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Hi Gregg,

I wonder if you are recommending we abandon backward-looking considerations of moral desert completely, or if you would be alright with the idea of reducing moral anger and overly strong retributive notions so as to apply just the *right* amount of retributive sentiment? It is possible to abandon Just World beliefs and still be retributive, correct? That is, I know the world is unfair and that situational factors play a huge role in creating a serial killer, but I still feel a justified level of retributive sentiment toward JW Gacy.

Obviously, one of the main worries about throwing out retribution as a principle of punishment is that we may lose our primary means to ensure punishment is proportional (to the harm caused and the type of agent). Do you think that a single or some combination of forward-looking considerations (deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation) can generate a clean schema of incremental punishments? If yes, which one(s)?

Thanks Gregg, music to my ears! You say:

"It’s my proposal that we do away with the pernicious belief in free will—and with it the myth of the “rugged individual,” the “self-made man,” the causa sui. If what I have argued here is correct, the concepts of free will and desert-based moral responsibility are intimately connected with a number of other potentially harmful beliefs—e.g., just world belief (JWB) and right wing authoritarianism (RWA). It’s time that we leave these antiquated notions behind, lose our moral anger, stop blaming the victim, and turn our attention to the difficult task of addressing the causes that lead to criminality, poverty, wealth-inequality, and educational inequity."

Compatibilists don't believe in the causa sui, but do believe we have free will and thus are morally responsible in the basic desert sense. My perception is that, overall, they are more punitive than free will skeptics, perhaps because they think punishment is deserved independently of any consequentialist considerations. But we'd need data to confirm that hypothesis.

As someone who is very conservative, but who has always been attracted to free will eliminativism, I am torn about this post.

Much of the work here seems to argue:

A. if we stop believing in free will, then we will punish less
B. so this would be a good thing!


A. if we stop believing in free will, then we will be more liberal
B. so this would be a good thing!

If you actually believe that the world has too much punishment, rather than too little, then you might agree. Similarly, if you're politically liberal, or find yourself embedded in an academic/metropolitan culture and social network that is overwhelmingly liberal, then you might agree.

But neither of those conclusions is obvious to me.

One key thing to remember is that free will believers, and free will eliminativists, can both enthusiastically endorse punishment for consequentialist reasons. In other words, even a skeptic like me and Pereboom can endorse punishment without any talk of rights, duties, rules, or desert.

In view of the above, a skeptic can't just point to less punishment, and say "that's a good thing." I'm pretty confident that a world with no punishment, in the criminal justice sense, would be horrible. Maybe 100-200 years from now we will have crime prediction and prevention technologies to eliminate punishment, but we are nowhere close to that. We *still* need a *lot* of punishment.

At best (for Gregg's argument), we simply have no practical way to calculate what the optimum level of punishment is and compare it against the current rate - so we have no idea if we need more punishment or less. So it is alarming to hear anyone (fw skeptic or believer) suggest that less punishment is per se good.

The most interesting part of this research, I think, is the confirmation that fw believers fall victim to JWB bias. This goes beyond saying "fw believers punish less and are more conservative" (which leaves open the question how good/bad that is), and instead actually points to errors and illusions in the fw believer's epistemic rationality. I predicted this years ago when I first suggested that JWB supports the illusion of free will. My only concern here is that: I bet a free will defender like Dennett could come up with a test that identifies blind spots in the skeptic's epistemic rationality.

I'm reminded of this story from Steven Pinker:

"As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin's anarchism. I laughed off my parents' argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 A.M. on October 17, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike... This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist)."

Pretending that nobody can do anything wrong, and that nobody should be punished for anything, is a recipe for being invaded, conquered, exploited, and victimized. The saying "free will doesn't exist" might have some truth in a Platonic, theoretical realm. But, in terms of practical political consequences, it can be quite dangerous.

