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Freedom and fatalism in Wittgenstein's “Lectures on Freedom of the Will”

Carter, Alexander David (2015) Freedom and fatalism in Wittgenstein's “Lectures on Freedom of the Will”. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Abstract

This thesis seeks to demonstrate the continuing relevance of Wittgenstein’s approach to the problem of freedom of the will, primarily as expounded in his “Lectures on Freedom of the Will” (LFW). My overall aim is to show how Wittgenstein works to reconfigure the debates about freedom of the will so that it can be confronted as the kind of problem he thinks it ultimately is: an ethical and existential problem. Not published until 1989, the LFW have received scant critical attention. I argue that Wittgenstein’s approach is highly distinctive in a way that makes it significantly less vulnerable than its closest cousins to certain powerful lines of critical attack. Chapter One brings out the distinctiveness of the LFW, especially vis-à-vis a putatively Wittgensteinian form of compatibilism, exemplified by Kai Nielsen. Albeit in different ways, Wittgenstein and Nielsen are both concerned to show why being caused to act, e.g. by the laws of nature, does not equate to being compelled to act, e.g. against one’s will. Unlike Nielsen, however, Wittgenstein further recognises that showing the compatibility of freedom and natural laws establishes no more than the logical consistency of holding people responsible, given determinism, and so cannot itself constitute a defence of our practices. Chapter Two introduces, as a still closer comparison with Wittgenstein, P. F. Strawson’s practice-based defence of interpersonal, ‘reactive’ attitudes (e.g. feelings of resentment, gratitude, etc.). I argue that the same correlation between a belief in freedom of the will and the primitive expression of ‘reactive’ attitudes/feelings is central also to the LFW. However, I further argue that certain major lines of criticism of Strawson’s practice-based defence of our current practices, familiar in the critical literature, do not in the same way threaten Wittgenstein’s defence of a broader practice-based approach, one that encompasses both reactive and non-reactive attitudes. Chapters Three and Four deal with the difficulties arising from the recognition that our most entrenched and ‘natural’ attitudes are non-reactive rather than reactive, including attitudes that are properly called ‘fatalistic’. Chapter Three develops a response to Galen Strawson’s criticism that if reactive and non-reactive attitudes are both equally expressive of human nature, then any merely descriptive approach to these attitudes will be incapable of resolving the fundamental question of which of these sorts of attitude we ought to adopt. Finally, Chapter Four examines Wittgenstein’s sustained interest in forms of life, especially religious forms of life, which appear to give equal weight to both reactive and non-reactive attitudes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Philosophy and Art History, School of
Depositing User: Alex Carter
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2015 10:36
Last Modified: 04 Dec 2015 10:36
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/15576

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