Res Publica

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 219–235 | Cite as

Betting Against Hard Determinism

  • Göran Duus-Otterström


The perennial fear associated with the free will problem is the prospect of hard determinism being true. Unlike prevalent attempts to reject hard determinism by defending compatibilist analyses of freedom and responsibility, this article outlines a pragmatic argument to the effect that we are justified in betting that determinism is false even though we may retain the idea that free will and determinism are incompatible. The basic argument is that as long as we accept that libertarian free will is worth wanting, there is a defensible rationale, given the uncertainty which remains as to whether determinism is true or false, to refrain from acting on hard determinism, and thus to bet that libertarian free will exists. The article closes by discussing two potentially decisive objections to this pragmatic argument.


Determinism Free will Moral responsibility Practical reason Uncertainty 



I am grateful to the participants at the seminar for political theory in the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg, Raino Malnes, Karl Persson, and two anonymous referees for comments on earlier versions of this paper.


  1. Balaguer, Mark. 2004. A coherent, naturalistic, and plausible formulation of libertarian free will. Noûs 38: 379–406.Google Scholar
  2. Barry, Brain. 1990. Political argument, 2nd ed. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  3. Berlin, Isaiah. 2002. Four essays on liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bok, Hilary. 1998. Freedom and responsibility. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Dennett, Daniel C. 1984. Elbow room. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Dennett, Daniel C. 2004. Freedom evolves. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  7. Elster, Jon. 1998. A plea for mechanisms. In Social mechanisms: An analytical approach to social theory, ed. Peter Hedström, and Rickard Swedberg. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Fischer, John Martin. 1999. Recent work on moral responsibility. Ethics 110: 93–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fischer, John Martin, and Mark Ravizza. 1998. Responsibility and control: A theory of moral responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Flyvbjerg, Bent. 2001. Making social science matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Frankfurt, Harry G. 1988. The importance of what we care about. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Goodin, Robert, and Hans-Dieter Klingemann. 2000. Political science: The discipline. In A new handbook of political science, ed. Robert Goodin, and Hans-Dieter Klingemann. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Hempel, C.G. 1965. Aspects of scientific explanation. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hempel, C.G., and Paul Oppenheim. 1948. Studies in the logic of explanation. Philosophy of Science 15: 135–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Honderich, Ted. 1990. The consequences of determinism. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  16. Humphreys, Paul. 1989. The chances of explanation: Causal explanations in the social, medical, and physical sciences. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Kane, Robert. 1994. Free will: The elusive ideal. Philosophical Studies 75: 25–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kane, Robert. 1998. The significance of free will. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Morris, Herbert. 1968. Persons and punishment. The Monist 52: 475–501.Google Scholar
  20. Pereboom, Derk. 1995. Determinism al Dente. Noûs 29: 21–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pereboom, Derk. 2001. Living without free will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Richards, Janet Radcliffe. 2000. Human nature after Darwin. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Rosenberg, Alexander. 1995. Philosophy of social science. Colorado: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  24. Scheffler, Samuel. 1992. Responsibility, reactive attitudes, and liberalism in philosophy and politics. Philosophy & Public Affairs 21: 299–323.Google Scholar
  25. Searle, John. 2001. Rationality in action. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Shapiro, Ian. 2002. Problems, methods, and theories in the study of politics, or what’s wrong with political science and what to do about it. Political Theory 30: 596–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Skinner, B.F. 1971. Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc.Google Scholar
  28. Smilansky, Saul. 1994. The ethical advantages of hard determinism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 54: 355–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Smilansky, Saul. 2000. Free will and illusion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  30. Smilansky, Saul. 2003. Compatibilism: The argument from shallowness. Philosophical Studies 115: 257–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Strawson, P.F. 1974. Freedom and resentment. London: Meuthen & Co Ltd.Google Scholar
  32. Strawson, Galen. 1994. The impossibility of moral responsibility. Philosophical Studies 75: 5–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wendt, Alexander. 2006. Social theory as Cartesian Science: An auto-critique from a quantum perspective. In Constructivism and international relations, ed. Stefano Guzzini, and Anna Leander. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden

Personalised recommendations