Katrina, great questions--they get directly to the heart of the matter! As a free will skeptic I do believe that backward-looking moral responsibility is unjustified. I maintain that what we do, and the way we are, is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the *basic desert* sense—the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame and praise. This is not to say that there are not other conceptions of responsibility that can be reconciled with determinism, chance, or luck (for example, forward-looking moral responsibility). Nor is it to deny that there may be good pragmatic reasons to maintain certain systems of punishment and reward. Rather, it is to insist that to hold people truly or ultimately morally responsible for their actions—i.e., to hold them responsible in a non-consequentialist desert-based sense—would be to hold them responsible for the results of the morally arbitrary, for what is ultimately beyond their control, which is fundamentally unfair and unjust. I understand your reactive attitudes about JW Gacy but I do not believe that they justify basic desert MR.

Your write: "one of the main worries about throwing out retribution as a principle of punishment is that we may lose our primary means to ensure punishment is proportional (to the harm caused and the type of agent)." I understand this concern but I don't think it's legitimate. Bruce Waller has done a great job responding to this type of concern (see his latest book). As Bruce points out, belief in moral responsibility does not occur in a vacuum. It is part of a larger cultural matrix, and if we want to examine the social effects of that belief then we must examine the moral responsibility belief within its larger cultural system. Empirically speaking, does belief in just deserts and retributive justice "ensure punishment is proportional"? I would argue that it does not. In fact, in states and countries with higher levels of commitment to belief in FW and MR, I think we find the exact opposite. Of course this is an empirical question and one that needs careful examination. I venture to bet, however, that *in practice* we would find the opposite of what defenders of backwards-look MR would expect. I understand the theoretical concerns but we should not avoid how these things work themselves out in practice. (Maybe Bruce want to jump in here ;)

Tom, thanks for the supportive comments! Much appreciated. Compatibilists, by maintaining basic desert MR, are (I believe) unintentionally defending an unjust status quo. Moral responsibility practices (in the basic desert sense) are counterproductive from a practical and humanitarian standpoint—notably in how they stifle personal development, encourage punitive excess in criminal justice, and perpetuate social and economic inequalities. If we did away with the blame perhaps it would allow us to look more clearly at the systems and causes that shape individuals and their behavior.

I wonder whether there's a false dichotomy employed here. I am a compatibilist. I believe individuals can be responsible in the basic desert sense. This implies only, I think, that the blameworthy deserve blame. It seems to me a further question whether anyone deserves punishment.

Maybe there's more than one false dichotomy here, actually. I also don't believe the world is just. And I don't think victim's should be blamed for the wrongs that befall them. And I also think we should "turn our attention to the difficult task of addressing the causes that lead to criminality, poverty, wealth-inequality, and educational inequity". But I don't think that commits me to denying moral responsibility in the basic desert sense.

So I don't see how "Compatibilists, by maintaining basic desert MR, are (I believe) unintentionally defending an unjust status quo."

Kip, great comments and good points! You write: "even a skeptic like me and Pereboom can endorse punishment without any talk of rights, duties, rules, or desert." I totally agree! I endorse Pereboom's views as you do. Note, though, that Pereboom's quarantine analogy does not allow for any more punishment than is necessary. Free will skepticism leaves intact ways to respond to criminal behavior, in particular preventive detention, rehabilitation, and alteration of relevant social conditions. Of course, retributive punishment is incompatible with free will skepticism because it maintains that punishment of a wrongdoer is justified for the reason that he deserves something bad to happen to him just because he has knowingly done wrong—this could include pain, deprivation, or death. For the retributivist, it is the basic desert attached to the criminal’s immoral action alone that provides the justification for punishment. This means that the retributivist position is not reducible to consequentialist considerations nor does it appeal to a good such as the safety of society, or the moral improvement of the criminal in justifying punishment.

As Pereboom describes his quarantine analogy:

"The free will skeptic claims that criminals are not morally responsible for their actions in the basic desert sense. Plainly, many carriers of dangerous diseases are not responsible in this or in any sense for having contracted these diseases. We generally agree that it is sometimes permissible to quarantine them nevertheless. But then, even if a dangerous criminal is not morally responsible for his crimes in the basic desert sense (perhaps because no one is ever in this way morally responsible) it could be as legitimate to preventatively detain him as to quarantine the non-responsible carrier of a serious communicable disease." (156)

Furthermore, this analogy places several constraints on the treatment of criminals.

