THE BOUNDS OF
ARE human beings ever really—without qualification—responsible for their actions? Are they ever really morally (and not just causally) responsible for their actions? Are they ever ultimately responsible for their actions? Are they ever ultimately morally responsible for them? Are they ever responsible for their actions in such a way that they are, without any sort of qualification, morally deserving of praise or blame or punishment or reward for them?
This question, with its various strengths, is the only really troublesome question when it comes to the problem of free will, and it is the only one I will consider here. The difficulty with it is simple and well known: there appear to be powerful reasons for answering yes and powerful reasons for answering no. One might say that there are frames in which the answer is yes and frames in which the answer is no. I want to draw attention to the fundamental frame in which the answer is no. The point I have to make is old and simple and a priori and I will articulate it in more than one way, as a kind of exercise.
There are also powerful a posteriori reasons for answering no. No seems unavoidable if Einstein's theory of special relativity is anything close to correct, for example—a fact little discussed in recent debate about free will. Einstein reckoned that “a Being endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, would smile about man's illusion that he was acting according to his own free will. ” 1 Here, however, I will stick to the a priori point.
Being a priori, it holds good whether determinism is true or false: the issue of determinism is irrelevant to the present discussion. 2 For the record,
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Publication information: Book title: The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Contributors: Robert Kane - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2003. Page number: 441.
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