The People Problem

In Gregg D. Caruso (ed.), Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Lexington Books. pp. 141 (2013)
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One reason that many philosophers are reluctant to seriously contemplate the possibility that we lack free will seems to be the view that we must believe we have free will if we are to regard each other as persons in the morally deep sense—the sense that involves deontological notions such as human rights. In the contemporary literature, this view is often informed by P.F. Strawson's view that to treat human beings as having free will is to respond to them with the reactive attitudes, and that if we suspend the reactive attitudes we can only regard human beings as objects to be manipulated in the service of social goals. This purported implication of suspending the reactive attitudes has persuaded many philosophers that we cannot truly treat human beings as persons without assuming that they have free will. I argue that this line of thinking is misguided. I think Strawson is correct to worry that the consequentialism he sees as implicit in the objective attitude undermines our ability to treat each other as persons. But I think it is a mistake to accept that we must maintain the reactive attitudes, or any other attributions of free will or moral responsibility, to avoid a depersonalizing slide into consequentialism. Kant's idea of treating people as autonomous ends in themselves, rather than as mere means to ends, provides a compelling analysis of what it means to treat humans as persons, and I argue that there are ways of interpreting Kant's idea which do not involve reactive attitudes or any other attributions of free will or moral responsibility.
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