Harding on Compatibilism

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Patricia M. Barragán
June 17, 2012
Philo. 154B; C. Normore

Final Paper; Harding on Compatibilism
Compatibilism is the idea that freedom of the will and determinism are harmonious. Susan Wolf an advocate for compatibilism in support of her own personal theory argues, “agent freedom cannot enhance freedom of choice or responsibility” (338 Harding). Instead claims that, ‘“an individual is responsible if and only is she able to form her actions on the basis of her values and she is able to form her values on the basis of what is True and Good”’ (338). In other words, compatibilism works on the idea of reasoning. Gregory Harding believes otherwise, he disagrees with the idea that a free agent cannot be fully free if determinism is also able to exist. Harding also believes that freedom yields a further kind of moral responsibility than what Wolf explains. With that being said, in this paper I will discuss Susan Wolf’s view on compatibilism through Harding’s rational interpretation and explain why Harding is correct in proving Wolf wrong. After evaluating the debate between Wolf and Harding, I will explain why I agree with Harding’s argument against compatibilism.

Wolf’s main reasoning for compatibilism is her concept of Freedom within Reason. Wolf believes that an agent’s freedom comes with creating or deepening moral responsibility. And uses this concept to explain her deep skepticism on autonomy and agent freedom. Agent freedom cannot enhance freedom of choice or responsibility according to Wolf because the idea of agent freedom is insufficient. Which is why Wolf clarifies the idea of agent freedom with the concept, Reason View. According to the Reason View, as mentioned earlier, responsibility depends on the power to act in accordance to the True and the Good. In order to have necessary and sufficient moral responsibility or other kinds of deep responsibility, Wolf says, that the ability to form values and actions must follow the reason view. For example, if an individual does form their actions and values, then he/she is free and fully responsible even if he/she could have done differently. This is Wolf’s definition of freedom.

Harding, on the other hand, disagrees with Wolf’s idea of freedom. But he does state that Wolf’s conditions do fit a conception of freedom as enabling conditions but they are principles that describe not all, but most of human freedom in terms of enabling conditions. The idea is explained like this in Harding’s words:

If X is a natural and voluntary human activity, and X can be done well or badly, then conditions in which we are unable to do X well (or at all) are conditions in which we are less free, whether or not we want to X well (338).

Harding uses a human’s natural ability and voluntary human activity of walking as an example for this idea. He claims, that if our legs were to be chained or crippled so that we can only take minor steps, then our freedom is confined because we are unable to walk whether we want to walk normally. Uniformly, being able to make choices is a natural and voluntary human activity. If we were to be in the dark about what was justly Good or about other aspects of the True important for choice, so that it only leaves us to choose blindly, then it seems here that we are less free because we are incapable of making virtuous choices, regardless of wanting to make the right choices or not. With that being said, it shows that if an agent has the ability to make choices well because the guidance of the Good and True is accessible, then this ability to choose does bring with a responsibility for the agent’s choices that he/she would not otherwise have.

Understandably Wolf’s conditions for defining an important type of freedom are good ones, especially a freedom that requires moral responsibility. But the question now is how is that responsibility affected if we incorporate agent freedom?

First we must analyze two modified versions Wolf describes. The first is...
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