Chance Not Direct Cause
The Cogito Model
Could Do Otherwise
Event Has Many Causes
Freedom of Action
Free Will Axiom
Free Will in Antiquity
Free Will Mechanisms
Free Will Requirements
Free Will Theorem
Idea of Freedom
Illusion of Determinism
Liberty of Indifference
Science Advance Fallacy
Up To Us
What If Dennett and Kane Did Otherwise?
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Richard J. Bernstein
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Joseph Keim Campbell
Mario De Caro
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
John Martin Fischer
Richard L. Franklin
Nicholas St. John Green
Georg W.F. Hegel
George Henry Lewes
C. Lloyd Morgan
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
Paul E. Meehl
John Stuart Mill
William of Ockham
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Willard van Orman Quine
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Teilhard de Chardin
Peter van Inwagen
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
C.F. von Weizsäcker
Alfred North Whitehead
John S. Bell
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Satyendra Nath Bose
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Arthur Holly Compton
E. P. Culverwell
Louis de Broglie
Abraham de Moivre
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Hugh Everett, III
R. A. Fisher
J. Willard Gibbs
A. O. Gomes
J. B. S. Haldane
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Ruth E. Kastner
Martin J. Klein
William R. Klemm
James Clerk Maxwell
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Paul A. Weiss
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Moral ResponsibilityJust as we separated the concept "free" from the concept of "will" in order to better understand "free will," so we need to separate "moral" and "responsibility." We then need to go even further and clarify the relationship between free will and moral responsibility. Some philosophers deflect direct discussion of free will and study it only as the "control condition for moral responsibility." Finally, we should explore the connection between moral responsibility and retributive punishment (revenge). All these separations are addressed together on our conceptual analysis page.
Peter Strawson Changed the Subject from Free Will to Moral ResponsibilityPeter Strawson argued in 1962 that whatever the deep metaphysical truth on the issues of determinism and free will, people would not give up talking about and feeling moral responsibility - praise and blame, guilt and pride, crime and punishment, gratitude, resentment, and forgiveness.
These "reactive attitudes" were for Strawson more real than whether they could be explained by fruitless disputes about free will, compatibilism, and determinism. They were "facts" of our natural human commitment to ordinary inter-personal attitudes. He said it was "a pity that talk of the moral sentiments has fallen out of favour," since such talk was "the only possibility of reconciling these disputants to each other and the facts."
Strawson himself was optimistic that compatibilism could reconcile determinism with moral obligation and responsibility. He accepted the facts of determinism. He felt that determinism was true. But he was concerned to salvage the reality of our attitudes even for libertarians, whom he described as pessimists about determinism.
"What I have called the participant reactive attitudes are essentially natural human reactions to the good or ill will or indifference of others towards us, as displayed in their attitudes and actions. The question we have to ask is: What effect would, or should, the acceptance of the truth of a general thesis of determinism have upon these reactive attitudes? More specifically, would, or should, the acceptance of the truth of the thesis lead to the decay or the repudiation of all such attitudes? Would, or should, it mean the end of gratitude, resentment, and forgiveness; of all reciprocated adult loves; of all the essentially personal antagonisms?"Since Peter Strawson changed the subject in 1962 from free will to moral responsibility, there has been an increasing tendency to equate free will with moral responsibility. From the earliest beginnings, the problem of "free will" has been intimately connected with the question of moral responsibility. Most of the ancient thinkers on the problem were trying to show that we humans have control over our decisions, that our actions "depend on us", and that they are not pre-determined by fate, by arbitrary gods, by logical necessity, or by a natural causal determinism. But to say that today "free will is understood as the control condition for moral responsibility" is to make a serious blunder in conceptual analysis and clear thinking. Free will is clearly a prerequisite for responsibility. Whether the responsibility is a moral responsibility depends on our ideas of morality. Here are some recent examples of conflating free will and moral responsibility, which we regard as an ethical fallacy. John Martin Fischer says:
