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Ability and Responsibility: Essays on Behalf of Leeway Incompatibilism


Leeway incompatibilism is the view that (a) no one is morally responsible for what they do unless they could have done (or had the ability to do) something other than what they did and (b) the ability to do otherwise is incompatible with the obtaining of causal determinism. In this dissertation I attempt to defend the plausibility of leeway incompatibilism by investigating a variety of philosophical issues. I respond to arguments against leeway incompatibilism and develop accounts of certain phenomena (such as the nature of ability and the content of the blaming emotions or attitudes) that fit nicely with the leeway incompatibilist picture.

I have 5 chapters in the dissertation. The first chapter is introductory. The second and third chapters deal with the attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP) derived from the Frankfurt-style cases. Chapter two deals with `indirect' attempts to use Frankfurt-style cases (FSCs) to undermine PAP. Proponents of Indirect Frankfurt-Style Arguments can (but need not) grant that there is no FSC in which an agent is both morally responsible and lacking alternative possibilities. They maintain that even if this is so, the FSCs provide us with an anti PAP insight. I respond to several of these arguments. Chapter three develops an original critique of the Frankfurt-style case based attack on PAP. This critique involves a substantial discussion of responsibility for omissions. In Chapter four I respond to an argument that aims to show that agents do not need to be in control of their behavior in order to be appropriately blamed for what they do. This involves developing an original account of the content of blaming attitudes (such as guilt and resentment).

In chapter five I develop an account of ability which yields the result that the ability to do otherwise is incompatible with causal determinism. This account of ability makes substantial use of the notion of `explanatory dependence' which has been developed in recent philosophical literature. An interesting upshot of my account of ability is that foreknowledge of what action a person will perform is compatible with the person having the ability to do otherwise.

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