A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer

At a time of acute danger, people commonly petition God for help for themselves or their loved ones; such as praying that an avalanche heading in one's direction be diverted, or that an organ donor be found for one's dying child. Such prayer seems natural and, indeed, for believers, reasonable and acceptable. It seems perverse to condemn such typical prayer, as wrong. But once we closely examine what is actually happening in such situations, we shall see that frequently prayer of this sort is morally problematic. I argue that such prayer ought to be seen as a form of action (rather than, say, mere hope), thereby needing to meet the higher moral standards that apply to actions; and that the assumption of the benevolence of the deity does not suffice to make such prayer legitimate.


Ratio: An International Journal of Analytic Philosophy

"A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer", Ratio 25 (2012 ): 207-215.

Black Magic and Respecting Persons - Some Perplexities

Black magic (henceforth BM) is acting in the attempt to harm human beings through supernatural means. Examples include the employment of spells, the use of special curses, the burning of objects related to the purported victim, and the use of pins with voodoo dolls. For the sake of simplicity, we shall focus on attempts to kill through BM. The moral attitude towards BM has not been, as far as we know, significantly discussed in contemporary analytic philosophy. Yet the topic brings up interesting questions and poses challenges, raising perplexities and occasionally even reaching the level of paradoxes. Ideas of respecting persons, in particular, will be seen to be challenged by this form of magic. The notion of respecting persons will be treated here broadly and pluralistically. Indeed part of the interest in the discussion will be the unfolding of the diverse ways in which this term needs to be understood, and the contrasts between its various uses. Often, as we shall see, respect for persons and disrespect for them, in different senses, will co-exist, and the dilemma will be one where avoiding some forms of disrespect will involve us in disrespect in other senses.



(Saul Smilansky and Juha Räikkä) "Black Magic and Respecting Persons - Some Perplexities", Ratio 33 (2020): 173-183.

Can Deontologists Be Moderate?

There is a widespread view according to which deontology can be construed as a flexible, reasonable view, able to incorporate consequentialist considerations when it seems compelling to do so. According to this view, deontologists can be moderate, and their presentation as die-hard fanatics, even if true to some historical figures, is basically a slanderous and misleading philosophical straw man. I argue that deontologists, properly understood, are not moderate. In the way deontology is typically understood, a deontology, as such, conceptually needs to be overriding. The error I point out has pernicious implications, which are noted.


Utilitas: A Journal of Utilitarian Studies

"Can Deontologists Be Moderate?", Utilitas 15 (2003 ): 71-5.

Can a Determinist Respect Herself?



Freedom and Moral Responsibility: General and Jewish Perspectives

"Can a Determinist Respect Herself?", in C. H. Manekin and M. Kellner, eds., Freedom and Moral Responsibility: General and Jewish Perspectives. College Park: University of Maryland Press, 1997: 85-98.

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Contribution, Replaceability and the Meaning of Our Lives

I explore some surprising results concerning positive individual contributions, focusing on those made in one's job or in the position one holds. The replaceability of most people on the job or in positions of influence threatens our common sense notion of contribution. Two concepts of contribution are distinguished, and help to limit the sense of paradox, but do not completely eliminate it. The ideal of making a contribution that would not be made were one not to make it is seen as both highly threatening and potentially very important for acquiring meaning in one's life. Finally, some hazards of our conclusions are seen to lead to thoughts about the dangers of open disclosure.



Contribution, Replaceability and the Meaning of Our Lives. Theoria. https://doi.org/10.1111/theo.12352

Did James Deceive Himself about Free Will?

I argue that William James indulged in self-deception with regard to the free will problem. My argument differs from previous ones in two ways: firstly, in pointing out specific features of James's philosophical writing with indicate the self-deception. Secondly, in presenting an integrated case, based not only on the much discussed issue of his "Will to Believe" position, but on James's autobiographical writing as well as on specific features of his philosophical writing. The conclusion is said to cast doubts about the "Will to Believe" position. Finally, I briefly consider the general issue of philosophical self-deception.


Transactions of the C.S. Peirce Society

"Did James Deceive Himself about Free Will?", Transactions of the C.S. Peirce Society 28 (1992 ): 767-779.

Free Will and Illusion: Replies to Criticism

In my book 'Free Will and Illusion' (OUP, 2000) I argued for two radical proposals. The first, "fundamental dualism", is that if there is no libertarian free will we need to combine the partial but valid insights of both compatibilism and hard determinism. The second, "illusionism", is that we could not live adequately with a complete awareness of the truth about human freedom: illusion lies at the center of the human condition. In a symposium on my book, Yuval Eylon and Daniel Statman proposed objections to my proposals. After summarizing my arguments, I reply to these objections.


Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly

"Free Will and Illusion: The Main Points", and "Free Will and Illusion: Replies to Criticism", Iyyun, 52 (2003 ): 167-170; 187-191 (in Hebrew).

Free Will and Illusion: The Main Points

I summarize the main points of my book 'Free Will and Illusion' (Oxford University Press, 2000). In part I of the book I examine the metaphysical and ethical structure of the free-will problem, examining the solutions that have traditionally been offered and formulating my own position. This lays the groundwork for examining the role of illusion, in part II. In the book I offer two radical proposals for understanding the implications of living in a world without libertarian free will (such as a deterministic world): first, the attempt to combine the two central rival alternatives, compatibilism and hard determinism. The partial but valid insights of both positions need to be integrated into a hybrid view, which I call "fundamental dualism." Secondly, I examine in some detail the complex role of illusion in our lives, insofar as they are affected by the issue of free will. (edited)


Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly

"Free Will and Illusion: The Main Points", and "Free Will and Illusion: Replies to Criticism", Iyyun, 52 (2003 ): 167-170; 187-191 (in Hebrew).

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.

Free Will and the 'Turn-Around' Argument

I consider an old and forceful argument that often features in discourse on the free will problem, but of which there has not been any thorough discussion. According to the free will "Turn-Around" Argument, the idea that one may not be accountable for one's actions is turned in upon itself, such that treating as accountable also becomes something for which no one can be held accountable. The "Turn-Around" Argument is, at least rhetorically, a very effective weapon against attempts at escaping moral accountability. However, neither its nature nor its strengths are straightforward as they may first seem.


Public Affairs Quarterly

"Free Will and the 'Turn-Around' Argument", Public Affairs Quarterly 14 (2000 ): 329-336.

Free Will and the Mystery of Modesty

In the last twenty years much philosophical progress has been made in understanding what can be named the "mystery of modesty": how can an epistemically adequate self-evaluation by the admirable and accomplished nevertheless be both genuinely modest and a virtue? If the admirable and accomplished know their value, how then can they be modest about it? If they do not know their value, how can this be a virtue? Various proposals have been formulated, but after reviewing them I conclude that they do not seem to be successful. I argue, nevertheless, that we can make sense of the virtue of modesty, if only we pay adequate attention to the implications of the problem of free will. This, if properly interpreted, is the key to the mystery of modesty.


American Philosophical Quarterly

"Free Will and the Mystery of Modesty", American Philosophical Quarterly 40 (2003 ): 105-117.

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.