Deep Control: Essays on Free Will and Value

Deep Control: Essays on Free Will and Value

Deep Control: Essays on Free Will and Value

Deep Control: Essays on Free Will and Value


In this collection of essays -- a follow up to My Way and Our Stories -- John Martin Fischer defends the contention that moral responsibility is associated with "deep control". Fischer defines deep control as the middle ground between two untenable extreme positions: "superficial control" and "total control".

Our freedom consists of the power to add to the given past, holding fixed the laws of nature, and therefore, Fischer contends, we must be able to interpret our actions as extensions of a line that represents the actual past. In "connecting the dots", we engage in a distinctive sort of self-expression. In the first group of essays in this volume, Fischer argues that we do not need genuine access to alterative possibilities in order to be morally responsible. Thus, the line need not branch off at crucial points (where the branches represent genuine metaphysical possibilities). In the remaining essays in the collection he demonstrates that deep control is the freedom condition on moral responsibility. In so arguing, Fischer contends that total control is too much to ask--it is a form of "metaphysical megalomania". So we do not need to "trace back" all the way to the beginning of the line (or even farther) in seeking the relevant kind of freedom or control. Additionally, he contends that various kinds of "superficial control"--such as versions of "conditional freedom" and "judgment-sensitivity" are too shallow; they don't trace back far enough along the line. In short, Fischer argues that, in seeking the freedom that grounds moral responsibility, we need to carve out a middle ground between superficiality and excessive penetration. Deep Control is the "middle way".

Fischer presents a new argument that deep control is compatible not just with causal determinism, but also causal indeterminism. He thus tackles the luck problem and shows that the solution to this problem is parallel in important ways to the considerations in favor of the compatibility of causal determinism and moral responsibility.


In work over the last three decades I have sought to present what I have called a “general framework for moral responsibility.” In this introductory essay, I shall sketch some of the leading ideas in my overall framework and draw out a few implications. I hope that this will help to situate the essays in the current volume within a larger context. I shall also highlight some of the important themes I address in this book.

I. A Framework for Moral Responsibility


The framework I have presented for moral responsibility involves a portfolio of different ideas in a certain arrangement. I start by presenting some basic “motivating ideas”—some considerations that render my overall approach attractive. Perhaps the key idea here stems from the appeal of a certain sort of “resiliency.” I believe that our fundamental status as agents—our being deeply different from mere nonhuman animals insofar as we engage in practical reasoning and are morally responsible for

See John Martin Fischer, The Metaphysics of Free Will: An Essay on Control (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994); My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); and Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death, and Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008). Also see John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza, Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998) and John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, Derk Pereboom, and Manuel Vargas, Four Views on Free Will (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2007).

The material in the first two sections of this essay is a lightly revised version of John Martin Fischer, “Precis of My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility” (part of a book symposium on My Way) Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 80 (2010): 229–241. I am deeply thankful to Patrick Todd, Neal Tognazzini, and Justin Coates for extremely helpful comments on previous versions of this essay.

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