How is determinism compatible with free will

Philosophy understandable

Do we have a free will?

Ansgar Beckermann

Preliminary remark

It is the same in the free will debate as in other philosophical discussions. There are different positions for and against which there are different arguments. In the following, the main questions and positions on the problem of free will are presented and the most important arguments that have been put forward for and against these positions are analyzed. This should be done as neutrally as possible. But of course it should not be denied that the text was written by a supporter of compatibilism.

Basic questions and basic positions

The free will debate is about two questions:

  • To the conceptual Ask what conditions must be met for a decision to be considered free, and
  • to the factual Ask whether these conditions are actually met in our world.

It is largely undisputed that a decision must meet the following conditions in order to be considered free:

  1. The person must have a choice between Alternatives to have; it must act differently or be able to decide differently than it actually does. (The condition of being able to act differently or to be able to make different decisions)
  2. Which choice is made must be decisive from the person himself depend. (Authorship condition)
  3. How the person acts or decides must their control subject. This control must not go through force be excluded. (Control condition)

However, it is highly controversial how exactly these conditions are to be understood, and in particular whether these conditions can be met if the determinism is true if for every event there is a set of other events which it follows with (natural law) necessity.

Philosophers who believe that conditions 1.-3. can be fulfilled even in a deterministic world is called Compatibilists, Philosophers who deny that, Incompatibilists. Incompatibilists who believe that there are free choices in our world (and therefore that determinism must be wrong) are called Libertarians. Compatibilists who believe that there are free choices in our world when determinism is true are sometimes considered soft Determinists designated. Philosophers who believe that our choices are never free are called Freedom pessimists.


The thesis that freedom and determinism compatible are.
The thesis that freedom and determinism not compatible are.
Incompatibilist who believes that there is freedom and therefore that determinism is wrong.
Soft determinist
Compatibilist who believes that there is freedom and that the fact that determinism is true doesn't change that.
Freedom skeptics
Representative believes it no Freedom gives. (The freedom skeptics also include those tough determinists - Incompatibilists who claim that there is no freedom because determism is true.)


Can my will be free in a deterministic world? At first glance, everything seems to suggest that this is not possible. How is it possible that I myself different decide if past events determine how I decide? How can I be the author of my decisions and actions, when they ultimately stem from previous events? And how can my decisions and actions free be when they are determined?

Determinism implies that the world can only develop in exactly one way at any point in time. According to determinism, the world can only open at any point in time a single one Way to go on. If determinism applies, the possible course of the world forms a straight unbranched line.

Freedom, however, seems to presuppose the future to that extent open is than at least sometimes it depends on us how it goes on. If there is freedom, there must be times in the course of the world when things can go on in one way or another, when the further course of the world is not determined by previous events, but depends on how we decide or what we do to do.

At first glance, it looks like this. If there is freedom, then the course of the world cannot be determined. If determinism is true, then none of the conditions characteristic of freedom can be fulfilled:

  • If determinism is true, then I can never make any other choice or act any other than what I do.
  • If determinism is true, then my decisions and actions are not due to me, but to the previous events by which they are determined.
  • And if determinism is true, then my decisions and actions cannot be free, because it is clear in advance how I will decide and how I will act.

Recently, another important argument for incompatibility has been brought up - the consequence argument of Peter van Inwagen (Van Inwagen 1983): If determinism is true, each of my decisions follows with logical necessity from previous events and the applicable laws of nature . It is also true of these previous events that they result with logical necessity from other events that are even further back and the applicable laws of nature, etc. If determinism is true, then in the end: All my decisions result with necessity from events that took place before my birth, and the applicable laws of nature. But I have no power over events that took place before I was born, nor over the applicable laws of nature. So I have no power over my decisions either.


