This is the 46th post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. The last post presented a problem related to freedom and moral responsibility, one that philosophers have called moral luck. According to Immanuel Kant, you not be responsible for things you have no control over, and yet we constantly evaluate people according to things they have no control over, as the many cases in the last post show. Now I'll turn to some ways people have responded to the difficulties raised by such cases.
Some try to keep a view like Kant's by giving responses to Nagel's arguments, and some of the responses seem ok when you focus in on only one kind of case. Once you look at another case, the response doesn't help. For example, you might insist that your genetic tendencies only make it likely that you do certain things. You still have control. This is what you would expect from a libertarian. Nagel will still insist that there are people who wouldn't have done what they did if they had had less of a tendency. This means their genetic tendency did make the difference. This may not be true for everyone, but it does seem to be true sometimes. That's all Nagel needs, since then you have a case when we hold someone responsible for something outside their control. Similarly, the twin in Argentina may have been able to resist what his brother didn't resist. But the point is more that there are cases when people do things simply because they're placed in the environment that allows it. If Hitler had never had the opportunity to do what he did, he wouldn't have been responsible for all the evil things he did. Then we wouldn't consider him a monster. So he got unlucky in one sense. Maybe he would have been a hero if he'd been in situations that prevented him from being the way he was.
Even more important is that this kind of response doesn't help with cases like hitting someone (or not) while driving under the influence or with the consequences of starting a war. You can choose not to drive or drink, and you can choose not to go to war, but you can't choose everything that happens as a result of your choices. Yet we still praise and blame based on what happens after your choice is made, not always for things you could have predicted.
Even someone's actions when drunk are under one's indirect control, since, as Aristotle points out, you can choose to start drinking. Kant may be fine with that, yet some of Nagel's cases don't even seem to be as much under our control as someone who is drunk. Do his cases show that Kant is wrong? If so, what do we say about the argument for free will based on moral responsibility and having control over what we do? Or should we affirm Kant's view and insist that we shouldn't hold each other responsible for these sorts of things? That would require serious revision in our moral thinking. Or is there some other response? Is our moral thinking just confused? Do we have conflicting moral beliefs? Nagel just says it's a mystery. Peter van Inwagen says something similar about free will. He says any view anyone takes on freedom will involve some mystery, and the goal is to find the view with the least mystery (which he thinks is libertarianism on the issue of free will). What would that be in this case?
You might think of this issue in terms of three claims: