The general strategy of the fictionalist is to weaken what we mean by “responsibility” so that in some weakened sense, “responsibility” can exist even though determinism is both true and incompatible with free will.

If the only reason to reject moral responsibility is incompatibilism, and a fictional ethics can be constructed that is consistent with a deterministic universe, is there no reason at all for incompatibilism, and is skepticism about moral responsibility conclusively refuted?

I am not saying it is the only reason, but it seems to be the best one, and I wondered whether it fails merely due to consistency.

Either way, should we be moral if we cannot reject moral responsibilty?

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    Where is your quote about fictionalism from? Please give a reference. - Can you give a concrete example to show how fictionalism works? Thanks.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 13, 2023 at 5:19
  • not yet, i don't have acesss, just thought someone could help. thanks
    – user69457
    Dec 13, 2023 at 5:21
  • I consider your question rests on a cloudy concept, and is shaped in a form too hypothetical to provide a clear answer.
    – Jo Wehler
    Dec 13, 2023 at 7:11
  • When it comes to ethics, consistency is not what is asked for, it is rather values and duties. And one gets no more of that from fictional morality than they get nourishment from fictional food. If anything, it affirms skepticism, not refutes it, by presenting ethics as a game of make believe that explains away morality.
    – Conifold
    Dec 13, 2023 at 12:13
  • Define fictionalism.
    – Olivier5
    Dec 13, 2023 at 13:01

1 Answer 1


The logical response to incompatibilism is not to reject morality but to to adopt a more sensible view of what it is. Let's suppose the hardest of hard determinism is true, and that we are all clockwork automata the actions of which are inescapably predictable. Regardless of the fact that we suffer from a persistent delusion that we have free will, we have no choice whatsoever about what we do, and yet we act morally. Most people do not murder their neighbours, and we look askance at those who do, subjecting them to rituals known as trials and subsequent incarceration with others whom the majority deem to have acted immorally. Morality, in that context, is a pattern of behaviour baked in to the design of the automata.

When incompatibilists 'reject morality' they reject certain notions about responsibility for acting morally as if that was what morality is. If instead you take the view that morality is a practical facet of human behaviour, moulded and maintained by society, then the question of whether we are automata is largely irrelevant.

Fictionalism can be likened to the rules of the game. We collectively decide we will play the game of life in accordance with a code, the violation of which triggers sanctions and penalties. If you are an automaton that breaks a rule, you are sentenced by an automaton judge to go to prison with a bunch of other rule-breaking automata.

Should we act morally if hard determinism is true? I'm afraid that if hard determinism is true, you have no choice in the matter.

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    Oooh, that last line is a zinger. Nails how chilling hard determinism would be if it were true. Dec 13, 2023 at 10:07
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    @ConnieMnemonic Cheers! I hope you are getting into the festive spirit! Dec 13, 2023 at 11:12
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    @ConnieMnemonic yes. We have no choice but to find hard determinism chilling :-) I find your mnemonic cool.
    – Scott Rowe
    Dec 13, 2023 at 11:24
  • Good post, although I think what you and the OP are really talking about is legal responsibility, rather than moral. It makes little difference anyway.
    – Olivier5
    Dec 13, 2023 at 12:50
  • @MarcoOcram You too brother, happy Advent :) Dec 13, 2023 at 13:52

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