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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Paul Russell on Free Will and Responsibility

Many philosophical theories try to evade the uncomfortable truth that luck and fate play a role in the conduct of our moral lives, argues philosopher Paul Russell. He chooses the best books on free will and responsibility.

Interview by Nigel Warburton
Originally published December 3, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Q: Most people feel, to some degree, in control of how they behave. There may be moments when they become irrational and other forces take over,  or where outside people force them to do things, but if I want to raise my hand or say “Stop!” those things seem to be easily within my conscious control. We also feel very strongly that people, including ourselves, merit praise and blame for the actions they perform because it’s us that’s performing them. It’s not someone else doing those things. And if we do something wrong, knowingly, it’s right to blame us for that.

A: That’s right. The common sense view — although we may articulate it in different ways in different cultures — is that there is some relevant sense in which we are in control and we are morally accountable. What makes philosophy interesting is that sceptical arguments can be put forward that appear to undermine or discredit our confidence in this common sense position. One famous version of this difficulty has theological roots. If, as everyone once assumed, there is a God, who creates the world and has the power to decide all that happens in it, then our common sense view of ourselves as free agents seems to be threatened, since God controls and guides everything that happens – including all our actions. Similar or related problems seem to arise with modern science.

The entire interview is here.

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