Derk Pereboom’s arguments against Compatiblism

Derk Pereboom is a hard incompatibilist.  In his brand of hard incompatibilism, free will and moral responsibility are incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism.  Hard incompatibilism does not entail that we don’t have freedom: we could act in accord with our desires or be reasons-responsive.  It’s just that we don’t have the freedom sufficient for moral responsibility.  On his view, an agent is not morally responsible for a choice if it is produced by a source for which he has no control. But even without moral responsibility, he defends the view that we can have morality, meaning and value.  In fact, we are better off without moral responsibility, and we can still preserve our self-conception as deliberative agents.

It’s important to get clear on what Pereboom means by moral responsibility.

First, in my view, for an agent to be morally responsible for an action is for this action to belong to the agent in such a way that she would deserve blame if the action were morally wrong, and she would deserve credit or perhaps praise if it were morally exemplary. The desert at issue here is basic in the sense that the agent, to be morally responsible, would deserve the blame or credit just by virtue of having performed the action, and not, for example, by way of consequentialist considerations.

So, giving up moral responsibility is not to be confused with letting criminals out of jail.  It would be more like quarantine.  We would quarantine people that had some deadly virus, without holding them morally responsible; and similar considerations would apply to criminals.

There are broadly two types of compatibilism.  In reactive attitudes compatibilism moral responsibility is constituted by the reactive attitudes we have on one another–the truth determinism is irrelevant on this view.  In causal integrationist compatibilism, moral responsibility depends on actions being causal integrated into an agent’s psychology in the right way.

Pereboom’s criticism of Strawson’s reactive attitudes:

With regards to human psychology, contrary to what Strawson says, reactive attitudes are not immune to considerations about determinism.  For example, in a murder trial, knowledge of the horrible upbringing of the murderer may tame our reactive attitudes.  Compatibilists may say that this is because the short-term term determinism of the murderer case is more vivid than the more abstract universal determinism–thus saying the short-term determinism case is not analogous to universal determinism.   But Pereboom thinks universal determinism can be made vivid enough to affect the psychology of reactive attitudes.

Strawson thinks that even if determinism caused us to reevaluate reactive attitudes, we should only base our decision on “gains and losses of human life, its enrichment or impoverishment” and not on the truth or falsity of determinism.  Pereboom thinks it’s not clear that it would be irrational to give up a reactive attitude based on determinism.  In some situations it may be possible to replace the role of resentment and indignation with sadness, without the losing the conditions necessary to maintain human relationships; human relations may even be improved.  (Strawson does mention hurt feelings as a reactive attitude, so I’m not sure why Pereboom thinks sadness is a replacement for a reactive attitude.)

Contrary to Strawson, Pereboom rejects that reactive attitudes cannot be justified by something outside the framework of ordinary human life.  Pereboom insists that theoretical considerations of determinism are not external to the practice of reactive attitudes.  To motivate this, we know sexist and racist attitudes can be overridden by the theoretical consideration about sex and race (e.g. the consideration that sex and race don’t play a role in people having different relevant abilities).

Pereboom four-case argument against causal integrationist compatibilists.

These causal integrationist compatibilists have various criteria to judge moral responsibility, but Pereboom thinks that even all the criteria combined do not provide a sufficient criteria for moral responsibility.  Various criteria for freedom and moral responsibility are:

  • Ayer: Desires that genuinely belong to the agent play a causal role in the right way.  The agent must not be constrained (e.g., you may be constrained by someone pointing a gun to your head).  Others have required that the desire can’t be irresistible (e.g., as is the case when hypnotized).
  • Hume: Actions flow from the durable and constant character of the agent.
  • Frankfurt: The agent’s first-order desires conform to their second-order desires in the right way (e.g., unwilling drug addicts don’t have free will).
  • Fischer, Ravizza: Agents are moderate reasons-responsive, and they have taken responsibility for their actions.
  • Wallace: Agents have violated a moral obligation that would make then an appropriate target for a reactive attitude.  The agent must possess powers of reflective self-control: (1) the power to grasp and apply moral reasons, and (2) the power to control or regulate his behavior by the light of such reasons.

In Pereboom’s four-cases argument, he aims to show that agents can pass all these criteria while being no more morally responsible than an agent that has been manipulated.  (Even if all these criteria combined aren’t sufficient criteria, it is assumed that additional conditions about agency, knowledge, and circumstance would give us sufficient criteria.)   Compatibilists will typically accept that the manipulated agent in Case 1 is not morally responsible.  Pereboom challenges the compatibilist to find the substantive difference between the manipulated agent in Case 1 and the other cases.

Case 1: Plum is created by neuroscientists that directly manipulate his decisions through radio-like technology.   These circumstances deterministically cause him to murder Ms. White.  All the compatiblist criteria previously mentioned are satisfied (e.g., he is reasons-responsive, and his first order desires conform to his second order desires in the right way).

The compatibilist may respond that Plum is not responsible because he was directly manipulated.  Pereboom thinks this criticism fails: Suppose there was a time lag between the neuroscientist and Plum, would that make a substantive difference in his moral responsibility?

Case 2: Plum is created by neuroscientists, but instead of being directly manipulated he is programmed from birth.  These circumstances deterministically cause him to murder Ms. White.  Again, all the compatiblist criteria previously mentioned are satisfied.  The difference between Case 1 and Case 2 is that there is a time lag,  but it’s hard to see how a time lag could make a difference in moral responsibility.  If he is not morally responsible in case 1, then he should not be morally responsible in case 2.

Case 3: Plum is an ordinary human being that is indoctrinated by his local community since birth. These circumstances deterministically cause him to murder Ms. White.  Again, all the compatiblist criteria previously mentioned are satisfied.  If he is morally responsible in this case, the compatibilist must point out the substantive difference between this case and case 2 or 1.

Case 4: Physicalist determinism is true and Plum is an ordinary human being.  These circumstances deterministically cause him to murder Ms. White.  Again, all the compatiblist criteria previously mentioned are satisfied.   If he is morally responsible in this case, the compatibilist must point out the substantive difference between this case and case 3 or 2 or 1.

The compatiblist may point out that case 4 is different, because here we have no manipulating agent.  Pereboom thinks this makes no difference because we can imagine a further case, where, instead of there being agents, Plum was manipulated by a spontaneously generated machine.

Pereboom, Derk. Living without Free Will.

Strawson, P.F.. Freedom and Resentment.

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