Hard Incompatibilism

In the debate between free will and determinism, we have a second layer, perhaps better characterised as a meta-dimension we tend to label compatibilism and incompatibilism.

Saving any technical definitions of free will and determinism, these things are generally seen as mutually exclusive situations, which is to say that if we have free will, then the happenings of the universe and of us by extension are not determined. If the universe is deterministic, then we have no free will. This is incompatibilism.

Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism can simultaneously coexist. I’ll spare the details for now.

Free will and moral responsibility — Derk Pereboom (11:42)

Cornell philosopher Derk Pereboom presents his position here. I’ve only recently been exposed to Pereboom by a colleague, who recommended Pereboom’s Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life when I told him about my Anti-Agency pursuits. Pereboom’s name began to crop up more and more frequently as I dug deeper, but I want to give credit where credit’s due.

Ostensibly, Pereboom defends Spinoza’s position ‘that due to very general facts about the nature of the universe we human beings lack the sort of free will required for moral responsibility in the sense at issue.’*

Compatibilism is a synonym for hard determinism, but Pereboom calls ‘the resulting variety of scepticism about free will ‘hard incompatibilism’. Naming it ‘hard determinism’ would be inaccurate, since [he’s] not committed to determinism, so a new term is needed.’* He also informs us in a footnote that the ‘term ‘hard determinism’ originates in William James (1884).*

In closing, Pereboom lists some prominent free will sceptics that I share here:

  • Baruch Spinoza (1677/1985)
  • Paul d’Holbach (1770);
  • Joseph Priestley (1788/1965)
  • John Hospers (1950, 1958)
  • Paul Edwards (1958)
  • Galen Strawson (1986)
  • Bruce Waller (1990, 2011)
  • Derk Pereboom (1995, 2001, 2007)
  • Daniel Wegner (2002);
  • Shaun Nichols (2007)
  • Stephen Morris (2009)
  • Neil Levy (2011)
  • Thomas Nadelhoffer (2011)
  • Tamler Sommers (2012)
  • Gregg Caruso (2012)
  • Benjamin Vilhauer (2012)

I would add Daniel Dennett and perhaps Sam Harris to this list.


* Pereboom, Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life, 2014

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