So there are good reasons for incompatibilities; but are there any good reasons for the position of libertarian? A first problem for the libertarian arises from the fact that freedom is apparently incompatible not only with determinism, but also with indeterminacy. If at a certain point in the course of the world it is not determined whether I will carry out action A or action B, then one will certainly not say I would have free acted when it is mere coincidence that I choose A and not B. Rather, in this case, it will be said that neither I nor anyone else is responsible for this act. Accidental actions are irrational and inexplicable; and no one can be held responsible for them.

Freedom therefore not only presupposes that what I do is at least sometimes not determined by natural law. Freedom is also opposed to mere chance. (An author who has recently denied the second is Robert Kane.) In addition to natural law determination and mere chance, there must be something third; and for most libertarians that is third Actor causality. In the libertarian sense, an action is only free if it is neither determined by natural law nor takes place purely by chance, but rather by the doer himself is caused. For the libertarian, free decisions look like this: When I am faced with the question of whether to do A or B, I usually have reasons for both alternatives - that is, both reasons for A and reasons for B. But neither these reasons other circumstances determine my decision. Rather am I myself it who chooses A or B, given the reasons. And nothing in the previous world race determines how I decide. If I choose A, I could go under exactly the same conditions also opt for B.

Freedom in the sense of the libertarian presupposes that at least at certain points in the course of the world through the state of the world and the laws of nature Not what is determined is how things continue, that rather I I am the one who decides this, and that it is my decision is not self-determined.

At first sight this position seems very natural and obvious; on closer inspection, however, it shows that she is confronted with serious problems.

First: Unless other circumstances determine how I decide, but I myself to bring about that decision, I must evidently be a being myself that outside of the normal course of the world and is able to from outside to intervene in this course of the world. The view that acting and decisive persons are not part of the natural world, but rather intervene in this world from outside, is incompatible with everything that the natural sciences tell us about the world.

Secondly: As I said, the libertarian's view presupposes that there is a kind of causality of its own which only acting and decisive persons have - Actor causality. Usually causes and effects are events. With the sentence "The pane broke because it was hit by a stone" we attribute one event (the breaking of the pane) to another event (the fact that the pane was hit by a stone). Causes are events that result in other events - their effects - with a necessity under natural law. And that means at least: Whenever the cause is present, the effect also occurs. This kind of Event causality is well known to us. But what should Actor causality be? Apparently some kind of making happening. But in general the only way to make something happen by doing something else - I turn the light on by flicking the switch. So how can I make A happen without doing something else that inevitably results in A?

Third: Actor causality is introduced by libertarians in order to distinguish responsible from mere accidental action. Ultimately, however, free decisions in the libertarian sense are always purely coincidental and inexplicable. Because the situation in which a person decides also includes the reasons he has for alternatives A and B. So if she chooses A in this situation, she chooses in the face this Reasons for A. And if she chooses B, she chooses in the face of it the same Reasons for B. When considering exactly the same For reasons one chooses A and another time B, this choice itself is obvious unfounded.


In view of the difficulties of libertarianism, it is natural to ask whether there are alternative readings of Conditions 1-3. that show that freedom is compatible with determinism.

Freedom of action and free will

In the history of philosophy there have been philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and David Hume who were of the opinion that the only thing that matters to our freedom is that we can do what we want to do, that is, that we cannot do what we want by à External compulsions are prevented from performing the actions we have chosen (Hobbes 1651, 1654; Hume 1758, section 8, part 1). That kind of freedom will Freedom of action called. And it is undisputed that freedom of action is compatible with determinism.

Freedom of action
A person is free to act when he can do what he wants to do.
Free will
A person is free in his will if he has the ability to determine his will, to determine which motives, desires and convictions should become effective.

Thomas Reid, however, objected to Hume that freedom of action is not everything (Reid 1788). After Reid, we can only call ourselves free if we can not only do what we want, but if we can also determine what we want. Real freedom presupposes that we determine the motives, desires and beliefs on which we act; if circumstances that are beyond our controlWe are not free to determine which of these motives will become effective. Freedom of action is not enough for responsible action, the agent must also have Free will have - the ability to determine his own will, to determine which of his motives, desires and convictions should become effective.