"…as less dangerous diseases justify only preventative measures less restrictive than quarantine, so less dangerous criminal tendencies justify only more moderate restraints. In addition, the incapacitation account that results from this analogy demands a degree of concern for the rehabilitation and well-being of the criminal that would alter much of current practice. Just as fairness recommends that we seek to cure the diseased we quarantine, so fairness would counsel that we attempt to rehabilitate the criminals we detain (cf. D’Angelo 1968: 56-9). If a criminal cannot be rehabilitated, and our safety requires his indefinite confinement, this account provides no justification for making his life more miserable than would be required to guard against the danger he poses. Finally, there are measures for preventing crime more generally, such as providing for adequate education and mental health care, which the free will skeptic can readily endorse." (156)

This is Pereboom’s incapacitation account and it provides a more resilient proposal for justifying treatment of criminals than either the moral education or deterrence theories of criminal punishment. At the moment, I would endorse something like the above view.

I'm glad we agree on the JWB connection. I think it's important stuff and I'm glad to see it finally getting some attention. (BTW, I think compatibilists may also be unconsciously taken by something like JWB in the so-called plateau argument--the belief that, although we do not begin with equal starting points in life, and luck plays a big role in who we are and how we turn out, we all reach a plateau where we can all be held equally blameworthy for our actions. Waller does a great job spelling out the possible connection with JWB here in his *Against MR*)

Thanks Matt. Conceptually you are right that blame and punishment are theoretically separate. The empirical studies, however, suggest that there *is* an empirical connection between belief in free will and increased punitiveness. Since I am here concerned with how things manifest themselves in actual practice, it is this connection I am focusing on. Sure it's possible for you to believe in just deserts and retributivism but *also* be in favor of prison reform, opposed to solitary confinement and the death penalty, etc. Practically speaking, though, I think defending basic desert and the moral responsibility system (as Waller calls it) often prevents us from focusing more clearly and directly on the systemic causes of criminality, wealth inequality, etc. Especially when some compatibilists argue that there is plateau of MR. Acknowledging that we don't all have equal starting points is great, but if you then go on to say that ultimately that is irrelevant for MR since we reach a plateau where all normal/competent agents are equally morally responsible, it would seem to me that you are only giving lip service to that acknowledge.


To piggyback on Katrina's question just a little bit, I wonder whether your response to her query really gets at the heart of the worry. Isn't the worry really about the *reasons* for ensuring proportional punishment? If we gave up on retributive justifications for punishment entirely, what reason do we have to see to it that punishment is proportional (to the harm caused and the type of agent)? I don't see that your response to Katrina addresses this question.

Justin, I was trying to point out that (as a matter of empirical fact) belief in just deserts and retributive justice does not itself ensure punishment is proportional. I think the empirical question is relevant to the debate since the practical concern is often that adopting the skeptical perspective would lead to excessive punishment. I believe things are probably the other way around. Belief in free will is relatively strong in the United States, yet with only 5% of the world's population we house 25% of the world's prisoners. This seems anything but proportional. One could go deeper and look at individual states where belief in free will is strongest and see if we find more or less proportional punishment. Lets look at this empirically...I'm open to being corrected by empirical data.

That said, your question is not an empirical one but a philosophical one. You want to know what *reasons* FW skeptics would have for ensuring proportional punishment. To answer that, though, we first need to decide what counts as "proportional punishment." If I don't believe anyone deserves backwards-looking blame, my answer will clearly be different than yours. I think what is proportional and fair is what could be justified on Pereboom's quarantine model, nothing more. I'm open to considering other accounts of punishment consistent with free will skepticism but at the moment I lean towards Pereboom's account. (I'm starting to think I may want to expand all of this into another book. Clearly there are plenty of practical objections to FW skepticism that still need to be addressed ;)

The Vohs/Schooler/Masicampo findings have proven very hard to replicate. Schooler et al. are commendably honest about this in their contribution to Al Mele's "Surrounding Free Will", Further, the effects seem specific to the Crick passage, not denying free will per se.

