The Classic Argument Against Classical Compatbilism

The classical compatibilist argues that the incompatibilist worries over free-will and moral responsibility is a “pseudo problem” – brought by terminological and/or conceptual confusions.

The classical compatibilist argues thus: free actions are caused by our desires and willings, whilst unfree actions are brought about by external forces, such as coercion, that are independent of the individual’s desires and willings. That is, contrary to the incompatibilist view of free-will, free-will is not the absence of causes but is determined in relation to the types of causes at work.

However, Classical Compatibilism has a major weak point, which has entailed that the overwhelming majority of compatibilists working in this domain have dropped Classical Compatibilism and have tried to reform it. Only Davidson and Berofsky of note have stayed with this formulation of Classical Compatiblism.

The argument against Classical Compatibilism comes in two similar forms. I will now quote the objections as they are written in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in the fantastic article “Pessimists, Pollyannas and the New Compatibilism”

The most obvious difficulty facing any conception of moral freedom identified with the ability to act according to the determination of an agent’s desires or willings is that such freedom is something that an animal, a child, or a mentally ill person might enjoy – all paradigmatic cases of individuals who lack moral freedom.Related to this point, some individuals, such as the kleptomaniac appear to act according to compulsive desires, in cases of this kind,  the agents desires constitute internal obstacles to doing what the agent (reflectively) truly wants to do. Clearly, then, classical accounts of freedom understood of  simply as free action cannot draw the sorts of distinctions that we need to make in this sphere”



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