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« Cécile Fabre on Cosmopolitanism and War | Main | Hugh Mellor on Frank Ramsey »

February 14, 2011



The problem at the end with Jonathan Glover's example of an unfaithful husband, is that he uses words like "should" and "if" in regards to behaviour. If determinism is true, those words are meaningless.

I find it quite unbelievable that so many scholars are so ready to give up on free will. If there is none, that's an extraordinary fact, and extraordinary facts should require extraordinary proof. Yet for determinism there is none.

Granted free will is missing from our current scientific framework of how the universe works, but that's not proof of determinism. The message that should bring, loud and clear, is not that the universe is probably entirely deterministic, but that more than likely, our current understanding is lacking an importance piece of the jigsaw.


A comment on the example at the end of the interview. A man cheats on his wife. The wife does not get angry. She has been reading her philosophy and science and realises her husband's behaviour was inevitable, so she is quite cool and accepting of this. Jonathan says something is lost by this response. But I think I disagree. Surely such a response is intelligent and in sense more loving than a tantrum. Maybe the tantrum is a socially learned behaviour.

Erin Flynn

Sure, if the alternative is between a tantrum and a cool, understanding response, we may find the understanding response preferable. But those aren't the only options. Glover, I presume, would say that indignation or some form of moral resentment is the morally appropriate response to having been treated in this way. And many philosophers have defended the view that determinism makes it no less morally appropriate. The response (and in general the attitudes we take in holding each other responsible) is not necessarily a response to some metaphysical fact about the agent (his freedom to have done otherwise, for instance). It may be the way we in fact make each into persons, into the kinds of beings to whom respect is owed.



In the interview Jonathan suggests that the man might expect his wife to be angry, resentful or jealous. You use a term moral resentment, perhaps something like “You broke your promise not to be unfaithful. That is wrong.”


Jonathan says that if the man receives the cool understanding response, he would feel that he was not being treated as her equal, as a human being. Perhaps you would add he was not being treated as a being to whom respect is owed. While I can see that the cool response might be considered condescending, I just do not see that this follows. Why does the cool response mean that he is not being treated like a human being? Why does the cool response indicate disrespect?

Jonathan says there will be a high cost, even a human disaster, if we abandon the language of moral indignation. I do not find this obvious at all.

I agree with Jonathan that determinism is probably a true account of the human condition. Because of that I rarely use the language of moral indignation. It seems pointless, even inconsistent maybe, to use the language of moral indignation if you really believe in determinism.

I might add that I was taught by Jonathan forty years ago.

John Nygate.

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