Free Will and Moral Responsibility: The Trap, the Appreciation of Agency, and the Bubble

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In Part I, I reflect in some detail upon the free will problem and about the way its understanding has radically changed. First I outline the four questions that go into making the free will problem. Second, I consider four paradigmatic shifts that have occurred in our understanding of this problem. Then I go on to reflect upon this complex and multi-level situation. In Part II of this essay, I explore the major alternative positions, and defend my views, in new ways. Instead of trying to spread over many issues, I present one new argument against compatibilism, which I call "The Trap". This tries to explicate the main problem that I find with this position. Then I present an exposition of what we nevertheless need to follow, which I call "the Appreciation of Agency". This supports a measure of compatibilism in a more modest form, and opposes hard determinism. On this basis, we can confront the philosophical and practical questions, as to what we ought to believe and how we ought to live, with respect to free will and moral responsibility. This leads to what I call "The Bubble," which addresses the way in which we deal with the tension between the absence of libertarian free will and The Trap, and the crucial need for the Appreciation of Agency. I conclude by reflecting upon three attributes of the free will problem that I consider central, but that have been neglected in the debate: complexity, risk and tragedy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-239
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Ethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Compatibilism
  • Free will
  • Hard determinism
  • Illusion
  • Illusionism
  • Moral responsibility
  • Punishment
  • Tragedy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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