Lucky agents, big and little: should size really matter?
This essay critically examines Alfred R. Mele’s attempt to solve a problem for libertarianism that he calls the problem of present luck. Many have thought that the traditional libertarian belief in basically free acts (where the latter are any free A-ings that occur at times at which the past up to that time and the laws of nature are consistent with the agent’s not A-ing at that time) entail that the acts are due to luck at the time of the act (present luck) rather than to the kind of agent control required for genuinely free, morally responsible action. While libertarians frequently have tried to rebut the claim that basically free acts are due to present luck, Mele argues for the daring thesis that they should embrace present luck rather than try to explain it away. His strategy is to argue that the assumption of present luck in the decisions of very young children (or “little agents”) does not preclude us from attributing to them a small amount of moral responsibility and that this makes it possible to conceive of moral development as a gradual process in which as the frequency of the indeterministically caused free actions increases, the agents take on greater and greater moral responsibility. In this paper I give several possible reconstructions of Mele’s argument and analyze in detail why none of them succeeds.
KeywordsDaring soft libertarianism Present luck Little agents Free will Moral responsibility
For helpful comments I am indebted to Paul Bassen, Robert Kane, Eddy Nahmias, David Widerker and an anonymous referee for this journal.
- Clarke, R. (2002). Libertarian views: Critical survey of noncausal and event-causal accounts of free agency. In R. Kane (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of free will. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Clarke, R. (2003). Libertarian accounts of free will. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kane, R. (1989). The significance of free will. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Mele, A. (1995). Autonomous agents: From self-control to autonomy. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- O’Connor, T. (2000). Persons and causes. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- van Inwagen, P. (1983). An essay on free will. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
- van Inwagen, P. (2000). Free will remains a mystery. Philosophical Perspectives, 14, 1–19. Reprinted in R. Kane (Ed.), Oxford handbook of free will. 2002 Oxford: New York. 158-17.Google Scholar