Taking Responsibility for Ourselves: A Kierkegaardian Account of the Freedom-Relevant Conditions Necessary for the Cultivation of Character

Dissertation, Baylor University (2011)
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Abstract
What are the freedom-relevant conditions necessary for someone to be a morally responsible person? I examine several key authors beginning with Harry Frankfurt that have contributed to this debate in recent years, and then look back to the writings or Søren Kierkegaard to provide a solution to the debate. In this project I investigate the claims of semi-compatibilism and argue that while its proponents have identified a fundamental question concerning free will and moral responsibility—namely, that the agential properties necessary for moral responsibility ascriptions are found in scenarios where the agent acts on her own as opposed to her action resulting from freedom undermining external causes such as manipulation, phobias, etc.—they have failed to show that the freedom-relevant agential properties identified in those actual-sequence scenarios are compatible with causal determinism. My argument is that only a voluntarist-libertarian theory can adequately account for the kinds of cases that the semicompatibilist identify. I argue that there are three freedom-relevant conditions necessary for someone to be a morally responsible person: a hierarchical understanding of human desires [specifically and mental states generally], an incompatibilist (non-deterministic) understanding of human action, and a historical understanding of character development. The ability to reflect critically about one’s own desires and emotions, and thus to have a kind of self-knowledge and understanding with regard to the springs of one’s own actions, is required to make it possible for the agent to be the “source” of her own actions and character. The non-deterministic understanding of human action is needed for a similar reason: if determinism is true, then every action a person performs can be ultimately traced to and exhaustively explained in terms of factors outside the agent’s control, thus making the agent’s responsibility for his actions an illusion. And finally,human nature must be such that, over time, one’s choices leave a dispositional residue self-understanding and motivation in the person’s self, out of which, in mature understanding and motivation, the person acts as a fully responsible agent.
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