A quick note about the proportionality constraint on punishment often lauded by retributivists as a virtue of their view (and a problem for consequentialist theories): While it's true that the retributivist focuses on desert in a way that the consequentialist does not when it comes to meting out punishment, I don't see why desert is nearly always viewed as the only ground for a proportionality constraint. Take, for instance, Bentham's work on punishment. On his view, there are four cases "unmeet" for punishment: (a) when it is groundless, (b) when it is inefficacious, (c) when it is unprofitable or too expensive, and (d) where it is needless.

In my eyes, if these constraints are taken seriously, they will collectively serve to make it more likely that punishments are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense. After all, when the punishment doesn't fit the crime--in terms of seriousness/harshness, not in terms of desert--the punishment is more likely to be unprofitable and/or needless. Just because the consequentialist doesn't think desert needs to serve as a side constraint, it doesn't follow that there is no role for proportionality to play. So, just because I reject basic desert, it doesn't mean I must reject the importance of making sure the severity of the punishment matches the severity of the crime. I can say more about this if anyone is interested. For now, I just wanted to highlight what I take to be a common mistake in the literature on punishment--namely, the assumption that if one doesn't have a desert constraint, one can't have a proportionality constraint. This seems false, at least to me...

Neil, thanks for mentioning that! Yes, I wish people would stop wheeling out the Vohs/Schooler/Masicampo findings as if they were somehow "proof" of the anti-social consequences of disbelief in free will. As you point out, there have been problems replicating those findings. And as I pointed out, they seem to be priming the wrong thing, there are alternative explanations for the findings, and they say nothing about the long-terms affects of disbelief.

Thomas, I agree one hundred percent! Thanks for saying that better than I could have.

This is a great topic for us to discuss here, since it is where the rubber hits the road... and where the bridges are likely to be burnt (but maybe some can be built?). Thanks Gregg. I will make 3 points as quickly as I can.

1. In addition to the proportionality issue raised by Katrina, there's another concern that I have not seen skeptics address sufficiently. Optimistic skeptics present their view as more humane and compassionate than other views, including compatibilism. But it's not obviously so. After all, it suggests that wrongdoers are broken machines that need to be fixed, and in addition to that view risking dehumanization (in the ways dramatized in some fiction and film), it also risks some potentially draconian punishments and treatments. I say this in full recognition that our current system in the US sucks. But I suspect that a 'cagey compatibilist' view that says we have varying degrees of FW (and hence MR) can best moderate our overly retributive practices while avoiding the slide to dehumanization, one which skeptics also work to avoid (e.g., with the quarantine model and the analogous reactive attitudes, etc.). Perhaps there are bridges to be built here, paving over what ends up being largely semantic differences (see 3).

2. Regarding the Vohs/Schooler/Baumeister findings, Neil is right that (in work Thomas and I did with the first two) the effects don't always replicate and they only seem to work with the over-the-top primes that suggest all kinds of threats to agency--no one has shown that telling people they lack just what philosophical (not scientific!) skeptics say they lack and nothing more has any bad effects on behavior or sense of meaning, etc. (In fairness we haven't yet seen whether the 'converse' effects are robust, and some use the same sorts of primes--e.g., the reduction in punishment studies get many of their effects by priming people with reductionism/bypassing or other threats to compatibilist agency.)

But related to my other two points, the worry is that it may be hard to get people to drop just their belief in 'basic desert' while also holding on to their more robust beliefs about the sort of agency we do have, at least to some degree. Telling them free will is an illusion, I think, leads them to think they lack what they think free will is--i.e., the capacities to deliberate rationally, make choices among future options they represent consciously, exert self-control, etc. Getting people to think they lack that stuff is likely to have some bad effects if it leads them to exercise those capacities less fully. (See my paper "Why 'Willusionism' Leads to Bad Effects.") We do not want people to be told determinism is true or you lack free will and interpret it to mean bypassing.

