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Free Will and Responsibility Essay

One of the most important facets of the philosophical study of free will is the idea of responsibility. When, if ever, is an agent responsible for their actions? While there are countless theories and schools of thought that attempt to shed light on this topic, several of which will be discussed here, there is one in particular that has stood out in our course of study thus far. It is the theory of the “Deep Self” and “Sane Deep Self” proposed by Susan Wolf. Of particular interest is this notion of the Sane Deep Self.

Wolf argues, and I believe rightfully so, that sanity is a key factor in ultimately determining responsibility. However, as one may assume, this is not the only factor to consider. We will look at both the Deep Self View and the Sane Deep Self view, paying special attention to Wolf’s story of the terrible dictator JoJo. Once this has been established, we will move to defend both Wolf’s theory of the Sane Deep Self, including but not limited to what she believes is ultimately required of a person to be considered responsible for their own actions.

The “Deep Self” is an idea presented by Wolf which lays the foundation for her beliefs about responsibility while at the same time attempting to place the similarities in viewpoints posed by Harry Frankfurt, Gary Watson, and Charles Taylor in regards to their beliefs on responsibility, under one inclusive umbrella. These are beliefs that belong to what Wolf calls a new “trend in philosophical discussion of responsibility” (Kane 146).

Wolf does not want to completely dismiss this trend, but rather she seeks to point out where it falls short, in turn offering what she considers to be the answer to these shortcomings with her “Sane Deep Self” view. Thus, before delving into exactly what Wolf means by this deep self, and eventually the sane deep self, it is critical we define the viewpoints of Frankfurt, Watson, and Taylor and the ways in which these views lend themselves, or contribute to, Wolf’s own beliefs.

Let us begin by looking briefly at the views set forth by Frankfurt’s “Freedom of Will and the Concept of a Person” (Kane 127-40), who makes a distinction between Freedom of Action and Freedom of Will. Freedom of Action implies freedom to do whatever one wills to do. However this alone is not enough to warrant responsibility. Someone may possess freedom of action but lack responsibility if their actions are not fully under their control or governed by their desires.

(Kane 147) Such is the case, as Wolf points out, with people that are kleptomaniacs, or under hypnosis, or have been brainwashed. In these instances the desires governing their actions are not under their control. With this in mind we come to Frankfurt’s idea of freedom of will. Freedom of will then is the ability to will what one wants to will. He breaks these up into first order desires (wants to act, animalistic desires) and second order desires (desires about that wants to have or what wants to act upon).

Thus in order for someone to have freedom of action and freedom of will, in turn being a free responsible actor, they must govern their actions with both their first order desires as well as possess the ability to govern their first order desires by their second order desires. Watson has a view not wholly divergent from that of Frankfurt. Whereas Frankfurt believes in the first and second order desires, Watson believes that there is a difference between simpler desires (such as being thirsty and wanting to drink) and desires that correspond to a persons values or beliefs.

To Watson, a free agent is responsible for their actions when their wants or desires that entail these actions come from a particular place (this place is the value system of the agent). (Kane 148) If one views their desire to act a certain way as “good” in regards to their own system of values, then they are acting freely and responsibly, or rather are a free and responsible agent. Finally we come to the beliefs of Taylor. He believes that a free and responsible agent is one who has the “ability to reflect on, criticize, and revise ourselves.

” (Kane 148) According to Taylor, human beings have the unique ability to reflect upon their actions and decide whether these are the actions we really want to have. In this way we can reflect upon ourselves, criticize our actions, and in turn revise ourselves as we see fit in response to our actions. To Taylor then, this ability is all that is required for us to be responsible selves. The common thread among the beliefs of these philosophers is that an agent is free and responsible not only if their actions are governed by their wills, but that their wills are governed by some sort of deeper self.

Wolf groups these separate but similar philosophies into what she calls Deep Self theories. With the foundation for the Deep Self view now laid out, we can put it simply with the statement “agent S is morally responsible if their actions precede from/reflect their real self. ” (In-Class 9/6/12) To define this idea another way by using Wolf’s terms, we have both free will and are responsible when our actions are in line with and expressions of our deep selves with which we reflectively identify or want to affirm as what we really are. (Kane 154)

Having this deep self is a necessary qualification for Wolf and what is required to be an agent responsible for ones own actions, but it is not enough. To illustrate this, Wolf provides us the story of JoJo. (Kane 153) JoJo is the son of a ruthless dictator Jo. Growing up JoJo was allowed to accompany his Dad in his affairs, which included torturing people, imprisoning them, sentencing them to death, and all other kind of reprehensible acts. Because of the influence of these things on his upbringing, when JoJo becomes an adult and is dictator himself, he engages in many of the same heinous activities.

Wolf is clear here to make the distinction that JoJo is not being coerced into doing these things, but that he is acting according to his own true desires. Because these actions stem from his true desires it is implied then that if he reflects upon whether he is the person he wants to be, he will undoubtedly believe that he absolutely is. However, we know from his past that JoJo was unable to control the environment in which he was raised (he, like us, was not a product of self-creation).

It seems to follow then, and would be true for anyone, that the insidious person JoJo has become was a completely unavoidable by-product of his upbringing. When considering this it does not seem out of the question that JoJo is not truly responsible for possessing the evil urges and desires he has. However, because his actions are governed by his desires, which are in turn governed and expressed by his deepest self, in the deep self view this would mean JoJo is fully responsible.

