Merit, Meaning, and Human Bondage

Merit, Meaning, and Human Bondage: An Essay on Free Will

Nomy Arpaly
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 158
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5c2
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Merit, Meaning, and Human Bondage
    Book Description:

    Perhaps everything we think, feel, and do is determined, and humans--like stones or clouds--are slaves to the laws of nature. Would that be a terrible state? Philosophers who take the incompatibilist position think so, arguing that a deterministic world would be one without moral responsibility and perhaps without true love, meaningful art, and real rationality. But compatibilists and semicompatibilists argue that determinism need not worry us. As long as our actions stem, in an appropriate way, from us, or respond in some way to reasons, our actions are meaningful and can be judged on their moral (or other) merit.

    In this highly original work, Nomy Arpaly argues that a deterministic world does not preclude moral responsibility, rationality, and love--in short, meaningful lives--but that there would still be something lamentable about a deterministic world. A person may respond well to reasons, and her actions may faithfully reflect her true self or values, but she may still feel that she is not free. Arpaly argues that compatibilists and semicompatibilists are wrong to dismiss this feeling--for which there are no philosophical consolations--as philosophically irrelevant. On the way to this bittersweet conclusion, Arpaly sets forth surprising theories about acting for reasons, the widely accepted idea that "ought implies can," moral blame, and more.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2450-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    InHow to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggests that when trying to get an angry person to change her ways, you can improve the situation immediately by telling the person something along the lines of, “I understand your position. If I were in your shoes, I would want exactly the same thing.” In case the reader is concerned that this might be a bald untruth, Carnegie offers the assurance that following this policy never involves lying. After all, if you had your interlocutor’s genetic makeup and life experience, you would act, and think, exactly like her. The...

  5. 1 Praise and Blame: Toward a New Compatibilism
    (pp. 9-39)

    Punishing a person is an action: it is something onedoes. Blaming a person isnotan action—I might blame Brutus for the death of Caesar without doing anything—though the verbto blamecan also be used to refer to the act of notifying someone that you blame a person.

    The observation is hardly new, yet philosophers tend to dismiss the difference between blaming and punishing or remonstrating; we discuss whether it is fair to blame a person as if the question were equivalent to the question of whether it is fair to punish the person. This is...

  6. 2 Reason Responsiveness in a Deterministic World
    (pp. 40-85)

    Incompatibilists and libertarians are commonly accused of holding views in tension with the scientific worldview. Less discussed, however, is the tension between some incompatibilist views and some facets of what might be termed theromanticworldview—some undercurrents in our culture that are, by and large, associated with artists, poets, and jazz singers rather than with scientists.

    Consider two of the romantic’s favorite topics—art and love—and begin with art. Some incompatibilists argue—or at times, take it to be an intuition—that a work of art is valuable only if free will was exercised in its creation. Thus...

  7. 3 Ought Implies Can? An Argumemt from Epistemology
    (pp. 86-108)

    Suppose I raise my arm, perhaps in order to demonstrate to my students a point about raising my arm. I want to raise my arm, and I do so quite consciously. My muscles obey me and the process is problem free. As I raise my arm, I have a clear sense of freedom: a sense that if I hadn’t wanted to raise my arm, I would not have done it, that I am free to bring my arm back to where it was, that whether or not I raise my arm isup to me. I raise my arm “under...

  8. Interlude The Science Fiction of Mind Design
    (pp. 109-116)

    Imagine this: one morning, you read in the paper that new technologies have been developed that would give an expert user the ability to change people’s brain states by the flick of a switch, to the point of giving them precisely the beliefs or desires one wants to give them. Naturally, the availability of the new technology is worrisome. The government intends to ban it, which will limit the damage somewhat, but there seems to be no way to prevent criminal misuse of the technology. In fact, there has already been a case or two in which the technology has...

  9. 4 When Cheap Will Just Won’t Do
    (pp. 117-138)

    Even if we share with rattlesnakes the property of being causally determined, we can still respond to reasons, and so we can still have meaningful lives, subject to moral, epistemic, and other norms. Who can ask for anything more?

    Some people do, even granted that reason responsivness and moral praise and blameworthiness exist in a deterministic world. Somehow, the responsibility and reason-responsiveness that I have described here is not enough for them. They want a higher sense of self-authorship, Absolute Responsibility (Kane 1998) or origination (Honderich 2002) or the elusive state described by Paul the Pessimist as the ability to...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 139-142)
  11. Index
    (pp. 143-148)