Fischer’s Way: The Next Level


I present an analogy between analytic philosophy and a particular sort of computer game, and analyze some aspects of John Martin Fischer's My Way in the light of this analogy. I set out the different levels of the free will question, and explore how well Fischer does on them. On the compatibility level, he succeeds, in my view, in confronting the "metaphysical challenge" and the "manipulation challenge", but does less well with the "moral arbitrariness challenge". The compatibilist perspective captures only part of the moral and personal truth on the compatibility issue, and is shown to be inherently shallow. On the next levels we see that Fischer confronts particular dangers: the very virtues that make his minimalist position so resilient on the second (compatibility) level, render it too impoverished when it comes to the third, which asks about the very importance of taking moral responsibility seriously. Connecting to other positions (such as P.F. Strawson's version of naturalism) may be an imperative, but would also be risky. Likewise, on the fourth level, where we confront the difficulty of deciding how to deal with the previous conclusions, it is doubtful how well Fischer can do, given his previous philosophical commitments.

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  1. 1.

    The idea of anticipating moves and preparing one’s response is familiar from chess. Chess, however, is not a good metaphor for philosophy for various reasons, such as that every game is different, whereas philosophers working on a problem (like people playing a computer game of the sort that I described) are playing more or less the same game over and over.

  2. 2.

    van Inwagen (1983).

  3. 3.

    See, e.g., Smilansky (2005).

  4. 4.

    In a very interesting paper that unfortunately came out too late for inclusion in My Way—Fischer (2006)—Fischer addresses my claims about luck and shallowness in detail. I felt that it would be awkward to take up in a symposium on this book the points that Fischer has made elsewhere; and I have tried to phrase my objections on the compatibility question (for example, the point that I make about fairness) in a way that would be independent of our exchanges.

  5. 5.

    Smilansky (2000, 2005).

  6. 6.

    For example, Waller (1990), Pereboom (2001), and Sommers (2007).

  7. 7.

    Wallace (1994).

  8. 8.

    See Strawson (2003). For my stance on P.F. Strawson, see Smilansky (2001). I consider Wallace in Smilansky (forthcoming).

  9. 9.

    See Smilansky (2005).


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I am thankful for the invitation to comment on Fischer’s book. I am very grateful to John Martin Fischer, Iddo Landau, and Dan Speak for helpful comments on drafts of this paper.

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Correspondence to Saul Smilansky.

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Smilansky, S. Fischer’s Way: The Next Level. J Ethics 12, 147–155 (2008).

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  • Compatibilism
  • John Martin Fischer
  • Free will
  • Moral arbitrariness
  • Moral responsibility
  • Moral shallowness