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Strawsonian Libertarianism: A Theory of Free Will and Moral Responsibility

  • Author(s): Franklin, Christopher
  • Advisor(s): Fischer, John M
  • et al.
Abstract

My dissertation develops a novel theory of free will and moral responsibility, Strawsonian libertarianism, which combines Strawsonianism about the concept of moral responsibility with event-causal libertarianism concerning its conditions of application. I construct this theory in light of and response to the three main objections to libertarianism: the moral shallowness objection, the intelligibility objection, and the empirical plausibility objection.

The moral shallowness objection contends that libertarianism seems plausible only in the absence of a robust understanding of the nature of moral responsibility. P.F. Strawson's work is the fount of this objection. In response I argue, surprisingly, that Strawson's account of the nature of responsibility, according to which the essence of responsibility is defined in terms of the reactive attitudes (such as gratitude and resentment), actually leads to libertarianism about its conditions of application. In defense of this contention I offer a theory of the normative force of excuse which shows that moral responsibility requires that agents have free will. I then construct the No Opportunity Argument which demonstrates that free will, and thus moral responsibility, is incompatible with determinism.

In the remainder of the dissertation I develop and defend this account of moral responsibility against the intelligibility and empirical objections, both of which focus on my contention that indeterminism is necessary for freedom and responsibility. The intelligibility objection contends that libertarians cannot provide an intelligible account of freedom and responsibility because indeterminism is either (at best) irrelevant or (at worst) inimical to control. I respond to these objections by showing that if we locate indeterminism at the moment of free choice, libertarianism can explain both why indeterminism does not diminish control and also how it is relevant to enhancing it.

Finally, I turn to the empirical plausibility objection which contends that libertarianism is scientifically implausible. This objection centers on my contention that humans must be indeterministic systems in order to be free and responsible. I argue that my commitment to neuronal indeterminism fares well in light of current physical and neurobiological findings and, therefore, that Strawsonian libertarianism is not as scientifically demanding as many have thought.

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