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University of Toronto St. George
Tom Hurka

Van Inwagen on Determinism It is difficult to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" in a way that will satisfy everyone. Once one might have said that the problem of free will and determinism in those days one would have said liberty and necessity was the problem of discovering whether the human will is free or whether its productions are governed by strict causal necessity. But no one today would be allowed to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" like that, for this formulation presupposes the truth of a certain thesis about the conceptual relation of free will to determinism that many, perhaps most, present-day philosophers would reject: that free will and determinism are incompatible. Indeed many philosophers hold not only that free will is compatible with determinism but that free will entails determinism. I think it would be fair to say that almost all the philosophical writing on the problem of free will and determinism since the time of Hobbes that is any good, that is of any enduring philosophical interest, has been about this presupposition of the earlier debates about liberty and necessity. It is for this reason that nowadays one must accept as a fait accompli that the problem of finding out whether free will and determinism are compatible is a large part, perhaps the major part, of "the problem of free will and determinism". Aristotle Voluntary Action Because ethics is a practical rather than a theoretical science, Aristotle also gave careful consideration to the aspects of human nature involved in acting and accepting moral responsibility. Moral evaluation of an action presupposes the attribution of responsibility to a human agent. But in certain circumstances, this attribution would not be appropriate. Responsible action must be undertaken voluntarily, on Aristotles view, and human actions are involuntary under two distinct conditions: (Nic. Ethics III 1) First, actions that are produced by some external force (or, perhaps, under an extreme duress from outside the agent) are taken involuntarily, and the agent is not responsible for them. Thus, if someone grabs my arm and uses it to strike a third person, I cannot reasonably be blamed (or praised) morally for what my arm has done. Second, actions performed out of ignorance are also involuntary. Thus, if I swing my arm for exercise and strike the third party who (unbeknownst to me) is standing nearby, then again I cannot be held responsible for having struck that person. Notice that the sort of ignorance Aristotle is willing to regard as exculpatory is always of lack of awareness of relevant particulars. Striking other people while claiming to be ignorant of the moral rule under which it is wrong to do so would not provide any excuse on his view. As well soon see, decisions to act voluntarily rely upon deliberation about the choice among alternative actions that the individual could perform. During the deliberative process, individual actions are evaluated in light of the good, and the best among them is then chosen for implementation. Under these conditions, Aristotle supposed, moral actions are within our power to perform or avoid; hence, we can reasonably be held responsible for them and their consequences. Just as with health of the body, virtue of the soul is a habit that can be acquired (at least in part) as the result of our own choices. Nagel on Moral Luck Not only are the Control Principle and its corollary plausible in themselves, they also seem to find support in our reactions to particular cases. For example, if we find out that a woman who has just stepped on your toes was simply pushed, then our temptation to blame her is likely to evaporate. It seems that the reason for this is our unwillingness to hold someone responsible for what is not in her control. Similarly, if two drivers have taken all precautions, and are abiding by all the rules of the road, and in one case, a dog runs in front of the car and is killed, and not in the other, then, given that the dogs running out was not something over which either driver had control, it seems that we are reluctant to blame one driver more than the other. Although we might expect different reactions from the two drivers, it does not seem that one is deserving of a worse moral assessment than the other. At the same time, it seems that there are countless cases in which the objects of our moral assessments do depend on factors beyond agents control. Even though moral luck seems to be an oxymoron, everyday judgments suggest that there is a phenomenon of moral luck after all. As Nagel defines it, Where a significant aspect of what someone does depends on factors beyond his control, yet we continue to treat him in that respect as an object of moral judgment, it can be called moral luck. (Nagel 1979, 59). To bring out the conflict with the Control Principle even more starkly, we will understand moral luck as follows: (ML) moral luck occurs when an agent can be correctly treated as an object of moral judgment, despite the fact that a significant aspect of what he is assessed for depends on factors beyond his control. We certainly seem to be committed to the existence of moral luck. For example, we seem to blame those who have murdered more than we blame those who have merely attempted murder, even if the reason for the lack of success in the second case is that the intended victim unexpectedly tripped and fell to the floor just as the bullet arrived at head-height. Since whether the intended victim tripped or not is not something in control of either would-be murderer, we appear to violate the Control Principle and its corollary. It might be tempting to respond at this point that what people are really responsible for are their intentions or their willings, and that we are thus wrong to offer different moral assessments in this pair of cases. Adam Smith (1790/1976), for example, advocates this position, writing that To the intention or affection of the heart, therefore, to the propriety and impropriety, to the beneficence or hurtfulness of the design, all praise or blame, all approbation or disapprobation, of any kind, which can justly be bestowed upon any action, must ultimately belong. (II.iii.intro.3.) But this tempting response faces difficulties of its own. First, as we will see, the would-be murderers offer only one of many cases in which our intuitive moral judgment appears to depend on results beyond ones intentions, as Smith himself noted (II.iii.intro.5). And even more importantly, luck can affect even our willings and other internal states (Feinberg 1970, 34-38). As Nagel develops the point, there are other types of luck that affect not only our actions but also every intention we form and every exertion of our wills. Further, once these kinds of luck are recognized, we will see that not one of the factors on which agents actions depend is immune to luck. Nagel identifies four kinds of luck in all: resultant, circumstantial, constitutive, and causal. Resultant Luck. Resultant luck is luck in the way things turn out. Examples include the pair of would-be murderers just mentioned as well as the pair of innocent drivers described above. In both cases, each member of the pair has exactly the same intentions, has made the same plans, and so on, but things turn out very differently and so both are subject to resultant luck. If in either case, we can correctly offer different moral assessments for each member of the pair, then we have a case of resultant moral luck. Williams offers a case of decision under uncertainty: a somewhat fictionalized Gauguin, who chooses a life of painting in Tahiti over a life with his family, not knowing whether he will be a great painter. In one scenario, he goes on to become a great painter, and in another, he fails. According to Williams, we will judge Gauguin differently depending on the outcome. Cases of negligence provide another important kind of resultant luck. Imagine that two otherwise conscientious people have forgotten to have their brakes checked recently and experience brake failure, but only one of whom finds a child in the path of his car. If in any of these cases we correctly offer differential moral assessments, then again we have cases of resultant moral luck. Circumstantial luck. Circumstantial luck is luck in the circumstances in which one finds oneself. For example, consider Nazi collaborators in 1930s Germany who are condemned for committing morally atrocious acts, even though their very presence in Nazi Germany was due to factors beyond their control (Nagel 1979). Had those very people been transferred by the companies for which they worked to Argentina in 1929, perhaps they would have led exemplary lives. If we correctly morally assess the Nazi collaborators differently from their imaginary counterparts in Argentina, then we have a case of circumstantial moral luck. Constitutive luck. Constitutive luck is luck in who one is, or in the traits and dispositions that one has. Since our genes, care-givers, peers, and other environmental influences all contribute to making us who we are (and since we have no control over these) it seems that who we are is at least largely a matter of luck. Since how we act is partly a function of who we are, the existence of constitutive luck entails that what actions we perform depends on luck, too. For example, if we correctly blame someone for being cowardly or self-righteous or selfish, when his being so depends on factors beyond his control, then we have a case of constitutive moral luck. Further, if a person acts on one of these very character traits over which he lacks control by, say, running away instead of helping to save his child, and we corr
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