Our assessment of drug addicts also shows that freedom of action cannot be everything. Addicts can do what they want; they are free in their actions. Still, we don't hold them responsible. You are not externally, but internally unfree; they are subject to an inner compulsion. Because the drug addict can do what he wants, but he is not free in his will, in his decisions. In a sense, his will has a life of its own. Even if he chooses otherwise, his desire to use drugs will prevail. The drug addict is in a sense helplessly at the mercy of this wish. In a word: what is lacking in him Free will.

The decisive question for the compatibilist is therefore whether there are readings of Conditions 1.-3. that show that free will is also compatible with determinism.

Acting differently and being able to make different decisions

One way for the compatibilist to cope with this condition is to deny that it is a necessary condition for freedom or responsibility at all. Harry Frankfurt, for example, has argued on the basis of the following fictitious example (Frankfurt 1969). Let's say Hans is wondering whether to kill Paul. Hans has reasons to do so, but has not yet made up his mind. Besides Hans, Dr. Black reasons to want Paul dead. But Schwarz doesn't want to carry out the murder himself; he wants to use Hans as an instrument. Here's how: Schwarz is a brilliant neurosurgeon who implanted electrodes in Hans' brain with which he can achieve the following. He can determine at any time what Hans will decide to do, and he can also manipulate Hans' decision in one direction or the other. Now there are two possibilities: Either Hans decides to kill Paul, in which case Black does not intervene; because the decision was in his favor. But if Schwarz realizes that Hans is about to decide not to kill Paul, he intervenes and, with the help of the implanted electrodes, gets Hans to decide to kill Paul after all. In this scenario, according to Frankfurt: Hans can only choose to kill Paul, so he cannot choose otherwise. But if he comes to this decision himself - without Black's intervention - he is still responsible. So you can be responsible for a decision even if you can't choose otherwise.

The other possibility for the compatibilist is to take the bull by the horns and assert that even in a determined world we can have the ability to act differently or to decide differently. Incompatibilists argue: In a determined world, only what actually happens can happen at any point in time. In a determined world everyone can only do what he actually does, he can never do anything else. Because: someone can only act differently if they do possible by natural law is that he acts differently than he actually does; and that is not possible in a deterministic world. How can the compatibilist counter this argument?

George Edward Moore has pointed out that the word "can" has other meanings besides this - e.g. the one we start from when we give a person a Ability (Moore 1912).According to Moore, this meaning of "can" can be analyzed as follows: That someone can do X, that is, that he has the ability to do X, means nothing other than that he can do X. would if he choseTo do X. This is called the conditional analysis of ability: A person can do X (has the ability to do X) if he does X, if he chooses to do X. Apparently, according to this analysis, the ability to act differently or to make decisions differently is compatible with determinism. Because even if what I do is determined because how I decide is determined, it can still be true that I would do something else if I decided otherwise. In other words: Even if it is natural law U.Nit is possible that I will do X at a certain point in time, it may well be that at that point in time I will be able to do X.

The conditional analysis of ability
A person can do X (has the ability to do X) if he does X, if he chooses to do X.

Two main objections have been raised against the conditional analysis of ability. First (Austin 1956), having the ability to do X doesn't mean you have always succeeds in doing X if one wants to do X. For example, it may be true that a basketball player has the ability to convert free throws, even if he does not succeed in doing so now and then, although he wants to. Second (Chisholm 1964): That one would do X if one decided to do X only means that one could do X if one also had the ability to decideTo do X. Someone with a spider phobia could touch the spider if they so chose; but that is precisely what his phobia doesnâ € ™ t allow. And that's why he can't touch the spider. (This seems to be a similar motive to Reid's argument that freedom of action without free will is not enough to hold someone accountable.) Now, if you reply that you also have the ability to act decide, can analyze conditionally, then the problem arises again in the same form; i.e., then you get into an infinite regress (see below: Frankfurt's theory of free will).

