A recent correspondence with the always thoughtful Justin Capes made me reflect on the options for those who would like to sidestep the compatibility debate. One way to sidestep the compatibility debate is to just declare that one’s allegiance and move on. But that’s not so much a side-stepping as a taking a side. So what other options are there?
Here are the two options that came up in our conversation:
- Agnostic Autonomism: This is the well known view of Al Mele’s on which one is agnostic about the compatibility debate, but on which one judges that it is more plausible that we have responsibility than not, so one goes on to offer both a libertarian theory and a compatibilist (success) theory.
- Independent Justification Thesis (+ semantic agnosticism): Semantic agnosticism (which maybe should have been called “referential agnosticism”) is the considerably less well known view on which one is agnostic about whether terms like ‘free will’ and ‘moral responsibility’ have incompatibilist reference-fixing elements. By itself, semantic agnosticism doesn’t allow one to sidestep the compatibility debate. The core of the sidestep move is an appeal to the independent justification thesis, i.e., the view that whatever the reference-fixing content is for these terms, the practices, attitudes, and inferences characteristic of responsibility can be justified on grounds independent of those typically regarded as at stake in incompatibility debates (e.g., whether we have libertarian agency). [Analogs here include things like talk or race, marriage, and folk psychology—lots of folks think there is good reason to continue to think it is worthwhile to have organizations like the NAACP, spousal health insurance coverage, and talk about depression, despite the dubious status of things like biological race, marriage as property exchange, and the predictive status of folk psychology.] On this view, whether we call our theory “a theory of responsibility” or “a theory of responsibility*” doesn’t matter so much as the practical consequences are unaffected. So long as we can more or less keep blaming as we have been, and attributing forms of agency sufficient to support such practices, the incompatibility debate is mostly inert, except for bookkeeping purposes.
Agnostic Autonomism (AA) has the advantage of preserving our commitment to our being responsible but requires multiple ontologies of agency. If one doesn’t find both accounts plausible, it looks like it is still going to matter how the compatibility debate turns out.
The Independent Justification Thesis (IJT) has the advantage of a single picture about our practical commitments, with theoretical commitments that vary (or, perhaps more accurately, are “translated” or “framed” differently) depending on how the reference question sorts out. But that also means more weight on the question of just how much our practices and attitudes can be captured by the independent justification. So, whatever one’s story is about the independent justification (whether consequentialist, contractualist, virtue theoretic, or what have you), it better be good.
Another strategy would be to deny that the compatibility debate as ordinarily understood is coherent or well-rendered. I take it that something like this is the idea behind Ted Honderich’s view, and Saul Smilansky’s “fundamental dualism,” about which there is more discussion here.
Are there other strategies out there? What do you think about these strategies? Are there reasons to favor one over another? Is the compatibility debate sufficiently mined that it is (dialectically, philosophically, otherwise) useful to try to sidestep compatibility issues?