Yet, because JoJo was not in control of the formation of that deep self, rather he was influenced by his upbringing (again, lacking self-creation) just as we are, it would follow that he is not in control of that governing deep self and thus cannot be held responsible. It is at this point that Wolf posits the notion that sanity is a necessary requirement for responsibility, in turn forming her “Sane Deep Self” view. For her purposes, Wolf defines sanity as “the minimally sufficient ability to cognitively and normatively recognize and appreciate the world for what it is.

” (Kane 155) When coupled with the deep self view described previously, sanity acts as the missing condition necessary to prescribe an actor as being ultimately responsible. In addition to the deep self requirement that a responsible actor be both able to govern their actions by their desires and their desires by their deeper selves, Wolf’s idea “insists that the agent’s deep self be sane and claims that this is all that is needed for responsible agency.

” (Kane 155) This is the key component which separates us from the JoJo’s of the world. Wolf points out that, “like us, JoJo’s actions flow from desires that flow from his deep self, unlike us, JoJo’s deep self is itself insane. ” (Kane 155) Essential to the idea of sanity is the ability to to tell between right and wrong, and such as the case with JoJo, “a person who, even on reflection, can’t see that having someone tortured because he failed to salute you is wrong plainly lacks the requisite ability.

” (Kane 155-56) It is this requisite ability inherent in the sane and missing in the insane which leads us finally to the claim that it is not JoJo’s inability to determine right from wrong which factors into his non-responsibility, but the fact that his actions/self are unavoidable. This idea that is is not JoJo’s ability to distinguish right from wrong, but is rather the fact that his actions/self are unavoidable which makes him not responsible for his actions may not be as easily recognizable.

At first one may be driven to assume the contrary, that because JoJo cannot understand what he is doing is wrong then he must be insane. However, we have to remember JoJo’s upbringing. With the experiences he had with his father as a young boy, the atmosphere he was raised in, and the desensitization that resulted, is it not acceptable to infer that maybe JoJo’s understanding of what is right and what is wrong is skewed from the traditionally accepted notions of those values. Because JoJo was not in control of the environment

he grew up in and the way in which he was raised, some may conclude that ultimately while JoJo’s deep self may be acting as it wants, he is not responsible for the contents of that deep self. In this way he is not responsible for his actions. Wolf tells us of several potential criticisms of this argument, the most glaring one being that like JoJo, none of us are in control of the environment or society we were raised in. Following this, how is it that JoJo is not responsible when he does something bad, but we are responsible.

Logically it would seem that because of this, both us and JoJo would all not be responsible for our deep selves and the actions that come from it. However, this is quite effectively put to rest and I believe Wolf does a persuasive job of it. JoJo is “unable to cognitively and normatively recognize and appreciate the world for what it is” (Kane 156) (a definition she previously presented for this particular use of the term sanity) and it is this ability to recognize the world for what it is that sets us apart.

Because JoJo’s system of values, and thus his view of the world and understanding of good and evil is so skewed from his upbringing, he lacks this ability to recognize what he is doing as wrong. Since, as we no doubt know, JoJo lacks the ability to tell right from wrong, he is then unable to revise his deep self based on these concepts. Though his deep self is just as “unavoidable” (Kane 157) as our own (stemming from influences beyond out control), because our deep selves are sane we do not lack the capacity for self-correction.

In this way though the formation of our deepest selves may have been just as out of our control as JoJo’s, we are unlike JoJo in the fact that we do not lack the capacity to evaluate our actions in relation to the accepted societal values and norms. It is not because JoJo’s deep self can’t tell right from wrong which makes him not-responsible, or that the contents of that deep self were unavoidable, it is that his deep self, being insane, lacks the ability to cognitively recognize in the context of normal society that an action is wrong and in turn change his position on that action.

None of the formation of our deep selves is under our control. No person is entirely a product of self-creation, and this is what Wolf wants to argue. All of our actions/selves are unavoidable then at the most fundamental of levels. We are all products of our environments. However, this fact does not shirk us of responsibility for our actions, except as Wolf argues, in the case of the insane. This unavoidability aspect of our deep selves is not enough to dictate whether or not someone is ultimately responsible.

It is what one chooses to do with that deep self. It is how one chooses to revise oneself (if considered sane, of course), or correct their behaviors and characters based on our understanding and connection with the world around us. The insane person lacks the capacity for such insight. It is this feature that ultimately makes us responsible or not responsible. That we understand right and wrong, and can change the actions of our deep selves accordingly, is what makes us morally responsible and not JoJo.

What is ultimately necessary for responsibility in the Sane Deep self view then, is “(1) the ability to evaluate ourselves sensibly and accurately and (2) the ability to transform ourselves insofar as our evaluation tells us to do so. ” (Kane 159) It should now be clear that it is not enough to simply argue that JoJo is no responsible because JoJo’s actions/self is unavoidable, because all of our selves are unavoidable. It is the fact that JoJo lacks the ability to both evaluate himself accurately and the ability to transform his deep self based on that evaluation.

While Wolf herself admits that the “Sane Deep Self view does not, then solve all the philosophical problems connected to the topics of free will and responsibility” (Kane 161) it does do an excellent job of filling the void left by the plain Deep Self View, as well as provides us an excellent starting place for analysis of these and other theories and views on free will and responsibility. Works Cited ? Kane, Robert. Free Will. 1st Ed. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. 127-40, 145- 61. Print.


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