Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society: Challenging Retributive Justice // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame

Elizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom, and Gregg D. Caruso have compiled a volume that centralizes a question of great philosophical and practical importance — what is the relationship between skeptical views about free will and criminal punishment? It provides an excellent new resource for anyone who finds some variety of free will skepticism appealing (or troubling), and thus feels a looming threat to retributive justification for our modern criminal justice system.

The volume is divided into three main sections. In Part I, Saul Smilansky, Caruso, and Bruce N. Waller focus on identifying and assessing the pragmatic implications of endorsing some variety of free will skepticism. Here some initial clarification about the nature of free will skepticism itself is in order. While there are a variety of ways that we might understand the motivation for free will skepticism and its ultimate scope, the majority of contributors here accept something akin to Pereboom’s version. For those unfamiliar with the position, it is a relatively cautious variety of skepticism. According to Pereboom, the troubles for traditional success theories of free will and moral responsibility suggest that, at best, we have no good reason to think that we ever have the kind of freedom needed to make us morally responsible and deserving of praise and blame in the basic (non-consequentialist) sense. In other words, the assumption that we sometimes genuinely deserve backward-looking, retributive blame for our actions is unfounded. And, in light of the significant harms associated with this kind of blame and its attendant practices (perhaps foremost among them, punishment) we ought to take seriously the skeptical position that they are in fact never truly deserved.
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