GALEN STRAWSON THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY PDF

F Strawson is probably best known for his positions on free will and his exposition of panpsychism. What makes the Basic Argument a very interesting talking point is the fact that it can be outlined in a way which makes it easy for a lay men to understand while also presenting a serious challenge to the possibility of moral responsibility. Strawson It appears on the surface than this argument is valid as if we accept the premises the conclusion appears to follow. Strawson then goes onto then lay out ten point version of the argument, which himself he admits is a rather cumbersome version of the said argument. One cannot at any later stage in life hope to accede to true moral responsibility for the way one is by trying to change the way one already is as a result of heredity and previous experience.

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Galen Strawson Galen Strawson developed a "Basic Argument" which attempts to prove that free will and moral responsibility do not exist. It is an extensive version of the logical and simplistic standard argument against free will. Strawson is close to a group of thinkers who share a view that William James would have called "hard determinism," including Richard Double , Ted Honderich , Derk Pereboom , Saul Smilansky , and the psychologist Daniel Wegner.

Some of them call for the recognition that "free will is an illusion. Strawson , with his interest in our attitudes and feelings about praise, blame, and punishment. The elder Strawson said that such feelings, and the accompanying moral responsibility, would not disappear if determinism is true, at least for some thinkers he called "optimists," roughly the same as compatibilists. However, he also recognized there were "pessimists," roughly incompatibilists.

Some philosophers say they do not know what the thesis of determinism is. Others say, or imply, that they do know what it is. Of these, some — the pessimists perhaps — hold that if the thesis is true, then the concepts of moral obligation and responsibility really have no application, and the practices of punishing and blaming, of expressing moral condemnation and approval, are really unjustified. Strawson, Freedom and Resentment Whereas P. He is not simply a hard determinist.

He does not say that free will is impossible because determinism is true. This is of course the standard argument against free will.

Indeterminism does not help, according to Strawson, if some thoughts and subsequent actions are randomly generated. But chance need not be the direct cause of actions. In his major work, the book Freedom and Belief corrected edition , Strawson makes his case against free will. There is no such thing as free will. But the sense in which it is true seems to be the one that matters most to most people. Or rather, it seems to be the one that most people think matters most to them — rightly or wrongly.

Why is it thought to be so important? Chapter 2 presents one version of the argument that such freedom is impossible. If Chapter 2 is supposed to prove that there is no such thing as free will, what is the rest of the book about? It is concerned with the experience we have of being free agents, and of being truly responsible for what we do in such a way that we can be truly deserving of praise and blame.

It considers the causes, the character, and the consequences of this experience. Why concentrate in this way on the experience of being free, rather than the thing itself? Because the best way to try to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the free will debate, and of the reason why it is interminable, is to study the thing that keeps it going — our experience of freedom. Because this experience is something real, complex, and important, even if free will itself is not real.

Because it may be that the experience of freedom is really all there is, so far as free will is concerned. The idea that people can be truly or completely responsible for their own actions, authors or originators of their actions in such a way that they can be responsible or answerable for them in the strongest possible sense, is a very familiar one, and it will seem perfectly clear to non-philosophers.

Reference to the notion of desert is therefore not strictly necessary in discussion of freedom or true responsibility. At the same time it is often extremely useful, given that one is often discussing agents ourselves who are assumed to be moral agents. The idea that people can be truly deserving of praise and blame for their actions—the idea of desert, that is—is also a very familiar one.

Freedom is now defined in terms of true responsibility, true responsibility in terms of desert, and desert in terms of freedom. Circles like this are usually frowned upon; but this one seems to be just what is needed, at this early stage. This interdefinition simply serves to make clear which notion of freedom of choice and action is presently in question. It simply provides a starting point for discussion. The detailed business of trying to state the necessary and sufficient conditions of this freedom in a non-circular fashion — the business of stating what sorts of properties a being would have to have in order to be a free agent in the present sense — has not yet begun.

Some philosophers may insist that they still do not really understand what kind of freedom is presently in question. But if they do, they are being tactically disingenuous. For the freedom presently in question is a property, real or imagined, that nearly all adult human beings — in the West, at least — believe themselves to possess.

Questions about what freedom is, and about whether or not we are or could be free, will be understood to be questions about what true responsibility is, or might be, and about whether we are or could be truly responsible or truly deserving of praise or blame.

The equation is useful for another reason. The notion of responsibility — not necessarily moral responsibility — is in many ways a clearer notion than the notion of freedom. It is, for one thing, a notion with a strong and obvious causal element. It helps to have it always in mind when discussing freedom.

In chapter 2, Strawson says we cannot be free truly responsible , whether or not determinism is true or false. Such theories usually take the question of whether determinism is true or false to be important when one is trying to answer the question whether we are free. And they regularly come up against the sceptical objection that, whether determinism is true or false, we cannot possibly be free either way. Sidgwick , The Methods of Ethics, p. This familiar objection to the claim that we can be truly responsible agents is of course disputed and indeed scorned by compatibilists, but it is entirely sufficient for establishing the structure of the present discussion.

