Free Will Pessimism

In David Shoemaker (ed.), Oxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility Volume 4. Oxford University Press. pp. 93-120. (2017)
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The immediate aim of this paper is to articulate the essential features of an alternative compatibilist position, one that is responsive to sources of resistance to the compatibilist program based on considerations of fate and luck. The approach taken relies on distinguishing carefully between issues of skepticism and pessimism as they arise in this context. A compatibilism that is properly responsive to concerns about fate and luck is committed to what I describe as free will pessimism, which is to be distinguished from free will skepticism. Free will skepticism is the view that our vulnerability to conditions of fate and luck serve to discredit our view of ourselves as free and responsible agents. Free will pessimism rejects free will scepticism, since the basis of its pessimism rests with the assumption that we are free and responsible agents who are, nevertheless, subject to fate and luck in this aspect of our lives. According to free will pessimism, all the major parties and positions in the free will debate, including that of skepticism, are modes of evasion and distortion regarding our human predicament in respect of agency and moral life.

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Paul Russell
Lund University


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