Free Will and Responsibility

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One of the most important facets of the philosophical study of free will is the idea of responsibility. When, if ever, is an agent responsible for their actions? While there are countless theories and schools of thought that attempt to shed light on this topic, several of which will be discussed here, there is one in particular that has stood out in our course of study thus far. It is the theory of the “Deep Self” and “Sane Deep Self” proposed by Susan Wolf. Of particular interest is this notion of the Sane Deep Self. Wolf argues, and I believe rightfully so, that sanity is a key factor in ultimately determining responsibility. However, as one may assume, this is not the only factor to consider. We will look at both the Deep Self View and the Sane Deep Self view, paying special attention to Wolf's story of the terrible dictator JoJo. Once this has been established, we will move to defend both Wolf's theory of the Sane Deep Self, including but not limited to what she believes is ultimately required of a person to be considered responsible for their own actions.

The “Deep Self” is an idea presented by Wolf which lays the foundation for her beliefs about responsibility while at the same time attempting to place the similarities in viewpoints posed by Harry Frankfurt, Gary Watson, and Charles Taylor in regards to their beliefs on responsibility, under one inclusive umbrella. These are beliefs that belong to what Wolf calls a new “trend in philosophical discussion of responsibility” (Kane 146). Wolf does not want to completely dismiss this trend, but rather she seeks to point out where it falls short, in turn offering what she considers to be the answer to these shortcomings with her “Sane Deep Self” view. Thus, before delving into exactly what Wolf means by this deep self, and eventually the sane deep self, it is critical we define the viewpoints of Frankfurt, Watson, and Taylor and the ways in which these views lend themselves, or contribute to, Wolf's own beliefs.

Let us begin by looking briefly at the views set forth by Frankfurt's “Freedom of Will and the Concept of a Person” (Kane 127-40), who makes a distinction between Freedom of Action and Freedom of Will. Freedom of Action implies freedom to do whatever one wills to do. However this alone is not enough to warrant responsibility. Someone may possess freedom of action but lack responsibility if their actions are not fully under their control or governed by their desires. (Kane 147) Such is the case, as Wolf points out, with people that are kleptomaniacs, or under hypnosis, or have been brainwashed. In these instances the desires governing their actions are not under their control. With this in mind we come to Frankfurt's idea of freedom of will. Freedom of will then is the ability to will what one wants to will. He breaks these up into first order desires (wants to act, animalistic desires) and second order desires (desires about that wants to have or what wants to act upon). Thus in order for someone to have freedom of action and freedom of will, in turn being a free responsible actor, they must govern their actions with both their first order desires as well as possess the ability to govern their first order desires by their second order desires.

Watson has a view not wholly divergent from that of Frankfurt. Whereas Frankfurt believes in the first and second order desires, Watson believes that there is a difference between simpler desires (such as being thirsty and wanting to drink) and desires that correspond to a persons values or beliefs. To Watson, a free agent is responsible for their actions when their wants or desires that entail these actions come from a particular place (this place is the value system of the agent). (Kane 148) If one views their desire to act a certain way as “good” in regards to their own system of values, then they are acting freely and responsibly, or rather are a free and responsible agent.

Finally we come...
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