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Review of D. Pereboom’s Book “Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life” (2014) by Dmitry Volkov

19 January, 2021

Volkov D.
First pub. in: Вестник томского университета. № 4 (36) 2016. С. 404-409.

The problem of free will and moral responsibility is a traditional problem for the philosophical investigations. So the contemporary analytical philosophy continues the project that has been started a few hundred years ago. However in the past several decades there has been progress made in this area. Philosophers like R. Kane, J. Fischer, H. Frankfurt, D. Dennett and D. Pereboom made significant contributions to clarify the issues and drafts the possible solutions. In this paper I provide a review of D. Perebooms recent book on free will – Free will, agency and the meaning of life (2014). The first part of the book is devoted to the proof of the Incompatibilism between causal determinism (and indeterminism) and responsibility. Pereboom rejects the necessity of the alternative possibilities as a necessary component for the free will and moral responsibility. However he insists on incompatibilism on other grounds. The main argument for Incompatibilism is Pereboom’s original Four Case Manipulation Argument. According to the author the argument shows that there is no relevant difference between the cases when the agent is being manipulated and the cases where the behavior of the agent is being determined by the events in the past and the laws of nature. The second part of the book is Pereboom’s defense of optimistic skepticism. The author argues that even without moral responsibility in the basic desert sense, the human life doesn’t lose meaning and the interpersonal relations don’t lose its value. In this paper I disagree with the main argument of D. Pereboom. I suggest his description of the four cases is missing important details. Most readers make a judgment about the absence of responsibility in the described cases not because there is manipulation but because there it is unclear if the agent there indeed is a person and what kind of person he is. If we fill in the important details and describe the agent in such a way that his character is being revealed the audience will likely to judge him to be morally responsible for his behavior. I try to prove my point by describing an alternative scenario to the first case of Pereboom’s argument.

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