Are there any theories of moral responsibility that don't require free will?

Sam Harris rejects the notion of free will and attempts to construct some form of moral calculus, but "The Moral Landscape" didn't sound very convincing to me exactly because the notion of responsibility wasn't there, it was all about optimization of multidimensional functions. (Disclaimer Or may be I missed/forgot the responsibility and need to reread the book).

Are there other attempts to formulate the responsibility without appeal to free will?

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    Responsibility in a general sense seems to require free will, or the freedom to have chosen otherwise. If you have the freedom of choice, whatever decision you make is your responsibility as you were the causal agent behind the action. If you don't have the freedom of choice, if whatever action you take is determined by prior occurrences, then it doesn't seem to make sense to hold you morally responsible for you actions. However, in light of this understanding it still makes sense to hold people responsible for their actions insofar as they are the proximate cause of their actions. (cont.) – stoicfury Nov 25 '12 at 8:13
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    This is why even determinists would want people arrested for crimes (regardless of whether they are morally responsible for those crimes) because it's important for them to not be a cause for future negative actions. In that way responsibility is still very much important. Unfortunately, I didn't read that particular book of Harris' but I doubt he would disagree with me. – stoicfury Nov 25 '12 at 8:15
  • Yes, the moral responsibility requires free will, in the mainstream ethics - just like life would seem to require water and abundance of carbon. But I'm curious if there's some fringe - or may be well forgotten - schools of thought that come up with moral responsibility without asserting free will. – artm Nov 25 '12 at 8:48
  • Does 'moral responsibility' imply choosing one set of 'behaviors' instead of 'other' 'accessible' sets of behavior for certain consciously ascribed to ideas of 'just' actions? If so how could this be accomplished without some kind of 'choice'? – user128932 Oct 1 '14 at 4:43

Daniel Dennett (among others) advocates a type of moral responsibility with only as much free will as you can get with determinism or determinism + unwilled randomness (more or less compatible with Sam Harris' assumptions).

There's a pretty good summary post here.

In brief, the argument ends up redefining terms somewhat while claiming that this is what we actually mean anyway (or is good enough): you, as a complex information-processing agent, are said to be responsible for those actions that you have computed to be the ones you want to take (with provisos for being subject to decisions made by others).

  • Thanks. Ricardo suggests him too, I guess I gotta start with Dennett. Could you suggest any particular book of his that deals with ethics? – artm Nov 26 '12 at 7:52
  • @artm - I can't recall which one of his works I encountered his argument most forcefully, but I'm pretty sure it was a book. Maybe Freedom Evolves? You're as likely to track it down with Google, Amazon, and whatnot, as I am. – Rex Kerr Nov 27 '12 at 22:51
  • thanks, I'm putting it on my reading list. Via Ricardo's quotes I've also added Dennett's 'Elbow Room'. – artm Nov 28 '12 at 7:43

“Are there other attempts to formulate the responsibility without appeal to free will?”

Yes, from Daniel Dennett

Wikipedia and further readings summary:

Determinism does not rule out moral responsibility.

In determinism all physical events are caused and determined by the sum total of all previous events. If people are determined to act as they do, then what about personal responsibility? How can we hold people responsible and punish them for their behaviors if they have no choice in how they behave? We hold people responsible for their actions because we know from historical experience that this is an effective means to make people behave in a socially acceptable way. Holding people responsible only works when people respond to the state of affairs by controlling their behavior so as to avoid punishment. People who break the rules set by society and get punished may be behaving in deterministic ways, but if people don't respond to the threat of punishment, people would behave even worse. This is a totally utilitarian approach to the issue of moral responsibility. Is it moral to punish people behaving in deterministic ways? Yes, people have the right to create rules and enforcing them. We would be worse off if we did not do so, an argument for utility. Moral sentiments may be viewed as a reward mechanism, to make someone more sensitive to distant rewards and punishments.

If people do not have real behavioral choices, why not collapse into fatalism? People who lose the feeling that they can plan and execute alternative behaviors tend to stop struggling for survival and become fatalistic. Evolution has designed us to feel that our effort of planning pays off, that we control what we do. Free will is merely the ability to choose among available options. The ability to have all options available is not free will but omnipotence. Humans are not able to kill everyone by simply wishing it; does the lack of this ability mean that humans do not have free will?

  • Thanks. Where does this quote come from? – artm Nov 26 '12 at 7:49
  • For the most part, Wikipedia – Annotations Nov 26 '12 at 10:01
  • That is not how religion defines omnipotence. – Neil Meyer Apr 23 '13 at 9:05
  • @NeilMeyer The philosophical sense that you can find In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, is more relevant here than the possible definition of a possible religious thinker of a possible "religion". – Annotations Apr 23 '13 at 12:48
  • I do not understand the sentence "How can we hold people responsible and punish them for their behaviors if they have no choice in how they behave?" If people have no choice in how they behave, that includes whether they punish other people for their behaviors. There is no point in asking how we can hold people responsible since we have no choice in whether or not we do so. – Richard Stanley Oct 1 '16 at 1:54

Are there any theories of moral responsibility that is COMPATIBLE with free will?

Moral is a motivation engine. You SHOULD DO something because you want to get into paradise/you need to obey mather/any other reason. And reason's don't like the thing any close to concept of FREE will

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