Are there limits to philosophical method as a way of rationally adjudicating disputes? One thought is that such limits are illustrated by several disputes within the free will debate. For a first, manipulation cases are designed by incompatibilists to sway intuitions in a dialectical situation in which prior reasoning has not broken a standoff between compatibilists and incompatibilists. The incompatibilist can hope that intuitions about such cases will generally go her way. She can bolster her case by arguing, for instance, that it’s inappropriate to privilege intuitions about ordinary cases that don’t involve manipulation. But she cannot justify the claim that when in the end the compatibilist’s intuitions don’t conform to hers, he is irrational. One plausible diagnosis is that for the compatibilist, reflective equilibrium involves affirming responsibility in any properly constructed manipulation case (one in which all of the defensible compatibilist conditions on responsibility are satisfied) and retaining responsibility in the ordinary deterministic case, while for the incompatibilist reflective equilibrium goes the other way, denying responsibility all the cases instead.
Another illustration involves a move the leeway theorist can make against Frankfurt examples. As I see it, in a good Frankfurt example there will be a trigger for intervention whose occurrence the agent could have but does not cause. It’s open to the Frankfurt-defender (e.g., Widerker 2006) to argue that the agent’s moral responsibility is derivative of his responsibility for not causing the occurrence of the trigger. I’ve argued that invoking derivative responsibility at this point is suspect because the good Frankfurt example differs relevantly from the paradigms of derivative responsibility, in which the agent knowingly makes it the case that he will not satisfy uncontroversial conditions on responsibility, and he foresees that he might then perform the action at issue. But the intuition that an agent can only be blameworthy if she has an exempting alternative is strong. For many, it might be so strong that reflective equilibrium involves retaining this intuition and affirming that the agent in the Frankfurt example is only derivatively responsible despite the departure from the paradigm case. But for many others, reflective equilibrium involves going Frankfurt’s way instead.
Are we stuck at this point? One option for manipulation cases is for the compatibilist to claim that the incompatibilist needs to provide an additional argument that the agent is not morally responsible in the manipulation case, or for the incompatibilist to contend that the compatibilist needs to provide an additional argument that the agent is morally responsible in the manipulation case. But ex hypothesi, the point of such examples is to adjudicate philosophical standoffs just by intuitions about cases, and if the intuitions aren’t forthcoming, the standoff remains in place. And in addition, I’m thinking that the only way philosophy provides for adjudicating standoffs in these kinds of situations is by intuitions about cases. So if the hoped-for intuition isn’t generated in the best sorts of cases, or if it will always be swamped in the process of reaching reflective equilibrium, it seems that philosophy has reached its limits for adjudication, and we need to live with philosophically irresolvable disputes. Is this right?