Some philosophers do not distinguish between freedom and moral responsibility. Put a bit more carefully, they tend to begin with the notion of moral responsibility, and "work back" to a notion of freedom; this notion of freedom is not given independent content (separate from the analysis of moral responsibility). For such philosophers, "freedom" refers to whatever conditions are involved in choosing or acting in such a way as to be morally responsible.Manuel Vargas says:
It is not clear that there is any single thing that people have had in mind by the term "free will." Perhaps the dominant characterization in the history of philosophy is that it is something like the freedom condition on moral responsibility. Roughly, the idea is that to be morally responsible for something, you had to have some amount of freedom, at some suitable time prior to the action or outcome for which you are responsible. That sense of freedom — whatever it amounts to — is what we mean to get at by the phrase "free will." However, there may be things for which free will might be important or other senses of free will that are independent of concerns about moral responsibility. For example, philosophers have worried whether free will is required for some human achievements to have a special worth or value, or for there to be values and valuing in any robust sense. Although I think much of what I will say can be applied to other aspects of thinking about it, I will primarily concerned with free will in its connection to moral responsibility, the sense in which people are appropriately praised or blamed. (Four Views on Free Will, p.128-9)Derk Pereboom says simply
free will is understood as the control condition for moral responsibility.Starting with his 1985 book, Free Will and Values, Robert Kane has argued that free choices are those moral decisions requiring great effort because the arguments pro and con the decision are equally balanced (the liberty of indifference). The ancients and medieval thinkers argued that freedom could be equated with morality. Men were free to do good. If they did evil, it was the influence of some nefarious power preventing them from doing good. Kant - free when we do good, otherwise slaves. --original in Aristotle, virtue is knowledge? Stoics? Doyle - ethical (moral) fallacy. freedom is a physical question. it is based on arguments about determinism versus indeterminism. The will is in part a psychological question. responsibility is a causality question is the agent properly in the causal chain. moral questions are not physical questions. to confound them is to connect ought with is. moral responsibility is a major field of ethics that can stand on its own without sophisticated attempts to deny free will. e.g., Frankfurt sophistry. For some Naturalists, the equation of free will and moral responsibility is driven by their goal of eliminating punishment and what they see as a "culture of vengeance." The fallacious reasoning goes something like this - "If free will is required for moral responsibility, we can deny moral responsibility be denying free will." Naturalists seem to naively accepted the ancient religious arguments that free will is an exclusive property of humans (some religions limit it to males). One strand in the naturalist argument then is to say that humans are animals and so lack free will. It will be interesting to see how they react to the establishment of a biophysical basis for behavioral freedom in lower animals. This behavioral freedom is conserved and show up in higher animals and humans as freedom of their wills. Vargas - age at which children acquire free will
Consider the question of how we go from being unfree agents to free agents. This is a puzzle faced by all accounts of responsibility, but there is something pressing about it in the case of libertarianism. As children we either had the indeterministic structures favored by your favorite version of libertarianism or we lacked them. If we lacked them as children, we might wonder how we came to get those structures. We might also wonder what the evidence is for thinking that we do develop said structures. Suppose the libertarian offers us an answer to these questions, and the other empirical challenges I raised in the prior section. We would still face another puzzle. What, exactly, does the indeterminism add? What follows in this section is not so much a metaphysical concern as it is a normative concern. It is a concern about what work the indeterminism does in libertarianism, apart from providing a way to preserve our default self-image as deliberators with genuine, metaphysically robust alternative possibilities. (p.148)Equating free will with moral responsibility, then to use spurious arguments to deny free will, and thus to deny moral responsibility - in order to oppose punishment - is fine humanism but poor philosophy, and terrible science. Children have free will from birth. It is part of their biological makeup. The solution to the Vargas puzzle is that it is moral responsibility that children “come to get” at some age.