It seems to me that the proponents of the conditional analysis of ability have a correct intuition - namely the intuition that one can have the ability to do X even when one is determined to do something other than X. . However, they are at a loss to back up this intuition with an analysis of skill, which in turn is vulnerable. However, as the following consideration shows, this does not change the correctness of the underlying intuition.

I have the ability to do certain things; I cannot do other things. I can now get up from my chair and go into the garden; but I can't jump two meters from a standing position or multiply two ten-digit numbers in my head. The ability to get up from my chair now depends on certain conditions. I wouldnâ € ™ t have that ability if I was handcuffed or paralyzed. Obviously, it is irrelevant to having the ability whether I decide to get up or whether I decide to stay seated. Even if I choose to remain seated, I still have the ability to stand up. Yes, even if it were determined that I should choose to remain seated, that wouldn't change my ability in any way. In this sense, someone can also then have the ability to act differently than he does when what he does is determined because it is determined how he decides. And in the same sense a person can have the ability to choose differently than he does when his decision is determined.

The point of this consideration becomes even clearer when you realize the following. Anyone who denies that a being - be it human, animal or machine - has the ability to do X when it is determined that it does something other than X, must also assert that in a determined world there is no being Has ability when it doesn't exercise that ability. In a determinate world it would be wrong to say that a car that is in the garage can go 200 km / h or that a person sitting in a chair can get up. But that's absurd. Because if that were so, the mere fact that some cars can go 200 km / h even if they don't, one might conclude that determinism is wrong.


What does it actually mean I do something or that I make a decision? Apparently, an obvious answer is that I perform a certain action when it my Wishes and my Decisions are that lead to this act and that I decide something if this decision of mean Desires, beliefs and considerations depends. If that is the case, then I am that too Originator of my actions and decisions, when they are based on certain events - the fact that I have certain wishes and make certain decisions, or that I have certain considerations. And this remains true even if my wishes, decisions and considerations are determined.

Certainly the question here remains what certain desires are about mean Desires and specific considerations too mean Makes reflection. But the answer to that question certainly does not lie in the assumption that I am causing these desires and considerations. Rather, it is more likely that certain wishes my Wishes are when I consider them my wishes acknowledgewhen i am with them identify, for her To take responsibility am ready (Fischer / Ravizza 1998). And the same goes for reasoning. If that is so, then wishes and considerations can also then my Be wishes and considerations when they are determined. And if that is so, then a decision can go back to me even if it was causally brought about by previous events.


Incompatibilists argue that our actions are free only when our decisions are free, and that our decisions cannot be free when they are determined. However, incompatibilists generally do not have a definition of free will or choice from which this would follow. On the compatibilist side, however, there have been some attempts to define the concept of free will or freedom of choice - in such a way that it shows that the incompatibilist is wrong.

A first such definition can be found in Moore (Moore 1912). If freedom of action consists in being able to do what I want to do, why, according to Moore, should free will not consist in being able to want what I want. What is meant by this at first glance strange formula only becomes clear when we consider Harry Frankfurt's theory of higher-level desires (Frankfurt 1971, 1988). Most of our desires are actions. I want to buy a car or go on vacation on the Baltic Sea. Frankfurt mentions such wishes First level wishes. In addition to these, there are also Second level wisheswhich have first-level wishes as their object. In the case of the drug addict, for example, it is easy to imagine that the drug addict, in addition to wanting to use drugs, also has a desire not to have that same desire to use drugs. He would be glad if he got rid of this wish, or at least if he could achieve that this wish no longer prevailed over his other wishes.

According to Frankfurt, a person is free in his will if his actions are determined by the wishes of the first level, of which he wants on the second level to become effective. This definition has at least the advantage that it seems to address the problem of the addict. The addict couldnâ € ™ t use drugs either, if his desire to use drugs didnâ € ™ t become effective. But this is exactly what prevents his addiction. Even if he understands how harmful it is to use drugs, and for that reason wants the desire to use drugs to be ineffective, it will not do so. His desire to use drugs is stronger. Even if the addict wanted it not to be; he cannot bring this desire under control. In other words: he is not free in his will, because on the first level the desires prevail, of which he is on the second level Not want them to prevail.