3. From whence comes this notion of FW and MR in the 'basic desert' sense, the one that seems to require impossible self-creation? What's the genealogy of the concept among the folk (in which cultures?), because it seems to me it's a pretty rich metaphysical demand that doesn't just drop out of our phenomenology or our practices. It seems to me it comes from theology and philosophy. I don't see ordinary people giving up on desert, backwards-looking responsibility, or retribution, much less Strawsonian attitudes, just because you convince them we are not self-creating beings. But I may be on the wrong side of the bridge...

I still don't think I'm quite getting it. Let's all agree that belief in a just world can have very unjust implications. But I'd, at least, want to make one distinction among the cited group: "...blaming those in poverty for their own circumstances, viewing criminals as “deserving what they get,” labeling those on welfare as “lazy” and “mooches,” and blaming educational inequity on the parents and children themselves".

Yes, it's wrong to blame victims (broadly construed), in large part because it involves a mistake. It isn't their fault. But one might rightly think that criminals do deserve what they get, at least in broad strokes. That is, victim blaming is always wrong, but not all criminal punishing. Obviously, if one is a MR skeptic, then there is a mistake here. But it looks to be a mistake of a different kind, since it's at least possible for criminals to be MR for what they do.

I won't deny that there is a higher correlation in just world belief in the US, and we certainly incarcerate at an astonishing rate. But there are a lot of causes for this. We punish for far too many things, take certain crimes to be worse offenses than they are, and routinely adopt mandatory sentencing guidelines that force sentences regardless of circumstances. We also do little to combat the societal conditions that make criminal activity attractive, and we have very poor social services for the mentally ill.

I agree we need criminal punishment reform (as well as broader reform of social conditions). I don't see why targeting beliefs about free will is a necessary or even the best way to go about doing that.

Thomas: You might be right that when the constraints you mention "are taken seriously, they will collectively serve to make it more likely that punishments are proportionate to the seriousness of the offense." But then again there might be cases in which a punishment is, say, necessary, an effective deterrent, and relatively easy and cheap to carry out. In a case like that, Bentham's constraints are met. What is to prevent the punishment from being excessive? The retributivist has a ready answer, of course, and perhaps a version of the quarantine model that embraces certain retributivist side constraints does, as well. But a pure deterrence theory seems at a loss in these scenarios.

A bit more concerning proportionality of punishment that somewhat speaks to Edddy's 3rd point:

Attributions of desert are pretty clearly based in reactive dispositions that track the seriousness of the infraction and the degree of intentional malevolence: as these increase so does the emotional response and disposition to strike back. This hard-wired graded reactivity no doubt reflects the kind of Benthamite considerations Thomas mentions above, but as unappreciated, unconscious rationales (as Dennett would put it) that natural selection discovered for us as a social species. We needed to maintain social norms, and deter aggressors and cheaters, but without unnecessarily damaging or alienating wrong-doers and their families, since they might be needed as allies on future occasions. Hence the psychology of proportional desert – a kind of natural consequentialism with tribal cohesion as its goal.

Arguing that we should act on retributive emotions *independent* of what punishment accomplishes in terms of social utility is a perversion of this natural consequentialism. It’s a triumph of the emotions themselves, since emotions patently don’t care about consequences, they just want action. And, not surprisingly, supplying non-consequentialist justifications (like basic desert MR) for acting on our retributive inclinations helps to amplify their expression beyond what’s socially beneficial. Whereas signing on to an all-things-considered consequentialism, in which autonomy rights are factored in as essential benefits to be secured, will help keep their expression in check.

Eddy, I agree that this is where the rubber really meets the road! ....and perhaps where bridges get burned to the ground ;)

I'll take your points out of order. Thank you for sharing the difficulties you and Thomas have had in replicating the Vohs/Schooler/Baumeister findings. I wish those failures to replicate made it into the literature. Perhaps it would tamper the enthusiasm some have had for that study...I have seen everyone from Dennett to Mele cite that study without mentioning it's potential flaws. (I think Al discusses it in the PhilTV episode you guys did.)

