In Pereboom’s “Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It?”, he argues against compatibilism. That is, he argues that free will is not consistent with determinism using a four-case manipulation argument. In this paper, I will first detail Pereboom’s argument against compatibilism, explaining his beliefs about free will and determinism, as well as presenting each case in his manipulation argument and his reasoning for why each case follows from the next. Then, I will argue that his argument is, in fact, not valid, and explain why, regardless of this conclusion, his argument should not have an effect on how juries determine guilt and innocence.
Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism are, in some sense, true and are consistent and compatible with each other. It is free will that is required to hold a person morally responsible for their actions. In his paper, Pereboom argues against compatibilism and instead asserts that determinism, whether true or not, is not consistent with free will, and as a result, people hold no moral responsibility for their actions. As for determinism, Pereboom remains undecided as to whether or not it is true.
Pereboom sets up his argument against compatibilism as a four-case manipulation argument. In each case, the agent, Professor Plum, is manipulated, that is, causally determined, to have often egoistical reasoning, and it is this reasoning that leads him to the decision to kill White. Plum is capable of regulating his behavior, but the given circumstances cause the egoistical reasoning he has to take hold. Plum also does not decide to kill White due to an “irresistible desire” to commit the act. In other words, Pereboom sets up each case to satisfy compatibilist standards and attempts to shows that given determinism, it is incorrect to say that the agent has free will because his action is a result of his reasoning being manipulated. Pereboom starts with a case where the agent clearly has no free will, then progressively changes this case by altering the type of manipulation occurring to the agent until he reaches the fourth case, which is the controversial and realistic case brought on by natural circumstances as a compatibilist would expect. In each case, he reaches the same conclusion that the agent has no free will and therefore holds no moral responsibility. I will now discuss each case and explain how each follows from the last and why Pereboom comes to his conclusion that free will does not exist.
In case 1, Plum is a human created by neuroscientists, and his brain can be manipulated with radio-like technology. Besides this difference, Plum is like any other ordinary human being. By pressing buttons, the neuroscientists induce strong egotistical reasoning in Plum. This, as the scientists know, leads Plum to the decision to kill White. If the buttons weren’t pressed, Plum would not kill White because his personality would not be egotistical enough.
This scenario follows compatibilist accounts of free will, but it is clear that Plum’s action was manipulated into being by the scientists. As a result, Pereboom concludes that he has no free will in this case and therefore holds no moral responsibility for his decision to kill White.
In case 2, Plum is again a human created by neuroscientists, but instead of manipulating his brain with radio-like technology, they instead program Plum at the beginning of his life to have often egoistical reasoning. Besides this difference, Plum is like any other ordinary human being. It is then Plum’s egoistical reasoning that leads him to the decision to kill White.
Pereboom argues that this scenario also follows compatibilist accounts of free will and is almost the exact same case as case 1, with the only difference being that the agent was manipulated a long time ago as opposed to the moment he is making the decision. That is, instead of buttons inducing Plum’s egoistical reasoning, it is the circumstances that have occurred that induce the egoistical reasoning that lead him to the decision to kill White. But, the fact that these factors induce the egoistical reasoning is due to how the neuroscientists initially programmed Plum. Pereboom argues that the differences between case 1 and case 2 are minimal and that it is still obvious that the agent has no free will in his decision to kill White. As a result, he cannot be morally responsible for his action.
In case 3, Pereboom introduces a type of manipulation that is more familiar and natural in compatibilist accounts of free will. In this case, practices in Plum’s household and community have made it so that Plum’s personality is often egoistical, resulting in the same type of egoistical reasoning in Case 1 and 2. The training happened when Plum was young, at a time when he could not stop the practices from determining his character. Besides this difference, Plum is like any other ordinary human being. It is then Plum’s egoistical reasoning, which result from the practices, that leads him to the decision to kill White.
Pereboom argues that this case is almost the exact same case as case 2 with the only difference being that the manipulation is no longer technological but instead social or behavioral. He states that this difference should not matter as long as some type of manipulation is occurring by factors outside the agent’s control. If technological manipulation means the agent has no free will, then it should follow that other types of manipulation also mean that the agent has no free will. As a result, he cannot be morally responsible for his decision to kill White.
In case 4, the final case, Pereboom assumes physicalist determinism to be true. That is, he assumes that every event in the universe is determined by past states and the laws of nature. In this case, Plum is a normal person raised in an ordinary life, but everything about past states and laws of nature has made it so that his reasoning is often egotistical. It is Plum’s egoistical reasoning, which is a result of the physical determinism, that leads him to make the decision to kill White.
This case, where Plum’s decision comes about in a more realistic and natural way as compatibilist expect, is Pereboom’s final push to show that given determinism is true and that a situation look like a compatibilist’s account of free will, the agent actually still has no free will.
Pereboom argues that case 4 is very similar to case 3, the only difference being that manipulation is done by the environment as opposed to other agents. Pereboom believes that in this case also, the differences in the type of manipulation are irrelevant and concludes that the agent has no free will. As a result, the agent cannot hold moral responsibility for his action.
Pereboom also puts forth responses to two potential counterarguments as to whether equating case 3 and case 4 is valid, the most important of which is that manipulation is no longer done by an agent but the environment. To this, Pereboom responds by asserting that if in case 1, Plum decision is a result of a “spontaneously generated machine” instead of neuroscientists pressing buttons, most people would still hold that Plum has no free will. As a result, it should not matter if the manipulation is done by other agents or the environment. Regardless, it should hold that that Plum has no free will.
