Given the interest generated by Tamler's recent post on free will skepticism, I thought I would try to keep the discussion going by posting something about a related issue that I have often found puzzling. On the surface, it is obvious enough what distinguishes libertarians, on the one hand, from compatibilists, semi-compatibilists, and revisionists, on the other hand. The later, unlike the former, believe that we could be free and/or morally responsible even if determinism were true. Similarly, it is obvious enough what distinguishes libertarians from free will skeptics. The former, unlike the later, believe that we are both free and desert-based responsible.
However, it is not always as clear to me what distinguishes compatibilists, semi-compatibilists, and revisionists from free will skeptics. As far as I can tell, proponents of each of these views generally believe the following:
- Humans do not have the kind of robust free will that libertarians think we have.
- Humans are nevertheless typically reasons responsive creatures with the ability to consciously regulate their own behavior, form second-order desires, etc.
- Given the social nature of humans, the creation and enforcement of social norms is necessary and justified.
- Given the importance of social norms, punishment may be necessary for encouraging compliance--especially when the wrong-doers have the capacities mentioned in 2.
So, wherein lies the disagreement? It appears the two main disagreements are as follows:
- Should we call the kind of reasons responsiveness and conscious control that are emphasized by compatibilists, semi-compatibilists, and revisionists "free will" rather than something else?
- Regardless of what we call compatibilist control, is it enough for full blown desert-based moral responsibility (rather than the merely forward-looking stuff that presumably everyone agrees is compatible with determinism)?
The first of these two disagreements is entirely terminological. Settling this dispute requires the parties to the debate to spell out why they believe using the term "free will" is beneficial or harmful. For instance, Manuel thinks we should keep the term even if we have to (radically?) change the meaning, whereas I think we should jetison it entirely if we now realize we don't have the kind of causal powers we once thought we did.
The second disagreement does not appear to be merely terminological. But it is nevertheless important for compatibilists, semi-compatibilists, and revisions to spell out very carefully how and why the kind of circumscribed free will we purportedly have is enough to ground desert-based responsibility. Keep in mind that the issue is not whether humans ought to be held responsible for their actions. As 4 above makes clear, this is something about which all parties to the debate agree. The issue is whether the kind of free will compatibilists allege we have is enough for moral desert.
In arguing that it is, one needs an argument that does not trade on any of the compensatory benefits of holding people responsible since these are benefits about which even the free will skeptic can agree. No, what the compatibilists, semi-compatibilists, and revisionists need to show is that the kind of free will they are offering is enough for the kind of moral desert that is otherwise easily accommodated by the libertarian view. Of course, you could be a revisionist about the meaning of "moral responsibility" as well such that it is forward rather than backward looking. But then it makes the second disagreement mentioned above look merely terminological as well.
At the end of the day, it seems to me that when it comes to the distinction between compatibilists, semi-compatibilists, and revisionists, on the one hand, and free will skeptics, on the other, it all comes down to (a) whether we ought to call compatibilist control "free will," and (b) whether compatibilist control is enough for desert in addition to being enough to ground other forward looking notions of responsibility. I, for one, think the answer to both (a) and (b) is no. But I am curious to hear what others think...