You go on to say, "the worry is that it may be hard to get people to drop just their belief in 'basic desert' while also holding on to their more robust beliefs about the sort of agency we do have, at least to some degree." I understand your concern, that is why it is very important for free Will skeptics to be clear about what they are denying and what they are *not* denying. I think philosophical skeptics also need to counteract some of the more scientific arguments for skepticism that may be feeding into the concerns you have written about. Perhaps there are bridges to be built on that front! I think all this can be accomplished however. I think it would also be helpful if we just eliminate the term free will and used less loaded terms such as degrees of "autonomy" and "control" etc. I think we would find much more agreement if we did so. I doubt this will happen but it would help us avoid sending the wrong "bypassing" message.

Your first point is more substantive. You write, "Optimistic skeptics present their view as more humane and compassionate than other views, including compatibilism. But it's not obviously so. After all, it suggests that wrongdoers are broken machines that need to be fixed, and in addition to that view risking dehumanization (in the ways dramatized in some fiction and film), it also risks some potentially draconian punishments and treatments." I agree that this is a concern that skeptics need to address (further reason for me to write that book I was thinking about doing ;). A number of skeptics have already proposed responses to this concern. Benjamin Vilhaeur, for example, has called this the "people problem"--I.e., how skeptics can avoid treating people as means-to-an-end and instead respect them as people. You should read his proposed answer in my edited collection, it's pretty interesting. He proposed a Kantian approach minus Kants particular commitments to free will. Pereboom and Waller have of course provided different responses. (Perhaps one of them can jump in here and help me out!) I see no reason for thinking that a sophisticated account of free will skepticism should be any more dehumanizing then our current practices! If we were to adopt (say) the quarantine model, we would actually have a duty to treat prisoners far more humanely then we currently do. So much so that Smilansky has called it funishment instead of punishment. Skepticism would also be more humane in that it would focus our attention and resources on the systemic causes of criminality, wealth inequality, etc. Sure compatibilists can favor these policies too but I think they often create an unintended barrer when they defend just deserts and the plateau argument. To acknowledge the importance of luck and the arbitrary lottery of life--and I means acknowledge it as relevant to our moral responsibility practices--would (I believe) lead to more humane policies and practices. Perhaps the best thing to do here is to continue to collect empirical data to see if I am mistaken. (Want to do some studies together?)

As for your last point, I think it is possible for us to adjust our reactive attitudes and modify them in light of philosophical consideration. Didn't you acknowledge in my first post on consciousness that this was possible (at least with regard to internal concerns raised by the consciousness thesis)? Why not think that Pereboom is correct that we can save most of what we want, and those reactive attitudes we cannot save we find replacement attitudes for?

I'm trying all of this on my iPad during a midterm I am administering. Sorry if I left anything out.

Matt, thanks for your comments. You write: "Yes, it's wrong to blame victims (broadly construed), in large part because it involves a mistake. It isn't their fault. But one might rightly think that criminals do deserve what they get, at least in broad strokes. That is, victim blaming is always wrong, but not all criminal punishing. Obviously, if one is a MR skeptic, then there is a mistake here. But it looks to be a mistake of a different kind, since it's at least possible for criminals to be MR for what they do."

I guess I don't see the mistake MR skeptics are making?! It's perfectly consistent for a MR skeptic (and by this I mean a skeptic of basic desert MR) to be in favor of preventive detention and the incarceration of dangerous criminals *without* believing that individuals *deserve* to be punished. Pereboom's quarantine model provides one way of seeing this. Take someone who contracts a dangerous disease for no fault of their own. We would all agree they do not deserve to be punished for contracting the disease, but we would also agree that we were justified in quarantining that individual for the safety of society. Do you not agree?

Justin, I'll let Thomas answer.

Thomas, thanks for the help (once again)!

You know how the President is sometimes accused of being X and Not-X at the same time (sometimes by the same person)...I'm wondering if there is a bit of that going on with objections to FW/MR skepticism. Is it consistent to maintain that MR skepticism will lead to draconian forms of punishment while also believing it will be too soft on criminals, leading to a form of Funishment rather the punishment. Perhaps no one person maintains both objections, but it's interesting how the position has been accused of both. Things that make you go hmmm....

