Traditional theists in our environment, and christians in particular, tend to endorse libertarianism about free will, according to which we have the free will required for moral responsibility, free will of this sort is incompatible with determinism, and determinism is false. Divine determinism is nonetheless well represented in the history of traditional theism – and by “divine determinism” I mean to specify the position that God is the sufficient active cause of everything in creation, whether directly or by way of secondary causes such as human agents. This position is either obviously or arguably held by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Schleiermacher, among others. Yet despite the historical prominence of this view, there is an obvious and compelling reason for rejecting it. The consequence that God is the sufficient active cause of all the evils that occur threatens to make divine determinism unconscionable from the very outset. Now if an available alternative were the position that we have libertarian free will, that God is not omnipotent, and that there are evil forces in the universe, other than mere willings, against which God needs to struggle, then one can see why rejecting the determinist perspective would seem attractive. Yet even if this Zoroastrian alternative remains the de facto position of some, it is outside the bounds of traditional Christian, Jewish, and Islamic orthodoxy.
In Chapter 1, I argued that whether an agent could have done otherwise is explanatorily irrelevant to whether he is morally responsible for his action. There I also contended that this argument does not undermine incompatibilism, for there is an incompatibilist intuition that remains untouched by it. The intuition is that if all of our behavior was “in the cards” before we were born, in the sense that things happened before we came to exist that by way of a deterministic causal process, inevitably result in our behavior, then we cannot legitimately be blamed for our wrongdoing. I also remarked that in the dialectic of the debate, one should not expect compatibilists to be moved much by this incompatibilist intuition alone to abandon their position. Rather, the best type of challenge to compatibilism is that this sort of causal determination is in principle as much of a threat to moral responsibility as is covert manipulation. In this chapter, I develop this argument.
This anti-compatibilist strategy plays a pivotal role in my argument for the causal history principle:
(5) An action is free in the sense required for moral responsibility only if the decision to perform it is not an alien-deterministic event, nor a truly random event, nor a partially random event.
IS THERE AN ACCEPTABLE HARD INCOMPATIBILIST POSITION ON MANAGING CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR?
Perhaps the most frequently and urgently voiced criticism of the type of view I am developing is that the responses to criminal behavior it will allow are insufficient for acceptable social policy. The way matters actually lie, however, is more complex than this objection suggests. Some of the most prominent justifications for punishing criminals will be undermined by hard incompatibilism, and thus in some respects it may appear to permit fewer policies for opposing crime than the alternative positions. But, as we shall see, each of these justifications faces significant difficulties independent of hard incompatibilist considerations. At the same time, hard incompatibilism leaves other methods for responding to such behavior intact, and arguably, these methods are sufficient for good social policy. As a result, we need not extend Dennett's advice to criminals and treat them as if they were morally responsible (with a possible exception, as we shall see). Let us discern which justifications for dealing with criminal behavior are legitimate and which are not, given hard incompatibilism, while taking care to note whether this view is left with fewer tenable policies than the alternative positions.
The problem for the hard incompatibilist position is that without the robust conceptions of agency that are ruled out if hard incompatibilism is true, it would appear unacceptable to blame criminals for what they have done, and we would therefore seem to have inadequate justification for punishing them.
The most significant empirical objections to agent-causal libertarianism challenge its capacity to accommodate our best natural scientific theories. Different aspects of this type of libertarianism give rise to two such objections. First, given our scientific understanding of the world, how could there exist anything as fabulous as an agent-causal power? It would appear that our natural scientific theories could not yield an account of a power of this sort. Second, given our scientific understanding, how could there be agent-caused decisions that are freely willed in the sense required for moral responsibility? Such decisions, it would seem, would not be constrained by the laws of nature, and therefore could not exist in the natural world.
Let us begin with the first of these two issues. Some libertarians maintain that there could be no natural scientific account of agentcausal powers. But they do not conclude from this that such powers do not exist, only that they could not be wholly physically realized. For others, a more congenial approach is to avoid non-physicalism by exploiting the resources of nonreductive materialism. According to nonreductive materialism generally construed, causal powers in the purview of sciences such as biology and psychology arise solely as a result of the organization of their material constituents, while they do not reduce to microphysical causal powers.
