Free Will Fallibilism and the 'Two-Standpoints' Account of Freedom
A much improved version in Synthese, 2019 Forthcocming
11 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2017 Last revised: 12 Apr 2019
Date Written: March 30, 2017
In this paper I propose a form of free will fallibilism. Unlike the free will realist who is fully persuaded that we have sufficient evidence of freedom to justify holding individuals morally responsible for what they do and imposing punishment, and unlike the free will skeptic who is fully persuaded that we do not have enough evidence to believe that we face a future of open alternatives, the free will fallibilist will believe that we have enough evidence to justify a belief in freedom for some purposes but not for others.
The question that concerns me the most is whether punishment – this brutal institution that disposes of the lives of countless of our most vulnerable citizens – can be justified. I think it cannot, precisely because there is no evidence that human beings are free to choose between branching alternatives and so deserve to be treated like that. At least, if there is such justifying evidence it is more or less completely balanced by evidence that all events including human actions have causes. And, to tie the knot, I find compatibilism utterly unpersuasive. At the same time, I believe that I am a free agent; what I do is in large part up to me. I believe that the explanation of action cannot be reduced to causal explanation, and I believe that the logic of action requires a notion of branching time. I have two pictures of the universe, and I can live with that, with this qualification: acting on the basis of one picture requires considerably more justification than does acting upon the other.
Between the problem that preoccupies me, punishment, and my day to day choices (whether to have another cup of coffee, for example), there is a wide gap. There are a lot of choices that, on the axis of justification, fall in between the two, many of them choices about how to treat those around us: whether to snub a friend who has insulted me, whether to castigate her, whether to reward a kind act with praise. Where to draw the line is a topic for another paper. The only principle that right now seems to me firm enough to act upon is this: the greater the likelihood of doing harm, the less likely the choice is to be justified.
Keywords: free will, responsibility, two standpoints, freedom
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