Hard Determinism and Incompatibilism: An Escape from Moral Responsibility

William James introduced the terms “hard determinism” and “soft determinism” in the 1880’s. Today his “soft determinism”  is known as “compatibilism,” the self-contradictory idea that free is will is compatible with determinism.

James called this a “wretched subterfuge.” Immanuel Kant called it “word juggling.” Since much of philosophy today is juggling words, playing with their possible meanings, even redefining words to mean their very opposite, it is no surprise that we have a scandal in  philosophy. For example, Daniel Dennett defines free will as moral responsibility.

Despite Dennett, most incompatibilists and determinists accept the traditional idea that determinism means the lack of moral responsiility.

Besides hard incompatibilism, incompatibilists have staked out nuanced versions of the familiar positions with new jargon like semicompatibilism, and illusionism. To see which philosophers hold which positions, take a look at our history of the free will problem.
Let’s look at the taxonomy of deterministic positions and see where hard incompatibilism fits.

Taxonomy of Determinist Positions

Semicompatibilists are narrow incompatibilists who are agnostic about free will and determinism.

Hard incompatibilists think both free will and moral responsibility are not compatible with determinism. Illusionists are incompatibilists who say free will is an illusion.

The old incompatibilism explains freedom. It cannot explain the will. Hard incompatibilism denies both freedom and responsibility.

Only the “two-stage” Cogito model is genuine free will.


2 thoughts on “Hard Determinism and Incompatibilism: An Escape from Moral Responsibility

  1. How do you reconcile Benjamin Libet’s EEG experiments (readiness potential) et al, which detected a brain’s motor cortex response 300 milliseconds prior to a person being consciously aware of said response? Other similar experiments are Haynes (2011), and Fied & Mukamel (2011).


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