually, that is, without actually intervening. Because this counterfactual intervener only looms passively in the background, x’s moral responsibility for y is not affected, whereas at the (...) same time — by stipulation — x couldn’t have done otherwise than y. Hence, the Principle of Alternate Possibilities must be false. (shrink)
The idea that human beings experience their lives as some sort of story and tend to understand themselves as authors of a narrative has become increasingly popular in philosophy. Some philosophers suggest that narratives are indispensable when it comes to answering the traditional question associated with personal (numerical) identity: what makes it the case that the person considered at time t0 is the same person as the person considered at time t1? They claim that taking a narrative approach to this (...) question allows for avoiding some of the problems that arise when attempting to answer it in terms of biological or psychological continuity. Other philosophers point out that narratives primarily have a unifying role with respect to our actions, experiences, beliefs, desires, and character traits. They take narratives to answer what Marya Schechtman (1996) calls “the characterization” question, in that narratives structure our self-experience and characterize us as unique individuals. .. (shrink)
Suppose that there is no real distinction between 'mad' and 'bad' because every truly bad-acting agent, proves to be a morally incompetent one. If this is the case: should we not change our ordinary interpersonal relationships in which we blame people for the things they do? After all, if people literally always act to 'the best of their abilities' nobody is ever to blame for the wrong they commit, whether these wrong actions are 'horrible monster'-like crimes or trivial ones, such (...) as cycling on a footpath. This paper offers a skeptical solution, i.e., a solution that does not depend upon the existence of individual responsibility for extreme wrongdoing. I conclude that even in the 'worst case' that skepticism about the distinction between mad and bad is warranted, we are nevertheless justified to treat one another; in general, as morally competent agents who are often to blame for the wrong they commit. (shrink)