Merit, Meaning, and Human Bondage
An Essay on Free Will
Perhaps everything we think, feel, and do is determined, and humans--like stones or clouds--are slaves to the laws of nature. Would that be a terrible state? Philosophers who take the incompatibilist position think so, arguing that a deterministic world would be one without moral responsibility and perhaps without true love, meaningful art, and real rationality. But compatibilists and semicompatibilists argue that determinism need not worry us. As long as our actions stem, in an appropriate way, from us, or respond in some way to reasons, our actions are meaningful and can be judged on their moral (or other) merit.
In this highly original work, Nomy Arpaly argues that a deterministic world does not preclude moral responsibility, rationality, and love--in short, meaningful lives--but that there would still be something lamentable about a deterministic world. A person may respond well to reasons, and her actions may faithfully reflect her true self or values, but she may still feel that she is not free. Arpaly argues that compatibilists and semicompatibilists are wrong to dismiss this feeling--for which there are no philosophical consolations--as philosophically irrelevant. On the way to this bittersweet conclusion, Arpaly sets forth surprising theories about acting for reasons, the widely accepted idea that "ought implies can," moral blame, and more.Nomy Arpaly is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Brown University and the author of Unprincipled Virtue.