Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home
  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - Alternative possibilities and causal histories

Summary

TWO INCOMPATIBILIST INTUITIONS

The claim that moral responsibility for an action requires that the agent could have done otherwise is surely attractive. Moreover, it seems reasonable to contend that a requirement of this sort is not merely a necessary condition of little consequence, but that it plays a significant role in explaining why an agent is morally responsible. For if an agent is to be blameworthy for an action, it seems crucial that she could have done something to avoid being blameworthy – that she could have done something to get herself off the hook. If she is to be praiseworthy for an action, it seems important that shecould have done something less admirable. Libertarians have often grounded their incompatibilism precisely in such intuitions. As a result, they have often defended the following principle of alternative possibilities:

(1) An action is free in the sense required for moral responsibility only if the agent could have done otherwise than she actually did.

or a similar principle about choice:

(2) An action is free in the sense required for moral responsibility only if the agent could have chosen otherwise than she actually did.

I shall argue that despite resourceful attempts to defend conditions of this sort, any such requirement that is relevant to explaining why an agent is morally responsible for an action falls to counterexamples. I maintain instead that the most plausible and fundamentally explanatory incompatibilist principles concern the causal history of an action, and not alternative possibilities.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

Living without Free Will
  • Online ISBN: 9780511498824
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511498824
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *
×