Can We Separate Free Will and Moral Responsibility?In recent years, "free will” has become what John Fischer calls an “umbrella-term” for a large range of phenomena. He says (in his recent 4-volume Routledge anthology “Free Will,” vol.I, p.xxiii)
The term is used differently by different philosophers, and I think that it is most helpful to think of it as an “umbrella-term” used to describe some sort of freedom that connects in important ways with moral responsibility, and, ultimately, person-hood. More specifically, the domain of free will includes various sorts of freedom (freedom of choice, of action, choosing and acting freely, and so forth), and the practices constitutive of moral responsibility (moral praise and blame, punishment and moral reward, and a set of distinctively moral attitudes, such as indignation, resentment, gratitude, respect, and so forth).And in the recent page on Free Will in the Stanford Encylopedia on Philosophy, Timothy O'Connor wrote:
Some philosophers do not distinguish between freedom and moral responsibility. Put a bit more carefully, they tend to begin with the notion of moral responsibility, and “work back” to a notion of freedom; this notion of freedom is not given independent content (separate from the analysis of moral responsibility). For such philosophers, “freedom” refers to whatever conditions are involved in choosing or acting in such a way as to be morally responsible.
Most philosophers suppose that the concept of free will is very closely connected to the concept of moral responsibility. Acting with free will, on such views, is just to satisfy the metaphysical requirement on being responsible for one's action.O'Connor wants to deny free will to animals, who do not have moral responsibility, but may have freedom of action.
On a minimalist account, free will is the ability to select a course of action as a means of fulfilling some desire. David Hume, for example, defines liberty as “a power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will.” (1748, sect.viii, part 1). One reason to deem this insufficient is that it is consistent with the goal-directed behavior of some animals whom we do not suppose to be morally responsible agents. Such animals lack not only an awareness of the moral implications of their actions but also any capacity to reflect on their alternatives and their long-term consequences.
In the spirit of a careful conceptual (and linguistic) analysis, there are benefits to separating free will from moral responsibility and from three additional separations:
1) The separation of “free” from “will.”
The Separation of “Free” from “Will”
“Free Will” - in scare quotes - refers to the common but mistaken notion that the adjective “free” modifies the concept “will.” In particular, it indicates that the element of chance, one of the two requirements for free will, is present in the determination of the will itself.
Critics of “libertarian free will” usually adopt this meaning in order to attack the idea of randomness in our decisions, which clearly would not help to make us morally responsible.
Unfortunately, prominent defenders of libertarian free will (Robert Kane, for example) continue to add indeterminism into the decision itself, making such free will “unintelligible” by their own account.
Freedom of human action requires the randomness of absolute chance to break the causal chain of determinism, yet the conscious knowledge that we areadequately determined to be responsible for our choices.
Freedom requires some events that are not causally determined by immediately preceding events, events that are unpredictable by any agency, events involving quantum uncertainty. These random events create alternative possibilities for action.
Randomness is the “free” in free will.
In short, there must be a Randomness Requirement, unpredictable chance events that break the causal chain of determinism. Without this chance, our actions are simply the consequences of events in the remote past. This randomness must be located in a place and time that enhances free will, one that does not reduce it to pure chance.
(Determinists do not like this requirement.)
Freedom also requires an adequately determined will that chooses or selects from those alternative possibilities. There is effectively nothing uncertain about this choice.
Adequate determinism is the “will” in free will.
So there is also a Determinism Requirement - that our actions be adequately determined by our character and values, and by our feelings and desires. This requires that any randomness not be the direct cause of our actions.
(Libertarians do not like this requirement.)
Adequate determinism means that randomness in our thoughts about alternative possibilities does not directly cause our actions.
A random thought can lead to an adequately determined action, for which we can take full responsibility.
Our thoughts come to us. Our actions come from us.
The Separation of “Moral” from “Responsibility”
Responsibility for a willed action can be ascribed to an agent because the “adequately” determined will has started a new causal chain that includes the action and its foreseeable consequences.
But responsibility is not exactly the same as moral responsibility. It is merely a prerequisite for moral responsibility.