Those who do not find it compelling should recall the description given in 1. Those who still do not find it compelling should recall that reference to determinism has in any case no essential part to play in the argument against freedom — a fact that will emerge shortly. So far as Objectivist theories go and nearly all theories are Objectivist theories , the sceptical objection seems fundamentally correct.

Neither of the two options, determined and random, seems able to give us or allow us what we want. But together they exhaust the field of options.

Strawson recognizes that a major problem for indeterminism in a model for free will is the location of the indeterminism in the process of decisions and actions. Locating Indeterminism Freedom and Belief, p. Libertarians have nowhere else to locate the indeterminism that they must show to enter into the process of action-production in such a way as to make actions free.

But how can indeterminism do what is expected of it, given that reasons are compounded of beliefs and desires? That beliefs are regularly determined in us by the way the world is is easy to accept, difficult to reject. Their primary business is just to match the way the world is as well as possible. There are other ways in which beliefs are determined in us—by wishful thinking, for example.

But we are on the whole concerned simply that our beliefs be true. We do not wish to be undetermined by anything, so far as the formation of our beliefs and therefore their content is concerned; nor do we wish to be self-determining with regard to the content of our beliefs; nor do we think we are.

We may of course choose to acquire a lot of beliefs about this or that, but once we are in pursuit of such beliefs we do not wish to be able to choose what their content will be, we just want them to be true. Rather, we think and hope that what we believe is determined, and as a result reflects, how things are.

In a article called "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility," Strawson describes his Basic Argument for disproving free will and moral responsibility There is an argument, which I will call the Basic Argument, which appears to prove that we cannot be truly or ultimately morally responsible for our actions.

According to the Basic Argument, it makes no difference whether determinism is true or false. We cannot be truly or ultimately morally responsible for our actions in either case.

The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed. In this paper I want to reconsider the Basic Argument, in the hope that anyone who thinks that we can be truly or ultimately morally responsible for our actions will be prepared to say exactly what is wrong with it. I think that the point that it has to make is obvious, and that it has been underrated in recent discussion of free will — perhaps because it admits of no answer.

I suspect that it is obvious in such a way that insisting on it too much is likely to make it seem less obvious than it is, given the innate contrasuggestibility of human beings in general and philosophers in particular. But I am not worried about making it seem less obvious than it is so long as it gets adequate attention. As far as its validity is concerned, it can look after itself. A more cumbersome statement of the Basic Argument goes as follows. But the mental factors are crucial when moral responsibility is in question.

And it is not merely that one must have caused oneself to be the way one is, mentally speaking. One must have consciously and explicitly chosen to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects, and one must have succeeded in bringing it about that one is that way. Here we are setting out on a regress that we cannot stop. True self-determination is impossible because it requires the actual completion of an infinite series of choices of principles of choice.

This may seem contrived, but essentially the same argument can be given in a more natural form. And 4 any further changes that one can bring about only after one has brought about certain initial changes will in turn be determined, via the initial changes, by heredity and previous experience.

The claim, then, is not that people cannot change the way they are. They can, in certain respects which tend to be exaggerated by North Americans and underestimated, perhaps, by Europeans.

The claim is only that people cannot be supposed to change themselves in such a way as to be or become truly or ultimately morally responsible for the way they are, and hence for their actions. Watson, , p. Strawson says that this argument, which is a priori and certainly valid, convinces all his students.

I have encountered two main reactions to the Basic Argument. I think that the Basic Argument is certainly valid in showing that we cannot be morally responsible in the way that many suppose.

And I think that it is the natural light, not fear, that has convinced the students I have taught that this is so. That is why it seems worthwhile to restate the argument in a slightly different — simpler and looser — version, and to ask again what is wrong with it. Some may say that there is nothing wrong with it, but that it is not very interesting, and not very central to the free will debate.

I doubt whether any non-philosopher or beginner in philosophy would agree with this view. If one wants to think about free will and moral responsibility, consideration of some version of the Basic Argument is an overwhelmingly natural place to start. It certainly has to be considered at some point in a full discussion of free will and moral responsibility, even if the point it has to make is obvious. Belief in the kind of absolute moral responsibility that it shows to be impossible has for a long time been central to the Western religious, moral, and cultural tradition, even if it is now slightly on the wane a disputable view.

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Galen Strawson

Galen Strawson Galen Strawson developed a "Basic Argument" which attempts to prove that free will and moral responsibility do not exist. It is an extensive version of the logical and simplistic standard argument against free will. Strawson is close to a group of thinkers who share a view that William James would have called "hard determinism," including Richard Double , Ted Honderich , Derk Pereboom , Saul Smilansky , and the psychologist Daniel Wegner. Some of them call for the recognition that "free will is an illusion.

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What is wrong with Strawson’s argument against ultimate responsibility

Because free will is an illusion. If this seems a bit confusing, lets go through the expanded version, using an example. Little Ami, Fries, and Mustard When I was an elementary school student, it was a special treat to get french fries--especially for me. I was the kid who had the lunch that all the other kids laughed at. Usually my sandwich was something like cream cheese and alfalfa sprouts or tuna. Instead of chocolate milk, I got plain milk.

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