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There is one important point about which Fischer and I are in agreement. We agree that determinism is compatible with moral responsibility. We disagree about the best way of defending that claim. He thinks that Frankfurt's strategy is a good one, that we can grant incompatibilists the metaphysical victory (that is, agree with them that determinism means that we are never able to do otherwise) while insisting that we are still morally responsible. I think this a huge mistake and I think the literature spawned by Frankfurt's attempt to undercut the metaphysical debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists is a snare and a delusion, distracting our attention from the important issues.
For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Few arguments in contemporary philosophy have had more influence than Harry Frankfurt's ‘Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsiblity.’ In that famous paper Frankfurt noted that all parties to the traditional debate about the compatibility of free will and moral responsibility with determinism had subscribed to a common assumption. They had assumed the truth of something Frankfurt called ‘the Principle of Alternate Possibilities,’ which he expressed as follows:
(PAP) A person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.
In the traditional debate incompatibilists argued that if determinism is true, then no one can ever do otherwise, while compatibilists argued that there is a morally relevant sense in which even a deterministic agent can do otherwise. Frankfurt proposed to show that PAPis false, thereby undercutting the traditional debate.