Free will according to Moore
A person is free in his will when he can want what he wants.
Free will to Frankfurt
A person is free in his will if on the first level the wishes become effective, which he wants on the second level to be effective.

Unfortunately, Frankfurt's theory is also problematic. For is it really sufficient for free will that precisely those wishes become effective on the first stage that we want them to become effective on the second stage? Must we not also demand that the second level desires are free too? And wouldn’t that, in Frankfurt’s theory, mean that they correspond to the third level? Etc., etc. Here, too, there is an infinite recourse threat. In addition, this theory neglects one crucial aspect of free will - the aspect of judgment and moral judgment. When faced with the choice of doing A or B, I wonder what, under the circumstances, the right one Action is - the action that I do in the circumstances should. And the ability to follow the insight into the correctness of an action is central to freedom. In any case, this idea plays a decisive role in John Locke's theory of free will (Locke 1689, 2nd book, chapter 21).

For Locke, free will relies on the ability, in many cases at least, to pause before making a decision and consider what we should do in the given situation-what is morally right and what is our best self-interest would be most useful. According to Locke, free will presupposes, on the one hand, the ability to pause before action and think about what would be right to do in the situation. But that's not enough. Secondly, free will presupposes that one can decide (and then act accordingly) according to the result of one's own deliberations. A person is thus free in his will if, firstly, he has the ability to pause and consider before acting and, secondly, if he is also able to decide and act in accordance with the result of this deliberation . This position is compatibilistic because it is entirely compatible with the assumption that the decisions and actions of a person with causal necessity follow the result of their deliberations. In Locke's eyes, this is "not a defect, but an asset of our nature". After all, who can have an interest in doing something other than what appears to be right on careful consideration? Mind you, for Locke it is not crucial that we actually consider before making a decision, but that we have the ability to think before making a decision. In the Lockean sense, a decision is free if and only if we have the ability to pause before making a decision and consider what would be right to do, and if our decision would follow the result of these considerations.

Locke free will
A person is free to make a decision if, first, he has the ability to pause and consider what would be right to do before making the decision, and second, if he has the ability to accept the outcome of that deliberation to decide and act.

A great advantage of this analysis is that it fits the drug addict's case even better. What the drug addict complains about is that even when he realizes that drug addiction is going to ruin his health, he can't help but choose drugs. So what the drug addict lacks is the ability to make choices based on his own deliberations. He may have the ability to think and see that what he is doing will harm himself and that it may even be immoral. But that has no influence on his decisions. They are determined by circumstances that cannot be influenced by such considerations. Plus, Locke's theory fits very well with what criminal law is about accountability. The § 20 StGB reads: "Who acts without guilt, who commits the act because of a pathological mental disorder, because of a profound disturbance of consciousness or because of feeble-mindedness or another serious mental abnormality is unable to see the injustice of the deed or to act on that insight"(My emphasis - AB). The decisive factor here too is the ability to understand the injustice of the deed and the ability to act in accordance with this insight.

Final authorship

Of course, these considerations do not end the dispute between incompatibilists and compatibilists. Recently, however, it has become clearer where the core of this dispute actually lies. Against compatibilism, Robert Kane, for example, has pointed out cases in which, at first glance, all conditions in the sense of the compatibilist are met, but in which we would still not speak of free will (Kane 1998). Kane summarizes these cases under the heading "hidden control that is not perceived as a restriction" ("covert nonconstraining control").

