A Wittgensteinian Account of Free Will and Moral Responsibility

In Cecilie Eriksen, Julia Hermann, Neil O'Hara & Nigel Pleasants (eds.), Philosophical Perspectives on Moral Certainty. New York: Routledge. pp. 132-155 (2023)
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In this chapter we deal with the challenge to the existence of free will and moral responsibility that is raised by the threat of determinism from a Wittgensteinian perspective. Our argument starts by briefly recapitulating Wittgenstein’s analysis of the practice of doubt in On Certainty. We subsequently turn to the problem of free will. We argue that the existence of free will is a basic certainty and that the thesis of determinism fails to cast doubt on it. We thereby make use of – but also try to go beyond – Wittgenstein’s own remarks in his “Lectures on Freedom of the Will”. In the final section we focus more explicitly on moral responsibility. Inspired by P.F. Strawson’s work on free will and moral responsibility, which we take to be deeply Wittgensteinian, we argue that our practices of holding each other responsible manifest basic human certainties which cannot be meaningfully challenged by invoking the thesis of determinism.

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