Taking Liberty with Humean Necessity: Compatibilism and Contingency
23 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2007
Date Written: July 2007
This essay considers what David Hume's views on free will and responsibility, properly understood, can tell us generally about current debates over the adequacy of compatibilist views on free will and specifically about disputes over the relevance of, for example, genetics to moral responsibility. Following Hume's lead, I argue that questions concerning whether determinism threatens free will and responsibility cannot be answered in the abstract. Instead, answers to such questions depend upon contingent considerations involving moral sentiments. The contingency present in debates over compatibilism explains why disputes concerning free will that are set forth in absolute terms (e.g., does determinism destroy the possibility of free will?) always end in stalemate. Understanding the contingency present in disputes over free will not only sheds light on the nature of the disputes themselves, but also explains why more specific current debates over, for example, genetic predispositions, should be understood as presenting moral, not metaphysical, questions.
An updated version of this paper will appear in an anthology entitled Moral Psychology Today: Essays on Values, Rational Choice, and the Will, forthcoming from Springer. Please cite to that version.
Keywords: David Hume, Free Will, Agency, Responsibility, Determinism, Punishment
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