Most of the time we notice when we are restricted in our freedom. When I am handcuffed to a chair or when someone puts a gun on my chest, I know very well that I am no longer free in my actions and decisions. In most cases it is no different when it comes to internal compulsions. The addict, phobic, or obsessive-compulsive person will find that something is beyond their control. His will is not be Will. He feels controlled by others, cannot act or decide how he wants to. In addition to these cases of felt or recognized lack of freedom, there are also cases in which we are not aware of our lack of freedom. When we suddenly crawl under the table because of an order given to us under hypnosis, we often do not have the impression that we are unfree. We do not even notice that someone has robbed us of our freedom through subtle manipulation. And the same goes for brainwashing cases, for example. However, do these cases of overt lack of freedom through unnoticed manipulation actually resemble the case in which we are induced, by natural causes, to have certain wishes and preferences, which then lead to certain decisions? Kane says these two cases are similar at least in that we are deprived of the ability in both to be the ultimate source and origin of our own goals and intentions.

The same motif can be found in Van Inwagen's argument about consequences. Because Van Inwagen is obviously based on the principle:

(*) I can only control an event E if I can also control the events (or at least a decisive part of the events) that are responsible for the occurrence of E.

And what is made clear in this principle is also a certain idea of Final authorshipwhich, for many incompatibilities, is the essence of freedom.The decisions I make depend on my wishes and preferences, and ultimately on my character - what kind of person I am. Van Inwagen does not deny this either. But, he adds, my decisions can only be free if my wishes and preferences are based on me and not on circumstances beyond my control. The question, however, is whether it really makes sense to assume that persons, in this sense, could in fact be the ultimate source and origin of all of their goals and intentions.

This formulation is at least irritating. Human beings do not come into the world as beings without any wishes or intentions, and then choose the wishes and preferences they would like to have. That can't be at all; for a being with no desires and intentions would have no motive to set goals and intentions at all, nor would it have any criteria by which to choose.

Galen Strawson has developed a related argument with which he wants to show that ultimate authorship is in principle impossible (G. Strawson 1986, 28f., 1998; Double 2002, 518): In order to be responsible for our decisions, we have to be responsible for the desires underlying these decisions, and that is, we must choose those desires ourselves. But we can only choose if we have principles on which to choose. Obviously we have to be responsible for these principles, i.e. we have to choose these principles ourselves. And for that we need principles again for which we are responsible, which we choose ourselves; etc. So, in order to be responsible for our decisions, we must be able to accomplish an infinite regress of the choice of decision principles. And that is impossible.

What emerges here is that if freedom presupposes that we choose the desires that underlie our decisions, then there are only two options. Either this choice is based on decision-making principles, which in turn have to be chosen, etc., etc. Or a first choice is made by a being who has no wishes or decision-making principles and whose choice can therefore only be completely groundless . Apparently both alternatives are not acceptable. It cannot be otherwise than that we come into the world with a considerable number of natural desires - desires for food, security, attention, etc. And it obviously doesn't make much sense to say that nature manipulates us in this way or make us unfree by giving us these wishes. Rather, our freedom is based on the fact that in the course of time we humans have developed the ability to become aware of our desires and to think about them. In this way a decision-making mechanism has emerged that is accessible to judgments as well as moral arguments. We are free when this mechanism is sufficiently developed and our decisions are actually based on it. On the other hand, we are unfree when it comes to decisions based on wishes that cannot be 'tamed' by this mechanism.

This shows a basic pattern that characterizes the debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists (cf. Honderich 2002, 473). Incompatibilists see a close connection between freedom and final authorship (origination). According to this conception, actions and decisions are free, which can only be attributed to me and not to circumstances which I cannot control myself. Compatibilists, on the other hand, emphasize another connection - the connection between freedom and willfulness (voluntariness). According to compatibilism, the actions and decisions that I carry out or make because I want to carry out or make them that are not subject to any internal or external constraints are free.

