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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: July 2009

6 - Hard incompatibilism and criminal behavior



Perhaps the most frequently and urgently voiced criticism of the type of view I am developing is that the responses to criminal behavior it will allow are insufficient for acceptable social policy. The way matters actually lie, however, is more complex than this objection suggests. Some of the most prominent justifications for punishing criminals will be undermined by hard incompatibilism, and thus in some respects it may appear to permit fewer policies for opposing crime than the alternative positions. But, as we shall see, each of these justifications faces significant difficulties independent of hard incompatibilist considerations. At the same time, hard incompatibilism leaves other methods for responding to such behavior intact, and arguably, these methods are sufficient for good social policy. As a result, we need not extend Dennett's advice to criminals and treat them as if they were morally responsible (with a possible exception, as we shall see). Let us discern which justifications for dealing with criminal behavior are legitimate and which are not, given hard incompatibilism, while taking care to note whether this view is left with fewer tenable policies than the alternative positions.

The problem for the hard incompatibilist position is that without the robust conceptions of agency that are ruled out if hard incompatibilism is true, it would appear unacceptable to blame criminals for what they have done, and we would therefore seem to have inadequate justification for punishing them.

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Living without Free Will
  • Online ISBN: 9780511498824
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