Free Will Denial and Deontological Constraints

Recent free will denialism (FWD) tends to be optimistic, claiming that not only will the rejection of the belief in free will and moral responsibility not make matters dreadful, but that we are indeed better off without them. I address the denialist claim that FWD has the philosophical resources to effectively safeguard human rights and respect for persons in the context of punishment, even without belief in free will, moral responsibility and desert. I raise seven reasons for doubt concerning the ability of FWD to maintain deontological constraints. Together they present a strong case for doubting the optimism of FWD.


Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society

"Free Will Denial and Deontological Constraints", in Elizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom, and Gregg D. Caruso, eds. Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society. New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

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Pereboom on Punishment - Funishment, Innocence, Motivation, and Other Difficulties

In 'Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life', Derk Pereboom proposes an optimistic model of life that follows on the rejection of both libertarian and compatibilist beliefs in free will, moral responsibility, and desert. I criticize his views, focusing on punishment. Pereboom responds to my earlier argument that hard determinism must seek to revise the practice of punishment in the direction of 'funishment', whereby the incarcerated are very generously compensated for the deprivations of incarceration. I claimed that funishment is a practical 'reductio' of hard determinism. Pereboom replies, but I claim that he misses a key component of my 'reductio', the idea that moving in the direction of funishment will considerably weaken the deterrence of potential criminals so that hard determinism becomes self-defeating in practice. Beyond the challenge of funishment, I raise various other difficulties with Pereboom's model, concerning its deeply unintuitive implications, the harm it does to the motivation of potential criminals, its weakness in resisting utilitarian-like dangers, and more. Our conclusions should lead to a re-evaluation of the compatibilist interpretation of moral life, as a richer, more plausible, and safer interpretation than hard determinism. This needs to be combined with a true hard determinist acknowledgment of the deep injustice and tragedy involved in punishment in light of the absence of libertarian free will. Such a complex view will come closer to doing justice to notions of justice, morality, and decency.


Criminal Law and Philosophy: An International Journal for Philosophy of Crime, Criminal Law and Punishment

"Pereboom on Punishment - Funishment, Innocence, Motivation, and Other Difficulties", Criminal Law and Philosophy, symposium on Derk Pereboom's Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life, 11 (2017): 591-603.

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free will: nonstandard views



The Routledge Companion to Free Will

"Nonstandard Views", in Meghan Griffith, Neil Levy and Kevin Timpe, eds., The Routledge Companion to Free Will. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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Parfit on Free Will, Desert, and the Fairness of Punishment

In his recent monumental book On What Matters, Derek Parfit argues for a hard determinist view that rejects free will-based moral responsibility and desert. This rejection of desert is necessary for his main aim in the book, the overall reconciliation of normative ethics. In Appendix E of his book, however, Parfit claims that it is possible to mete out fair punishment. Parfit?s position on punishment here seems to be inconsistent with his hard determinism. I argue that Parfit is mistaken here, in a way that leads him to unjustified optimism about the possibility of fair penalization. Insofar as we take the free will problem seriously, we cannot reconcile a belief in the absence of desert with a belief in the fairness of penalization.


The Journal of Ethics

"Parfit on Free Will, Desert, and the Fairness of Punishment", Journal of Ethics, special issue on moral responsibility, 20 (2016 ): 139-148.

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Some Reflections on Hanoch Ben-Yami's Defense of Compatibilism



Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly

"Some Reflections on Hanoch Ben-Yami's Defense of Compatibilism", Iyyun 64 (2015): 77-81.

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Free Will as a Case of 'Crazy Ethics'

I introduce the term �crazy ethics� (or CE), which I use in a semi-descriptive and non-pejorative way to refer to some views that we ourselves hold, or that we think might be true. I claim that some true ethical views are, in this interesting sense, crazy. After explicating what makes such views crazy, I explore the free will problem and show why viewing it as a case of CE is fruitful. I show that many of the prevailing positions in the debate are "crazy" in this sense, and that the views I hold to be most plausible are also so. I then reflect on what this means, particularly for morality, personal and social integrity, and the role of philosophy.


Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Lexington Books

"Free Will as a Case of 'Crazy Ethics'", in Gregg Caruso, ed., Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Lexington Books, 2013.

