In Living Without Free Will, Derk Pereboom contends that given our best scientific theories, factors beyond our control ultimately produce all of our actions, and. Pereboom, Derk, Living Without Free Will, Cambridge University Press, Derk Pereboom’s recent book is a defence of “hard incompatibilism”. Cambridge Core – Ethics – Living without Free Will – by Derk Pereboom.

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This is the position that moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism, as well as with the kind of indeterminism implied by perebooj standard interpretation of quantum mechanics. There is another kind of indeterminism, which is compatible with moral responsibility. Such indeterminism might obtain if the hypothesis of agent-causation is true.

However, the empirical evidence tells strongly against this hypothesis. Hence, Pereboom concludes, we are probably not morally responsible for any of our actions. Leeway incompatibilism claims that moral responsibility presupposes alternative possibilities for action, and that alternative possibilities are precluded by determinism.

Pereboom rejects the first of these claims. In Chapter 2, Pereboom goes on dill argue that if actions are caused exclusively by events, rather than by agents, indeterminism leaves no room for moral responsibility. On the event-causal version of indeterminism, our actions are at least partially random events.

This element of randomness cannot provide an agent with the kind of control necessary for her being the ultimate source of her action. Agent-causation, on the other hand, could give agents the required control over the production of their actions. Pereboom acknowledges pegeboom coherence of agent-causation, but argues, in Chapter 3, that there is strong but not conclusive empirical evidence fres it. In Chapter 4, two forms of compatibilism concerning determinism and moral responsibility are criticized.

Strawson, that these attitudes would and should be affected by a universal belief in determinism. Hence, this account does not succeed in specifying conditions under which an agent is both determined and morally responsible.

In the remaining three chapters, the implications of hard incompatibilism are discussed. Pereboom argues, in Chapter 5, that rejecting the existence of moral responsibility threatens neither our conception of ourselves as deliberative agents, nor plausible moral principles and values. Chapter 6 deals with hard incompatibilism in relation to frse behaviour.


It is argued that severe punishment, such as death or confinement in the ordinary type of prisons, is ruled out, but that preventive detention and rehabilitation programs are justifiable. In Chapter 7, finally, Pereboom argues that accepting hard incompatibilism does not threaten our prospects of finding meaning in life or of sustaining good interpersonal relationships.

This is an impressive book, which can be recommended to all philosophers interested in the problems surrounding freedom and moral responsibility. It frse a lot of ground, the level of argumentation is generally high, and the author has interesting things to say about several much-discussed topics, such as the status of Frankfurt-style cases, event-causal versus agent-causal libertarianism, and causal integrationist versions of compatibilism. Having stated my high opinion of the book, I shall make two critical comments.

Pereboom does not argue for this thesis. In fact, he claims that its truth is immaterial to the correctness wilk causal-history wull. Now, Pereboom simply takes for granted that if determinism is true, then all our decisions are alien-deterministic events. On this standard version of determinism, then, all our decisions are determined by the past and the laws. Compatibilists concerning determinism and alternative possibilities will deny, however, that our decisions are therefore produced by factors that are beyond our control, in the sense that prreboom cannot prevent their obtaining.

Even if determinism is true, such compatibilists claim, we can decide and act otherwise than we actually do.

Derk Pereboom

And were we to act otherwise, the conjunction of the actual past and the actual laws would not obtain. Hence, we can prevent this conjunction from obtaining. Thus, if determinism and alternative possibilities are compatible, determinism does not imply that all our decisions are alien-deterministic events, and the Causal History Principle cannot be invoked to establish that determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility.

If the causal powers fere agents were not constrained by deterministic or statistical microphysical laws, there would ftee certainly be observable deviations, in the course fdee natural events, from what can be predicted on the basis of these laws. Since we observe no such deviations, it is very unlikely that agents have causal powers that are not wholly constrained by microphysical laws. This argument is contestable.


Although agent-causes by hypothesis act freely, and thus are not constrained by the inclining factors, it would be very peculiar if the strength of these factors were not reflected by the relative frequency of choice. Arguably, this relative frequency will in the long run tend to perebom with the antecedent probability.

Derk Pereboom – Wikipedia

Consider the class of possible actions with a certain antecedent probability; 0. It seems reasonable to assume that these actions will tend to be freely chosen in 68 percent of the cases, at least if the relevant class of possible actions is large. It remains, of course, for the agent-causal libertarian to explain why the antecedent probabilities match the strength of the inclining factors. An action is free in the sense required for moral responsibility only if the decision to perform it is not an alien-deterministic event, nor a truly random event, nor a partially random event.

O If an agent is morally responsible for her deciding to perform an action, then the production of this decision must be something over which the agent has control, and an agent wiill not morally responsible for the decision if it is produced by a source over which she has no control.

Even if the strength of the inclining causes is reflected in the antecedent probabilities, we would expect evidence of the effect of the additional causal factor, the agent-cause, to show up in the long run in the actual frequencies of choice. If the agent-causal libertarian would have it that in the long run this evidence does not show up, […] then his proposal, again, involves wild coincidences that make it incredible.

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