In contrast to the idea of ​​willfulness, the idea of ​​ultimate authorship seems extremely problematic. Surely we are sometimes able to let go of the desires and external circumstances that directly affect our lives. But of course we only do this because we have other desires and because we have the ability to reflect our immediate desires and, if necessary, to keep them in check. Neither of these desires, nor of the ability to reflect and renounce the satisfaction of immediate needs, can one say that they ultimately go back to ourselves. Much more plausible is the assumption that both are partly based on our biological nature and partly, arguably, partly on upbringing. But this is by no means a cause for complaint. We can be happy to have higher-level desires, and we can be happy to have the ability to reflect and control ourselves, even if we are not the ultimate originator of those desires and ability (Pereboom 2002, 481ff.).

Freedom and responsibility - freedom or responsibility pessimism

That the idea of ​​ultimate authorship is incoherent is, it seems to me, the ultimate and perhaps decisive argument against incompatibilism. But what conclusions one can draw from this fact depends on whether one believes that freedom in the sense of Willfulness (Compatibilistic freedom) is sufficient for responsibility, or whether one is of the opinion that real responsibility is freedom in the sense of Final authorship (libertarian freedom). Although both legal and everyday practice speak in favor of the first possibility, many philosophers today still believe that only then can we be held responsible for something, that only then can we really receive rewards and punishment to earnwhen we are free in the libertarian sense. However, because of the strength of the arguments against libertarianism, a large proportion of these philosophers tend to deny that we are ever really responsible for anything. But can it really be said that we are never responsible for our decisions and actions?

Peter Strawson has argued against this position as follows (P. Strawson 1962). If we assume that we are never free and therefore never responsible, then not only does it mean that we have to rethink the entire practice of judicial conviction and punishment, it also affects the day-to-day understanding of our interpersonal relationships Wavering. We have completely different attitudes towards our fellow human beings than towards inanimate things or machines. Strawson calls these specifically personal attitudes reactive attitudes. We are grateful for when someone does something good for us; we resent itif he harms us or doesn't show the necessary respect. And we can only really be human love and to hate. We can only argue with people; only humans can we try to convince. If we hold something against someone, that assumes that we can hold them responsible. I canâ € ™ t blame someone for stepping on my foot when I find that they were pushed and therefore it wasnâ € ™ t my fault. And I canâ € ™ t hold someone against their actions if I notice that they are suffering from a severe mental disorder that makes it fundamentally impossible for them to control their behavior. However, this knowledge not only leads to a different assessment of the behavior of the person concerned in individual cases; it leads to a fundamental change in my attitude towards this person, that I begin to see them no longer as a responsible person, but as a fellow human being in need of treatment and towards whom normal reactive attitudes towards which are generally accepted are inappropriate. In other words, I'm starting one with that person objective attitude to take. Strawson now says that it is actually impossible for us to face our fellow human beings always to only take an objective attitude and never be grateful, never hold anything against someone, not really love or really hate anyone. And even if it were possible, in Strawson's view it would be irrational to abandon normal reactive attitudes. Because that would make us lose more than we gain.

Derk Pereboom has argued against this line of argument that if you think that no one is ever really responsible, you have to give up not all but some reactive attitudes. Outrage is certainly one of the attitudes that one can legitimately only have towards people who are genuinely responsible. But that doesn't apply to feeling hurt and worried or worried. Also certain aspects of forgiveness are not affected by the assumption of a pessimism about responsibility. And the same goes for aspects of gratitude. Surely it will no longer be possible to feel guilty or to feel remorse. But of course, as a responsibility pessimist, you can see that you've done something wrong and continue to be saddened that you did it; one can even sincerely regret one's actions and resolve not to do them again. All in all, for the accountability pessimist there are a number of reactive attitudes left, and these, according to Pereboom, are entirely sufficient for a reasonable coexistence. Furthermore, Pereboom thinks that giving up the idea that we are really responsible could even help to humanize our coexistence. Moral anger, for example, loses its rational basis if there is no accountability. But moral anger has a number of negative effects. It can increase our propensity to inflict psychological and physical pain on others as punishment, and in extreme cases it can induce us to torture or even kill allegedly guilty persons. Destructive moral anger in particular is reinforced by the conviction that others deserve serious punishment. So if we give up on that assumption, it should stem excess moral anger.