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Free Will and Moral Responsibility: The Trap, the Appreciation of Agency, and the Bubble

In part I, I reflect in some detail upon the free will problem and about the way its understanding has radically changed. First, I outline the four questions that go into making the free will problem. Second, I consider four paradigmatic shifts that have occurred in our understanding of this problem. Then I go on to reflect upon this complex and multilevel situation. In part II of this essay, I explore the major alternative positions, and defend my views, in new ways. Instead of trying to spread over many issues, I present one new argument against compatibilism, which I call "the trap". This tries to explicate the main problem that I find with this position. Then I present an exposition of what we nevertheless need to follow, which I call "the appreciation of agency". This supports a measure of compatibilism in a more modest form, and opposes hard determinism. On this basis, we can confront the philosophical and practical questions, as to what we ought to believe and how we ought to live, with respect to free will and moral responsibility. This leads to what I call "the bubble," which addresses the way in which we deal with the tension between the absence of libertarian free will and "the trap", and the crucial need for the "appreciation of agency". I conclude by reflecting upon three attributes of the free will problem that I consider central, but that have been neglected in the debate: complexity, risk and tragedy.


Journal of Ethics: An International Philosophical Review

"Free Will and Moral Responsibility: The Trap, the Appreciation of Agency, and the Bubble", Journal of Ethics 16 (2012 ): 211-239.

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Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio

How can hard determinism deal with the need to punish, when coupled with the obligation to be just? I argue that even though hard determinists might find it morally permissible to incarcerate wrongdoers apart from lawful society, they are committed to the punishment's taking a very different form from common practice in contemporary Western societies. Hard determinists are in fact committed to what I will call funishment, instead of punishment. But, by its nature funishment is a practical reductio of hard determinism: it makes implementing hard determinism impossible to contemplate. Indeed, the social practices that hard determinism requires turn out to be morally bad even according to hard determinism itself. I conclude by briefly reflecting upon the implications.


Law and Philosophy: An International Journal for Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy

"Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio", Law and Philosophy 30 (2011 ): 353-367.

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Free Will: Some Bad News

The free-will debate is characterized by an effort to see the bright side of things. This feature is shared by almost all participants, irrespective of their other disagreements. We are not self-critical enough about this (natural) tendency. There is some good news, even if we don't have libertarian free will. But in different ways, the free will issue is very bad news. I illustrate this, and discuss what it implies.


Action, Ethics, and Responsibility

"Free Will: Some Bad News", in Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O?Rourke, and Harry S. Silverstein, eds., Action, Ethics and Responsibility. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2010.

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Fischer's Way: The Next Level

I present an analogy between analytic philosophy and a particular sort of computer game, and analyze some aspects of John Martin Fischer's 'My Way' in the light of this analogy. I set out the different levels of the free-will question, and explore how well Fischer does on them. On the compatibility level, he succeeds, in my view, in confronting the "metaphysical challenge" and the "manipulation challenge", but does less well with the "moral arbitrariness challenge". The compatibilist perspective captures only part of the moral and personal truth on the compatibility issue, and is shown to be inherently shallow. On the next levels we see that Fischer confronts particular dangers: the very virtues that make his minimalist position so resilient on the second (compatibility) level, render it too impoverished when it comes to the third, which asks about the very importance of taking moral responsibility seriously. Connecting to other positions (such as P. F. Strawson's version of naturalism) may be an imperative, but would also be risky. Likewise, on the fourth level, where we confront the difficulty of deciding how to deal with the previous conclusions, it is doubtful how well Fischer can do, given his previous philosophical commitments.


Journal of Ethics: An International Philosophical Review

"Fischer's Way: The Next Level", in a symposium on John Martin Fischer's My Way, Journal of Ethics 12 (2008 ): 147-155.

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Free Will and Fairness

Fairness is a central concept in contemporary discourse. "It isn't fair" is a familiar complaint, which can be heard whenever children play games, just as from politicians asking for "equal time" on television. Moral and political philosophy also takes fairness very seriously: John Rawls famously said that "Justice Is Fairness". In the free will debate, however, the notion of fairness has received much less attention. I wish to make some preliminary moves towards correcting this relative neglect. Exploring the connections between the concern for fairness and the free will problem should help us to deepen our understanding of this problem. I shall argue that there is more than one interpretation of fairness that is salient in the free will issue, and that explicating this should help us to see what aiming for fairness might mean in the free will context.


Essays on Free Will and Moral Responsibility

"Free Will and Fairness", in Nick Trakakis and Daniel Cohen, eds., Essays on Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Cambridge: Scholars Publishing, 2008.

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More Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Beebee

I have argued that compatibilism has difficulties resisting prepunishment, and that it is thus a much more radical view than is typically presented and perceived. Helen Beebee presented two counterarguments, which I examine.



"More Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Beebee", Analysis 68 (2008 ): 260-263.

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