Summarize and Critically Evaluate Galen Strawson’s View That Free Will and Moral Responsibility Are Impossible. Does Being Truly Free and Responsible Require the Kind of Self-Creation That Strawson Says It Requires?
It is a topic in metaphysics and ethics as much as in the philosophy of mind. Its central questions are ‘What is it to act (or choose) freely?’, and ‘What is it to be morally responsible for one’s actions (or choices)?’ These two questions are closely connected, for it seems clear that freedom of action is a necessary condition of moral responsibility, even if it is not sufficient.
Some moral responsibility skeptics wholly reject this notion of moral responsibility because they believe it to be incoherent or impossible. Others maintain that, though possible, our best philosophical and scientific theories about the world provide strong and compelling reasons for adopting skepticism about moral responsibility. What all varieties of moral responsibility skepticism share, however, is the belief that the justification needed to ground basic desert moral responsibility and the practices associated with it—such as backward-looking praise and blame, punishment and reward (including retributive punishment), and the reactive attitudes of resentment and indignation—is not met. Versions of moral responsibility skepticism have historically been defended. Critics of these views tend to focus both on the arguments for skepticism about moral responsibility and on the implications of such views. They worry that adopting such a view would have dire consequences for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law. They fear, for instance, that relinquishing belief in moral responsibility would undermine morality, leave us unable to adequately deal with criminal behavior, increase anti-social conduct, and destroy meaning in life.
Moral responsibility should also be distinguished from causal responsibility. Causation is a complicated topic, but it is often fairly clear that a person is causally responsible for—that is, she is the (or a) salient cause of—some occurrence or outcome. However, the powers and capacities that are required for moral responsibility are not identical with an agent’s causal powers, so we cannot infer moral responsibility from an assignment of causal responsibility. Young children, for example, can cause outcomes while failing to fulfill the requirements for general moral responsibility, in which case it will not be appropriate to judge them morally responsible for, or to hold them morally responsible for, the outcomes for which they may be causally responsible.
The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become truly or ultimately morally responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions.
Clarke, Randolph, 2003, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will, New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/019515987X.001.0001
Strawson, P. F., 1962 , “Freedom and Resentment”, in Proceedings of the British Academy, 48: 1–25. Reprinted Fischer and Ravizza 1993b: 45–66.
Talbert, Matthew, 2012, “Moral Competence, Moral Blame, and Protest”, The Journal of Ethics, 16(1): 89–109. doi:10.1007/s10892-011-9112-4