In recent decades, with advances in psychology, sociology, and neuroscience, the notion that certain patterns of human behavior may ultimately be due to factors beyond our control has become a serious cultural concern. In our society, the possibility that criminal behavior, for example, may be caused by influences in upbringing or by abnormal features of the brain is very much a live hypothesis. Furthermore, many people agree that criminals cannot be blameworthy for actions and tendencies produced in this way. At the same time, most assume that even if criminal actions frequently have this sort of causal history, ordinary actions are not similarly generated, but rather are freely chosen, and we can be praiseworthy or blameworthy for them.
A less popular and more radical claim is that factors beyond our control produce all of our actions. Since the first appearance of strategies for comprehensive explanation in ancient times, philosophers have been aware that our theories about the world can challenge our commonplace assumptions about agency in this more general way. One reaction to this stronger claim is that it would leave morality as it is, or that if any revisions must occur, they are insubstantial. But another is that we would not then be blameworthy or praiseworthy for our actions – in the philosophical idiom, we would not be morally responsible for them. I shall argue that our best scientific theories indeed have the consequence that we are not morally responsible for our actions.
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