No responses for now. But I wanted to suggest people consider nominations at Daily Nous for best article--it'd be nice to get some on FW/MR/agency on there.

And if you haven't seen it, this is well done:

First, for those interested, Michael Corrado has a very insightful chapter in my volume The Future of Punishment. In his, "Why Do We Resist Hard Incompatibilism? Thoughts on Freedom and Punishment," he tries to address the dehumanization worry--which he calls the "awful outcome." By shifting the focus away from both traditional conceptions of punishment and the quarantine models that would replace them to what he calls "correction," he tries to defuse the awful outcome that has always been at the heart of worries about purely preventive quarantine-style approaches. Others can check out his piece and decide for themselves whether his argument is convincing. I, for one, think he makes a pretty good case.

Second, in response to Justin, I want to hear more about the hypothetical case(s) in question. My suspicion is that the worry on this front is overblown just like the often discussed "problem of punishing the innocent." Once the details are filled in, I can say more. Until then, it's not clear that Bentham's side constraints are all met. You seem to simply want to assume they're met, for the sake of argument, and then further assume the punishment is excessive. But that won't do given that if the punishment really is excessive, it is likely to be needless. Indeed, when punishments are too discordant with the severity of the crime, people will find the punishments unfair/unjust which in turn will undermine people's faith in the law. Under these circumstances, the punishment is too costly and needless after all. That said, I actually prefer preventive models like the one defended by Slobogin to deterrence models like the one defended by Bentham. One virtue of the former over the latter is that they are not as susceptible to the worries you're raising.


You ask, "From whence comes this notion of FW and MR in the 'basic desert' sense, the one that seems to require impossible self-creation?" I am not sure where it comes from--if I had to guess it's based in part on theology and in part on subjective experience--but what I do not know is that when given the chance, the overwhelming majority of people will explicitly agree that we have these powers and capacities. Of course, you know this already. You were part of the study involving the thousands of people who expressed these views. It's not the incompatibilist's job to explain where these views come from. It's your job to explain how it is that the default view is folk compatibilism despite the fact that so many people explicitly agree with libertarian conceptions of agency and responsibility. But we've been around this block before. I, for one, am still waiting for your error theory. For while you have a purported error theory for people's intuitions in response to cases, as far as I know you still don't have one for their responses to the sorts of items we included in our Free Will Inventory. Perhaps now would be a good time for you to put some meat on the bare bones of your "theory lite" hypothesis? :)

In support of Matt's point, it is worth noting that Bruce Waller is moral responsibility sceptic who is not a sceptic about free will. If his position is coherent - and it seems to be - then free will beliefs may not be point to attack. Unfortunately, lots of the x-phi literature on the topic doesn't disentangle free will beliefs and moral responsibility beliefs. It is the folk view that matters here (we're not trying to get the philosophy right; we're asking what would actually happen if ordinary people changed their views). I think we need further evidence before we decide to what extent the folk might side with Bruce (I suspect they don't, but that's just a suspicion).

Neil, point taken. But I find Bruce's preservation of free will a bit confusing--perhaps because I define FW in terms of MR. I'm assuming that the folk also connect the concepts of FW and MR but I guess I could be wrong. One reason to think there is a connection being made is that in the studies cited above there appears to be link between increased belief in FW with increased punitativeness. I guess it could be MR instead of FW that is really being measured here so I too welcome further work which better disambiguates the concepts.

P.S. Neil, perhaps I should just follow the lead of you and Bruce and talk in terms of desert-based MR--since that is my real target anyway. That said, I see the two concepts as standing and falling together. (And I think you do to.)

Gregg and Neil--

My Zombies paper/post last month tries among other things to show that however well we might think basic desert-based LFW is justified in the world pre-Zombies, the rise of the Zombies shifts attention to fair treatment of Zombies as objects of responsibility claims irrespective of what we might think about the FW status of both non-Zombies and Zombies. It's somewhat like Waller's stance, but an opposite conclusion about the fairness of compatibilist responsibility for both groups based on pragmatic grounds.

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