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ISSN 0869-5377
The Logos Journal

Optimistic Skepticism About Free Will

Author: Pereboom Derk

About author:
Susan Linn Sage Professor, Cornell University. Address: 218 Goldwin Smith Hall, 14853-3201 Ithaca, NY, USA. E-mail:

The author of the paper presents an argument for his theory of hard incompatibilism. According to this position, people do not have the type of free will that is required for moral responsibility. The general argument for this view consists of three parts. In the first one, the author argues against compatibilism, or the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. If causal determinism holds, then our actions are determined by factors beyond our control. This kind of determination would exclude freedom and responsibility. To prove this point, the author proposes a four-case manipulation argument, which demonstrates how even the best compatibilist theories pose problems for understanding responsibility and free will. In the second part of the article, the author argues against libertarianism, or the thesis that free will is compatible with causal indeterminism. The author points out that given our best physical theories, the idea of substance causation by agents is not credible. On the other hand, the metaphysics of indeterministically connected events could not provide the kind of control that would be sufficient for freedom and responsibility. The author proves this point by presenting the case of the disappearing agent. In the third part of the article, the author reflects on the consequences that giving up on the idea of free will and moral responsibility could have for our social institutions and for our sense of meaning in life. He argues that these consequences would not be as harmful as many may suppose. Moreover, he argues that life and society would improve and become more humane if we were to give up on the idea of moral responsibility.

Keywords: free will; determinism; compatibilism; incompatibilism; hard incompatibilism; skepticism; manipulation argument; responsibility

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