The Four-Case Argument and the Existential/Universal Effect

Erkenntnis 88 (6):2379-2389 (2021)
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One debate surrounding Derk Pereboom’s (2001, 2014) four-case argument against compatibilism focuses on whether, and why, we judge manipulated agents to be neither free nor morally responsible. In this paper, we propose a novel explanation. The four-case argument features cases where an agent is the only individual in her universe who has been manipulated. Let us call manipulation whose scope includes at least one but not all agents existential manipulation. Contrast this with universal manipulation, which affects all agents within a universe. We propose that we find agents in Pereboom’s manipulation cases less free and morally responsible in part because they are the target of existential manipulation. We empirically tested this hypothesis and found that people’s free will and moral responsibility judgments were sensitive to the scope of manipulation: people judged existentially manipulated agents significantly less free and responsible than universally manipulated agents.

Author Profiles

Andrew James Latham
Aarhus University
Hannah Tierney
University of California, Davis


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