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 Aristotle's 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 we'll 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 dog's 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