Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Ultimate Responsibility and Dumb Luck*

Alfred R. Melea1

a1 Philosophy, Davidson College

My topic lies on conceptual terrain that is quite familiar to philosophers. For others, a bit of background may be in order. In light of what has filtered down from quantum mechanics, few philosophers today believe that the universe is causally deterministic (or “deterministic,” for short). That is, to use Peter van Inwagen's succinct definition of “determinism,” few philosophers believe that “there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.” Even so, partly for obvious historical reasons, philosophers continue to argue about whether free will and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism. Compatibilists argue for compatibility, and incompatibilists argue against it. Some incompatibilists maintain that free will and moral responsibility are illusions. But most are libertarians, libertarianism being the conjunction of incompatibilism and the thesis that at least some human beings are possessed of free will and moral responsibility.


* For written comments on a draft of this essay, I am grateful to Randy Clarke, Ish Haji, Bob Kane, Dave Robb, and the editors of this volume. I am indebted as well to audiences at Wayne State University and Uppsala University.