[Thanks to Kelly for the guest post. And thanks to everyone who joined in—don't let this post preclude you from continuing the discussion on the prior post.]
How big a disagreement does the hard incompatibilist need to have with other folks in order to actually have a real position, as opposed to having just articulated a parameter that most of us can work around? (In what follows I'm primarily interested in moral responsibility; mileage may vary if you focus on various notions of free will.)
I take it that the intro course version of the "no-free will/no moral responsibility" view is usually presented as a view with dramatic consequences. (There is inevitably at least one student who is an enthusiastic proponent of the view, declaring that “No one is ever responsible! No can be blamed for what they do! It is false than anyone ever deserves blames!”). And, I take it that the citation data I mentioned earlier (see also Eddy’s numbers in the comments) strongly suggests that “no free will/no MR” views are generally regarded as indisputably Big Deals.
However, one of the intriguing features about many real world hard incompatibilist views is how much they are prepared to step away from the crude “everything goes!” picture suggested by That Student. For example, El Pereboom has been very careful to insist that the kind or form of responsibility he thinks we don’t have is of the “basic desert” variety* and he seems prepared to grant that there are pretty substantial non-basic desert bases for practices in place. Similarly, although Galen Strawson is famously identified with hard incompatibilism, his view has an interesting accommodation of compatibilism in various forms. And, of course, Saul Smilansky and Ted Honderich have, in different ways, argued for partial accommodations of some compatibilist dimensions of our existing practices. Finally, even plenty of libertarians are prepared to acknowledge that large swaths of responsibility practices would remain intact even if we lacked libertarian agency (Bob Kane and Dan Speak, among others, have been explicit about this).
So here’s the rub: As grounds for a distinctive view, one deserving an airing in the inevitable “here are the basic options in the literature” lectures, would the discovery that 5% of our practices is normatively and/or metaphysically indefensible be a position rather than simply a parameter on what we expect accounts to deliver?
I’m inclined to think that almost all of us are committed to thinking it is the latter. In what follows, I say why, focusing on the moral responsibility axis of the discussion.
I think most of us can accept the premises that drive the following argument.
- We've got this range of practices, attitudes, and judgments that are of particular interest to us (call them “responsibility practices, attitudes, judgments”). We tend to just talk about responsibility, but most us recognize that this is just a blanket term for a complex network of attitudes, practices, and judgments with variegated features. (This is why our literature is infested with talk about "senses" of responsibility.)
- Here are various ways to think about what licenses them or why they don’t need license (libertarian agency; fairness; cultivation of moral capacities; contractualism; our brute psychology)
- The only way to vindicate everything in our practices, attitudes, and judgments is to adopt views that have specifiable metaphysical costs**; roughly, less metaphysically costly views don't get us everything but the best get us a lot (70%? 80%? 90%?). More metaphysically costly views appear to license higher percentages of our practices and attitudes, but they are costly.
- So, the main issue for theorists in this domain is not whether skeptical views, as such, can be defeated. Instead, it is whether the additional metaphysics of particular views earns its keep over what we can get with less metaphysically costly views. On this matter, things that skeptics worry about (the implausibility of various forms of agency) does work. However, the work it does is not an all-or-nothing manner. Instead, it is a matter of which practices, which attitudes, and which judgments can be vindicated with which metaphysics.
If you find that this is an attractive way to think about things, notice that hard incompatibilism has dropped out of the picture as a distinctive position. That is, hard incompatibilism is just assimilated into more finely-specified views about what can and can't be gotten by various forms of agency. So, it seems to me, if we take sophisticated skeptics at their word, then hard incompatibilism isn't really a class of views about free will and/or moral responsibility so much as it is a description of parameters for which metaphysics come with which costs.
The most obvious way to resist this line of thinking is, to my mind, to argue that metaphysically costly views (say, agent causation) are required to get really big chunks of our practices, attitudes, and judgments. But that requires showing that the various alternatives don’t work, and anyway, as I noted at the outset, many responsibility skeptics seem prepared to admit that big chunks of ordinary practice will be left unaffected by their skepticism. A different way to carve out distinctive space for responsibility skeptics is to adopt the view that even if responsibility is in some sense mostly defensible, we are better off without it. (Derk talks this way sometimes, and maybe Neil?). This strikes me as a rather different view than skeptics are ordinarily understood as having, for it does not so much deny the existence of responsibility, but instead, its desirability. Still, it seems like an interesting potential rejoinder to the argument I've offered above.
So, how much of our practices, attitudes, and judgments do various responsibility skeptic views really rule out, and how much do they have to rule out to be substantive positions, rather than parameters for our accounts?
* There are lots of interesting questions to ask about basic desert. Is it a view about how we think about responsibility or the truth-makers of responsibility ascriptions? Does it matter if it turns out as an empirical feature of ordinary responsibility practices and ascriptions that desert ascriptions are “thin” or largely silent on the basis for desert? I try to sort out some of those issues in chapter 8 of Building Better Beings, so I won’t re-hash those thoughts here.
** Let’s bracket one possibility, that views that are intuitively more metaphysically costly (agent causation, event-causal libertarianism) aren’t in fact more costly than intuitively less costly views (compatibilism). I recognize that there are metaphysics on which this truism is mistaken.