Responsibility is similar to accountability. Just as an action can said to be a cause of its consequences, so the agent can be held accountable for the action.
Different moral codes, which are the business of ethicists, may have different degrees of moral responsibility for the same actions and its consequences.
Can we separate “moral” from “responsibility?”
The Separation of “Free Will and Moral Responsibility” from Retributive Punishment (Revenge)
Liberal and humanitarian thinkers who see that retributive punishment is sometimes cruel and unproductive should not try to argue that punishment is not “deserved” because free will does not exist.
They have excellent reasons for preferring rehabilitation and education to vengeance.
Naturalists argue that humans are just a form of animal and that we lack free will because animals do. No free will in animals was the old religious argument that God had given man the gift of free will. Whether man - and higher animals too - have free will is an empirical scientific question.
To make it depend on however excellent arguments against vengeance and retributive punishment is to get the cart before the horse.
Equating free will with moral responsibility, then to use spurious arguments to deny free will, and thus to deny moral responsibility - in order to oppose punishment - is fine humanism but poor philosophy, and terrible science.
Can we separate “free will and moral responsibility” from “retributive punishment” and vengeance?
The Separation of “Free Will” from “Moral Responsibility”
From the earliest beginnings, the problem of “free will” has been intimately connected with the question of moral responsibility. Most of the ancient thinkers on the problem were trying to show that we humans have control over our decisions, that our actions “depend on us”, and that they are not pre-determined by fate, by arbitrary gods, by logical necessity, or by a natural causal determinism.
The question of the existence of “free will” is an empirical and factual question about the nature of the mind. It does not depend in any way on the existence of “moral responsibility,” which is a question for ethics.
Here is an example of the kind of problems caused by conflating free will with moral responsibility.
Manuel Vargas follows John Fischer in connecting free will to moral responsibility, then he wonders how and when children can suddenly acquire free will at a certain age. Vargas says:
It is not clear that there is any single thing that people have had in mind by the term “free will.” Perhaps the dominant characterization in the history of philosophy is that it is something like the freedom condition on moral responsibility. Roughly, the idea is that to be morally responsible for something, you had to have some amount of freedom, at some suitable time prior to the action or outcome for which you are responsible. That sense of freedom — whatever it amounts to — is what we mean to get at by the phrase “free will.” However, there may be things for which free will might be important or other senses of free will that are independent of concerns about moral responsibility. For example, philosophers have worried whether free will is required for some human achievements to have a special worth or value, or for there to be values and valuing in any robust sense. Although I think much of what I will say can be applied to other aspects of thinking about it, I will primarily concerned with free will in its connection to moral responsibility, the sense in which people are appropriately praised or blamed. (Four Views on Free Will, p.128-9)
Vargas then puzzles about children.
Consider the question of how we go from being unfree agents to free agents. This is a puzzle faced by all accounts of responsibility, but there is something pressing about it in the case of libertarianism. As children we either had the indeterministic structures favored by your favorite version of libertarianism or we lacked them. If we lacked them as children, we might wonder how we came to get those structures. We might also wonder what the evidence is for thinking that we do develop said structures. Suppose the libertarian offers us an answer to these questions, and the other empirical challenges I raised in the prior section. We would still face another puzzle. What, exactly, does the indeterminism add? What follows in this section is not so much a metaphysical concern as it is a normative concern. It is a concern about what work the indeterminism does in libertarianism, apart from providing a way to preserve our default self-image as deliberators with genuine, metaphysically robust alternative possibilities. (p.148)
Children have free will from birth. It is part of their biological makeup.
In the June 2009 issue of Nature, I made the case that all animals have a biophysical capability for behavioral freedom. In higher organisms with a “will,” this capability becomes the biophysical basis for free will.
We may not have metaphysical free will, but we do have biophysical free will.
The solution to the Vargas puzzle is that it is moral responsibility that children “come to get” at some age.
Can we separate “free will” from “moral responsibility?”