HARD INCOMPATIBILISM DEFINED AND DEFENDED
My version of hard incompatibilism consists of two main theses. The first is that all of our actions and choices are either alien-deterministic events – events such that there are causal factors beyond our control by virtue of which they are causally determined, or truly random events – those that are not produced by anything at all, or partially random events – those for which factors beyond the agent's control contribute to their production but do not determine them, while there is nothing that supplements the contribution of these factors to produce the events. The second thesis is that incompatibilism defined by the Causal History Principle is true. Traditionally, incompatibilism is the view that freedom of the sort required for moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism. I have expanded the notion to mean that freedom of this sort is incompatible with our actions and choices being events that lie on the continuum from alien-deterministic through partially random to truly random events. Together, these two theses yield the conclusion that we do not have the kind of free will required for moral responsibility.
The justification for each of these claims is implicit in the case I've made against libertarianism and compatibilism. The argument for the first thesis – that all of our actions and choices are events that lie on the responsibility-undermining continuum – arises from the arguments developed in Chapter 3 (Empirical Objections to Agent-Causal Libertarianism).
When people are first confronted with hard determinism, initial reactions are often apprehensive. Frequently, the first response is that lives would then have no purpose, and a dispirited resignation to one's fate would be inevitable. Indeed, philosophical critics have contended that if hard determinism were true, we would lack the sort of control over our lives that would allow us to derive fulfillment from the projects we pursue. The power to affect our futures would not be ours in a sense sufficiently strong for our projects to count as our achievements, and as a result the possibility of meaning in life would be jeopardized.
Another common first response to hard determinism is that it would endanger the rich emotional texture of our relationships with others. We have seen that P.F. Strawson has developed a philosophical elaboration of this reaction. For him, a hard determinist conviction would imperil the other-directed reactive attitudes essential to the interpersonal relationships that make our lives meaningful. It could also jeopardize self-directed attitudes such as guilt and repentance, crucial not only to good relationships with others but also to personal moral development.
Philosophers have also contended that determinism can make a significant contribution to meaning in life. The Stoics argued that affirming determinism while taking a broader perspective can result in a profound sort of equanimity.
TWO INCOMPATIBILIST INTUITIONS
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 significant role in explaining why an agent is morally responsible. For if an agent is to be blameworthy for an action, it seems crucial that she could have done something to avoid being blameworthy – that she could have done something to get herself off the hook. If she is to be praiseworthy for an action, it seems important that shecould have done something less admirable. Libertarians have often grounded their incompatibilism precisely in such intuitions. As a result, they have often defended the following principle of alternative possibilities:
(1) An action is free in the sense required for moral responsibility only if the agent could have done otherwise than she actually did.
or a similar principle about choice:
(2) An action is free in the sense required for moral responsibility only if the agent could have chosen otherwise than she actually did.
I shall argue that despite resourceful attempts to defend conditions of this sort, any such requirement that is relevant to explaining why an agent is morally responsible for an action falls to counterexamples. I maintain instead that the most plausible and fundamentally explanatory incompatibilist principles concern the causal history of an action, and not alternative possibilities.
Critics of libertarianism have contended that indeterministically free action cannot be reconciled with certain provisions in action theory that libertarians themselves would want to endorse. Specifically, they have argued that a libertarian theory of action cannot allow for agents to be morally responsible for freely willed action, for freely willed action to meet plausible general requirements on explanation, and for freely willed action to be rational. These kinds of criticisms are sometimes categorized as coherence objections to libertarianism. According to another sort of complaint against libertarianism, the free will it espouses does not harmonize with the empirical evidence. Our choices produce physical events in the brain and in the rest of the body, and these events would seem to be governed by physical laws. The libertarian position must make it credible that our choices could be free in the sense it advocates given the evidence we have about these physical laws, and according to the objection, this cannot be done. This challenge gives rise to a family of empirical objections to libertarianism, the subject of the next chapter.
The concern of this chapter is the coherence of libertarianism, predominantly the first of the three mentioned coherence objections – whether a plausible libertarian theory of free will can allow for moral responsibility.
In recent decades, with advances in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, the notion that certain patterns of human behavior may ultimately be due to factors beyond our control has become a serious cultural concern. In our society, the possibility that criminal behavior, for example, may be caused by influences in upbringing or by abnormal features of the brain is very much a live hypothesis. Furthermore, many people agree that criminals cannot be blameworthy for actions and tendencies produced in this way. At the same time, most assume that even if criminal actions frequently have this sort of causal history, ordinary 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 our actions. Since the first appearance of strategies for comprehensive explanation in ancient times, philosophers have been aware that our theories about the world can challenge our commonplace assumptions about agency in this more general way. One reaction to this stronger claim is that it would leave morality as it is, or that if any revisions must occur, they are insubstantial. But another is that we would not then be blameworthy or praiseworthy for our actions – in the philosophical idiom, we would not be morally responsible for them. I shall argue that our best scientific theories indeed have the consequence that we are not morally responsible for our actions.
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