Freedom and Responsibility

Freedom and Responsibility

Hilary Bok
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 230
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  • Book Info
    Freedom and Responsibility
    Book Description:

    Can we reconcile the idea that we are free and responsible agents with the idea that what we do is determined according to natural laws? For centuries, philosophers have tried in different ways to show that we can. Hilary Bok takes a fresh approach here, as she seeks to show that the two ideas are compatible by drawing on the distinction between practical and theoretical reasoning.

    Bok argues that when we engage in practical reasoning--the kind that involves asking "what should I do?" and sifting through alternatives to find the most justifiable course of action--we have reason to hold ourselves responsible for what we do. But when we engage in theoretical reasoning--searching for causal explanations of events--we have no reason to apply concepts like freedom and responsibility. Bok contends that libertarians' arguments against "compatibilist" justifications of moral responsibility fail because they describe human actions only from the standpoint of theoretical reasoning. To establish this claim, she examines which conceptions of freedom of the will and moral responsibility are relevant to practical reasoning and shows that these conceptions are not vulnerable to many objections that libertarians have directed against compatibilists. Bok concludes that the truth or falsity of the claim that we are free and responsible agents in the sense those conceptions spell out is ultimately independent of deterministic accounts of the causes of human actions.

    Clearly written and powerfully argued,Freedom and Responsibilityis a major addition to current debate about some of philosophy's oldest and deepest questions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2273-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-9)

    Mechanism is the view that human actions can be explained as the result of natural processes alone; that the “mechanistic style of explanation, which works so well for electrons, motors, and galaxies,”¹ also works for us. If mechanism is true, then just as our explanations of the motions of planets no longer require the existence of prime movers to supplement natural processes, so our actions could in principle be explained by a complex neurophysiological theory, without reference to a nonnatural self that causes them.

    All libertarians in the free will debate believe that one form of mechanism—determinism—is incompatible...

  5. 1 The Problem
    (pp. 10-51)

    The purpose of this chapter is to set out what I take to be the central problem of freedom of the will. This chapter has three sections. In the first I describe a prereflective view of freedom of the will—the view which, I believe, most people start out with and from which my discussion of this topic will—therefore begin. I try to show that this view breaks down under the pressure of questions which mechanism forces it to address and that some standard compatibilist accounts of freedom of the will likewise fail to address these questions satisfactorily. In...

  6. 2 Theoretical and Practical Reason
    (pp. 52-91)

    In chapter 1 I discussed the reasons why a libertarian might think that mechanism implies that we are neither free nor morally responsible for our conduct. My solution to this problem relies on the distinction between theoretical and practical reasoning and between the standpoints from which we engage in them. In this chapter I explain what theoretical and practical reasoning are, why we engage in practical reasoning, and what the relationship between these two forms of reasoning is. I conclude that theoretical and practical reasoning do not conflict but complement one another, and therefore that the legitimacy of claims made...

  7. 3 Freedom
    (pp. 92-122)

    In chapter 2 I claimed that any attempt to use a distinction between standpoints to justify our ascriptions of freedom and moral responsibility to persons must answer three questions. First, can valid claims made from the two standpoints conflict? Second, what reason do we have to adopt the standpoint from which we ascribe freedom and moral responsibility to persons? Third, what reason does that standpoint give us to ascribe freedom and moral responsibility to persons? In chapter 2 I considered the first two questions. My purpose in that chapter was to show that the practical point of view is a...

  8. 4 Holding Ourselves Responsible
    (pp. 123-140)

    In chapter 1 I argued that libertarians reject compatibilist accounts of freedom of the will because they believe that no such account can allow us to justify the claim that we are morally responsible for our actions.¹ My arguments in chapter 3 do not address these concerns, since in that chapter I did not discuss the relation of the conception of freedom I set out to moral responsibility. In chapter 3 I argued that when we are trying to decide what to do, our conception of the alternatives that are open to us must include all the actions that we...

  9. 5 The Adequacy of My Account
    (pp. 141-166)

    I have argued that the requirements of practical reasoning give each of us reason to distinguish those actions and events that reflect her will from those that do not, and to take attitudes towards the former that she would not take towards other events. Thus, I will merely regret or rejoice over events that do not reflect my will. But I will hold myself responsible for those actions that I freely performed. Because those actions reflect my will, if they violate my standards I cannot simply regret having performed them as I might regret the outcome of the 1994 Congressional...

  10. Excursus on Guilt
    (pp. 167-179)

    The account of moral responsibility described in the last two chapters implies that we should hold ourselves morally responsible for those of our actions that reflect our wills and that we should blame ourselves when what those actions reflect is a defect. Moreover, it implies that we have reason not simply to blame ourselves when we happen to stumble across such defects but actively to seek out occasions for guilt through self-examination. But one might think that guilt is not something that should be encouraged. Freud maintains that guilt is a form of internalized aggression. When we allow ourselves to...

  11. 6 Holding Others Responsible
    (pp. 180-198)

    In chapters 4 and 5 I argued that the requirements of practical reasoning give me reason to take an interest in my conduct insofar as it reflects my will, and in evaluating those features of my will that it reveals. This evaluation may lead me to conclude that my will is flawed: that I do not act as my own standards imply that I should. Because my will determines not only my past actions but my future actions as well, this flaw in my will, if left uncorrected, might lead me to act wrongly in the future. For this reason,...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 199-214)

    In the first chapter of this book I claimed that libertarianism depends on a particular formulation of the problem of freedom of the will, a formulation that is a natural development of our prereflective view of that problem, but that ensures that it cannot be solved. And I argued that a solution to the problem of freedom of the will would therefore require a new formulation of that problem, one that allows us to show that we are in some satisfactory sense free and morally responsible, that is rooted in our ordinary understanding, and that allows us to explain both...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 215-220)
  14. Index
    (pp. 221-221)