Friday, July 3, 2009

The Friendly Atheist on Edwardsian Freedom:
Part 2

So we've seen that Rowe agrees completely with Edwards' critique of libertarian freedom. Now that he has let Edwards do the work in part one of the chapter, he turns his attention to Edwards himself. The specific position Rowe is opposing is Edwards' belief that "moral inability to refrain from willing as one did is irrelevant to the agent’s moral responsibility for so willing and acting." In other words, for Edwards, the drunk is still responsible for taking the drink even if he is unable to will to refrain from taking the drink. Rowe considers this the weakest link in Edwards' position and presents three arguments in opposition to Edwards.

Rowe's first argument against Edwards' compatiblism is that Edwards' view "is not in accord with current moral standards." He uses the Andrea Yates trial as an example of this. In 2001 Andrea Yates drowned her five children in her bathtub and attempted to use the insanity plea in her defense. Rowe rightly understands that in the compatiblist view, Andrea Yates was responsible for drowning her four children in the bathtub, even if she were mentally ill, so long as she was physically free to not drown them if she had so desired. Whether she was or was not actually found to be insane by the court (she was not) is irrelevant to the example. This seems, in Rowe's mind, to militate against what we know about the law, since the law does not punish people whom the court decides are incapable of controlling their actions.

There are several ways to respond to Rowe, but the first is to turn Rowe's criticism back on itself. He may be right that the courts do not punish the insane for their behaviors (at least in principle), but when it comes to judging those who are of their right minds, the court presumes that the actions of the individuals arose necessarily from the person's nature. According to Edwards, this implies a compatiblist understanding of responsibility.

Another response might be that current moral standards are irrelevant to the question. It may be that current moral standards say that moral inability relieves one of moral responsibility under our current system, but under the moral standards of most previous generations moral inability was neither here nor there. Why canonize the morality of the current generation and reject the morality of previous generations? Such a position seems arbitrary.

In the next part, we'll focus on Rowe's objection number two.


  1. just keep us on edge with your posts don't you. I guess it gives time to mull things over.

  2. Chock it up to watching too much Lost and 24.


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