Like Pereboom, Saul Smilansky assumes that there is no such thing as libertarian freedom. And in his view, ultimate responsibility at least presupposes libertarian freedom. However, Smilansky believes that even if we know it is wrong, we cannot forego the assumption of ultimate responsibility. For giving up that assumption would obliterate the morally and legally significant distinction between cold-blooded murder and the rampage of the insane. Smilansky, therefore, welcomes the fact that we are largely under the illusion that we are ultimately responsible; for this illusion has extremely positive consequences in his eyes. Whether one can maintain an illusion, however, once it has been recognized as an illusion, seems more than questionable.


  • Austin, J.L. (1956) "'Falls' and 'Can'". In: U. Pothast (ed.), Seminar: Free Action and Determinism. Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp 1978, 169-200.
  • Beckermann, A. "Biology and Freedom". Appears in: H. Schmidinger and C. Sedmak (eds.) Man - a free being? Darmstadt: Scientific Book Society 2004.
  • Beckermann, A. "Free Will in a Natural Order of the World". In: A. Beckermann and C. Nimtz (eds.) Philosophy and / as science. Paderborn: Mentis 2004.
  • Chisholm, R. (1964) "Human Freedom and the Self". In: U. Pothast (ed.), Seminar: Free Action and Determinism. Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp 1978, 71-87.
  • Double, R. (2002) "Metaethics, Metaphilosophy, and Free Will Subjectivism". In: Kane (2002), 506-528.
  • Fischer, J. and M. Ravizza (1998) Responsibility and Control. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Frankfurt, H. (1969) "Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility". Journal of Philosophy 66, 829-839.
  • Frankfurt, H. (1971) "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person". Jour-nal of Philosophy 68, 5-20.
  • Frankfurt, H. (1988) The Importance of What We Care About. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hobbes, T. (1651) Leviathan. Hamburg: Mine 1996.
  • Hobbes, T. (1654) Of Liberty and Necessity. Reprinted in: British Moralists: 1650-1800, Volume 1, edited by D.D. Raphael. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1969, 61-70.
  • Honderich, T. (2002) "Determinism as True, Compatiblism and Incompatiblism as False, and the Real Problem". In: Kane (2002), 461-476.
  • Hume, D. (1758) An investigation into the human mind. Over. by R. Richter, with an introduction ed. by J. Kulenkampff. Hamburg: Felix Meiner 1993.
  • Kane, R. (1998) The Significance of Free Will. Oxford / New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kane, R. (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2002.
  • Kant, I. Critique of Pure Reason. After d. first and second orig. ed. v. Jens Timmermann, Hamburg: Mine 1998.
  • Locke, J. (1689) Experiment on the human mind. Volume 1. 4., revised edition in 2 volumes. Hamburg: Felix Meiner 1981.
  • Moore, G. E. (1912) Basic problems of ethics, Munich: C.H. Beck 1975.
  • Pereboom, D. (2002) "Living Without Free Will: The Case for Hard Incompatibilism". In: Kane (2002), 477-488.
  • Reid, T. (1788) "The Liberty of the Moral Agent", from: Essays on the Active Powers. In: Inquiry and Essays, ed. by R.E .: Beanblossom and K. Lehrer, Indianapolis IN: Hackett Publishing Company 1983, 297-368.
  • Smilansky, S. (2002) "Free Will, Fundamental Dualism, and the Centrality of Illusion". In: Kane (2002), 489-505.
  • Strawson, G. (1986) Freedom and Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Strawson, G. (1998) "Free Will". In: E. Craig (ed.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Routledge.
  • Strawson, P. (1962) "Freedom and Bad Take". In: U. Pothast (ed.), Seminar: Free Action and Determinism. Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp 1978, 201-233.
  • Van Inwagen, P. (1983) An Essay on Free Will. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Last update: 2005-10-03 22:00:00