Why is it so strange for philosophers to separate free will from moral responsibility? John Fischer does so; but then, sadly, he takes the wrong turn, and rejects free will while keeping moral responsibility: from my demented perspective, that’s a classic philosophical case of throwing out the baby while keeping the bathwater (though it still seems to me that John continues to give fabulously inventive and instructive arguments that support and elucidate free will). So his misguided allegiance to moral responsibility notwithstanding, John has led the way in arguing that free will and moral responsibility are distinct issues. So why is it that there is such reluctance among philosophers to examine the free will and moral responsibility questions as separate issues? I can understand why some traditional libertarian views (such as Pico della Mirandola’s and C. A. Campbell’s) connect free will with moral responsibility; after all, their accounts of free will are specifically designed to make sense of moral responsibility.
But leaving those aside, why should contemporary compatibilists believe that their free will views must match up with moral responsibility (they certainly make no appeals to contra-causal powers or God-given powers to make ourselves either beastly or godly)? Why shouldn’t we think that Frankfurt’s higher-level reflectiveness is a very important elucidation of free will, but that it fails as an account of moral responsibility? Why shouldn’t we think that various levels of reasoning are very important to a more robust account of free will, but fail as grounds for moral responsibility?
To go even further afield: Why shouldn’t we agree that it is very important to consider alternatives (and they do not have to be mystical contra-causal alternatives) and what they contribute to our enriched understanding of free will (a contribution that Bob Kane makes to the literature) even if we are not convinced that Bob has been successful in establishing grounds for moral responsibility? Or might we agree that Dennett has made a wonderful contribution to our understanding of free will with his emphasis on the psychological importance of “self-making,” and that Manuel Vargas has a most insightful account of the importance to free will of “building better beings,” while being skeptical of the claim that such accounts also support moral responsibility (in the just deserts sense)? For this question I’m not really focusing on whether those free will accounts are or are not successful in supporting moral responsibility; rather, I’m more interested in why it is so rare for philosophers to accept an account of free will (in particular one of the fascinating contemporary compatibilist accounts) while rejecting the view that we also have moral responsibility; or from the other – misguided – direction, accepting an account of moral responsibility while believing we lack an adequate account of free will? That is, why is it so surprising (even incoherent?) to say: I think Frankfurt (or Dennett or Vargas or Nelkin) gives a great account of free will; but I agree with Kane or Shoemaker (or with Pereboom or Levy) when it comes to moral responsibility. Or one might say that Hume and Schlick have it right when it comes to moral responsibility, but Kane has focused on an essential condition for free will (which Hume’s account cannot meet). It seems surprising to me that philosophers don’t mix and match these views on a regular basis. Of course there is a tradition of linking free will with moral responsibility, so that they stand or fall together (a tradition extending from Augustine to Valla, on to Luther and Pico and all the way to Hume and Kant and Campbell and Frankfurt); but surely philosophers are not slaves to tradition. So why shouldn’t we take advantage of the wonderful possibilities of mixing these views?