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Ultimate Responsibility and Dumb Luck*

  • Alfred R. Mele (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2009

My topic lies on conceptual terrain that is quite familiar to philosophers. For others, a bit of background may be in order. In light of what has filtered down from quantum mechanics, few philosophers today believe that the universe is causally deterministic (or “deterministic,” for short). That is, to use Peter van Inwagen's succinct definition of “determinism,” few philosophers believe that “there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.” Even so, partly for obvious historical reasons, philosophers continue to argue about whether free will and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism. Compatibilists argue for compatibility, and incompatibilists argue against it. Some incompatibilists maintain that free will and moral responsibility are illusions. But most are libertarians, libertarianism being the conjunction of incompatibilism and the thesis that at least some human beings are possessed of free will and moral responsibility.

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Martha Klein , Determinism, Blameworthiness, and Deprivation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)

Galen Strawson , “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility,” Philosophical Studies 75, no. 1 (Summer 1994): 524.

Harry Frankfurt , “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” Journal of Philosophy 66, no. 23 (121969): 829.

Alfred Mele , “Soft Libertarianism and Frankfurt-Style Scenarios,” Philosophical Topics 24, no. 2 (Fall 1996): 123–41

Ishtiyaque Haji , “Moral Responsibility and the Problem of Induced Pro-Attitudes,” Dialogue 35, no. 4 (Fall 1996): 707

James Lamb , “Evaluative Compatibilism and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities,” Journal of Philosophy 90, no. 10 (101993): 517–27

David Widerker , “Libertarianism and Frankfurt's Attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities,” Philosophical Review 104, no. 2 (Spring 1995): 247–61

Widerker, “Libertarian Freedom and the Avoidability of Decisions,” Faith and Philosophy 12, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 113–18

Alfred Mele and David Robb , “Rescuing Frankfurt-Style Cases,” Philosophical Review 107, no. 1 (011998): 97–11

John Fischer and Paul Hoffman , “Alternative Possibilities: A Reply to Lamb,” Journal of Philosophy 91, no. 6 (061994): 321–26

John Fischer , “Libertarianism and Avoid ability: A Reply to Widerker,” Faith and Philosophy 12, no. 1 (Winter 1995): 119–25

John Fischer , “Responsibility and Control,” Journal of Philosophy 79, no. 1 (011982): 2440

Robert Heinaman , “Incompatibilism without the Principle of Alternative Possibilities,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 64, no. 3 (Fall 1986): 266–76

Derk Pereboom , “Determinism al Dente,” Noûs 29, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 2145.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
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