Thanks to Thomas for this chance to discuss free will with all of you -- I'm looking forward to your contributions.
I’ve been arguing that the question at the core of the historical free will controversy is whether we have the kind of control required to be morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense. (For an agent to be morally responsible for an action in this sense is for it to be hers in such a way that she would deserve to be blamed if she understood that it was morally wrong, and she would deserve to be praised if she understood that it was morally exemplary, and the desert is basic because the agent would deserve to be blamed or praised just for the reason that she has performed the action, given an understanding of its moral statues, and not, for example, merely for consequentialist or contractualist reasons.) But this hypothesis has been challenged recently by several of you, including Manuel Vargas (Book 2013) and Michael McKenna (Article 2013). One objection is that the control required for desert-involving, but not necessarily basic-desert involving responsibility is what lies at the core of the debate.
I want to resist this, for the following reason. Consider a conception of moral responsibility that’s as close to the basic desert notion as it can be, but actually rejects basic desert: We retain our unrevised ordinary moral responsibility practice, the one that includes basic desert suppositions and justifications, and this practice is morally justified solely on the ground that of all the competing practices possible for us it’s the one that does best at realizing the relevant good consequences. The underlying ethical theory might be thought of as practice-consequentialism, and the moral justification is exclusively forward-looking because the practice is justified solely by forward-looking reasons. Manuel may be open to this sort of position.
I say that this position isn’t one that’s at issue in the historical debate, because on this view justifications for blaming and praising are exclusively forward-looking, and the traditional incompatibilist has no quarrel with the compatibility of an action’s causal determination by factors beyond the agent’s control and forward-looking justifications for blaming and praising. And this is because incompatibilists haven’t seen any incompatibility between an action’s causal determination and the agent being appropriately subject to measures that aim at goods like moral formation, protection, and reconciliation. The incompatibilist might well want to resist such a consequentialist justification of our ordinary practice of holding morally responsible, or any relevantly similar ‘government house” consequentialist justification of the ordinary practice, and I’m one of those incompatibilists. But this would for ethical and/or empirical reasons that are independent of the threat to control (or the threat posed by luck) that results from causal determination or from indeterminacy in action.
So I conclude that we’ve been fighting about whether we have the kind of control required for basic-desert moral responsibility. (Well, OK -- maybe this isn't quite the whole story – there’s another incompatibilist strand, one that Dana Nelkin addresses in her book (2011), that relies on a link between blameworthiness and obligation, and justifies a challenge from determinism by way of the ‘ought implies can’ principle. But I’ll leave that for another post.)
Agree or disagree?