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Free Will [Deckle Edge]
Free Will [Deckle Edge]
Sam Harris
Free Press, 2012
96 pp., $10.99

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Alvin Plantinga

Bait and Switch

Sam Harris on free will.

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And second, we human beings often do what we know is wrong, and are both responsible for so doing and guilty for so doing. But if determinism is true, then on any occasion when I do what is wrong, it isn't possible for me to refrain from doing wrong. And if it isn't possible for me to refrain from doing wrong, then I can't really be responsible for that wrong-doing—not in the relevant sense anyway. We do sometimes say that arterial plaque is responsible for many heart attacks, but that's not the relevant sense of "responsibility." The relevant sense involves being properly subject to disapprobation, moral criticism, and even punishment; no one would consider criticizing or punishing a deposit of plaque. By contrast, if I knowingly do what is wrong, I am indeed properly subject to disapproval and blame. But I am not properly blamed for doing what it was not within my power not to do. On Edwards' view, we seem to lose any notion of human responsibility. These are costs for Edwards' divine determinism, and they are certainly substantial.

Edwards perhaps has an initially plausible reason for accepting determinism: protecting divine sovereignty. Harris, on the other hand, seems to support determinism by little more than bland assertion and uncogent argument.

Alvin Plantinga is the John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the inaugural holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College. He is the author most recently of Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford Univ. Press).

1. In the foreword to the late Dewey Hoitenga's John Calvin and the Will (Baker Books, 1997), p. 7.

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