The Problem of Free Will

Pamela Hieronymi addresses traditional questions involving free will and moral responsibility: Is it reasonable to believe that humans are "in control" of their behavior in such a way that they can be morally responsible? Do the findings of physics and neuroscience imply that humans cannot be responsible for what they do? Professor Hieronymi carefully explains why she resists efforts to preserve free will and moral responsibility in terms of "other-worldly souls," undetermined brain events, and "emergent powers" of the brain. She closes her presentation by sketching an account of control that, she believes, will allow her to preserve a sense of moral responsibility that is consistent with our being purely material beings subject to causation and the laws of physics.

"Among the grandest of philosophical puzzles is a riddle about moral responsibility. Almost all of us believe that each one of us is, has been, or will be responsible for at least some of our behavior. But how can this be so if determinism is true and all our thoughts, decisions, choices, and actions are simply droplets in a river of deterministic events that began its flow long, long before we were ever born? The specter of determinism, as it were, devours agents, for if determinism is true, then arguably w…

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