Using these four cases, Pereboom attempts to show that differences in manipulation is irrelevant to the fact that agent has no free will, and therefore holds no moral responsibility for his decision. That is, he argues that there is no difference between manipulation by another agent and manipulation by other external factors. If the agent has no free will in case 1, then, because there is no relevant difference in the following cases, it follows that the agent has no free will for remaining cases, including case 4, which is the controversial claim where compatibilists may hold that the agent does have free will. As a result, Pereboom concludes that free will, and therefore moral responsibility, is not consistent with determinism. That is, he concludes that compatibilism is false.
I will now argue why Pereboom’s argument should not have an effect on how juries determine guilt and innocence. First, I will show why I believe his argument is not necessarily valid, that is, show that he does not effectively show that free will is not consistent with determinism. Consequently, it doesn’t make sense for the argument to have an effect on juries’ decisions.
The validity of Pereboom’s argument relies on his ability to explain why each case follows from the last, that is, why each case is essentially identical. If he does so sufficiently, it would be logical to transfer of conclusion of the first case to the last. In other words, if all the cases are identical and the agent obviously has no free will in case 1, it then follows that he has no free will in case 4. Although I agree that cases 1 through 3 follow from each other and support this conclusion, I become skeptical of Pereboom’s argument when he moves from case 3 to case 4. I find these cases to not be as similar as he claims them to be. Although he addresses in his counterargument that the cases are similar although manipulation is no longer inflicted by other agents, I claim that, in case 4, he removes all manipulative forces from the scenario. Pereboom declares that past states and the laws of nature are the manipulative forces in this scenario, but this is not manipulation. Manipulation is deliberately controlling or influencing an action to happen. In cases 1 through 3, manipulation occurs because the other agents, and even the “spontaneously generated machine” deliberately make Plum’s reasoning frequently egoistical. This is not the same as case 4 because when past states and the laws of nature deterministically cause something to happen there is no deliberation involved. As a result, it is incorrect to say that these environmental and physical forces manipulated Plum’s egoistical reasoning into being. Because there are no manipulative forces that cause Plum’s reasoning to be often egoistical in case 4, it does not follow from the remaining cases. This means there is a gap in Pereboom’s manipulation argument and it is therefore incorrect to assume that the same conclusion in case 1 also applies in case 4. That is, it is incorrect to conclude that, given determinism, Plum has no free will, and therefore no moral responsibility for his decision to kill White in case 4. This is the controversial case that compatibilists assert as proof that determinism and free will are consistent. Because Pereboom’s conclusion can no longer apply to this case, his argument against compatibilism is no longer valid. If his argument is not valid, it should not have an effect on how juries determine guilt and innocence.
Along with the gap between cases 3 and 4, I have one other main criticism of Pereboom’s argument that adds to my skepticism of his argument’s validity: his use of atypical cases. In this response to a counterargument, for instance, he uses the “spontaneously generated machine” as an example. Or more importantly, in case 1, he relies on Plum being created and controlled by neuroscientists. These scenario, though possible, are very bizarre and takes away from the validity of his argument, particularly his first case. The validity of Pereboom’s argument against compatibilism relies on his first case showing unquestionably that Plum’s actions are manipulated into being, therefore he has no free will when he decides to kill White. This allows Pereboom to reach the same conclusion in the following cases. While the case Pereboom decides to use is successful in showing this, the fact that he uses such an obscure scenario calls into question whether or not his argument would stand if he uses a more typical case as his first case, or if it is event possible to find a more typical first case. By using an anomalous first case, he undermines the strength and validity of his entire argument against compatibilism. Because this argument calls into question the validity of Pereboom’s argument, it does not make sense for it to affect how juries determine guilt and innocence.
While I argue that Pereboom’s argument is not valid, I also hold that it does not matter because whether or not compatibilism is true should not affect how juries determine guilt and innocence. When a jury make a decision about whether someone is guilty of a crime, they are not only looking to punish the perpetrator, but also protect the general public of his/her crimes. For instance, someone who we know for certain has committed murder is declared guilty not only to punish him for committing murder but to protect the general public from any other murder or crime he may decide to commit. While I hold that it not fair to punish perpetrators if compatibilism is true, I also believe that the general public should still be protected, especially if the person committing the crime does not have the free will to stop themselves from doing it again. In other words, he/she should be declared guilty or innocent for the sake of protecting the public, so Pereboom’s argument, which would help the jury determine if the perpetrator committed the crime of his/her own free will or not, should not affect a jury’s decision.
In his paper, Pereboom uses a four-case manipulation argument to argue against compatibilism, asserting that case 1 is an obvious example of determinism being inconsistent with free will, then progressively working to case 4, a more realistic compatibilist account, and asserting that the same conclusion as the first case still applies because the two cases are essentially the same. I hold that his third and fourth cases are not equivalent and that, as well as his use of an atypical first case, undermine the validity of his argument. As a result, we cannot conclude that compatibilism is false. Consequently, we cannot let this argument affect how juries decide guilt and innocence. Even it was a valid argument, I hold that it should not affect a jury’s decision.