Free will? Frink again. (Pictured: Professor Frink from The Simpsons.) (20th Television)
Consider this question: to be morally responsible for an action is a choice of more than one course of action required? According to philosopher Harry Frankfurt, no: what matters, morally speaking, is that you are the source of the idea, even if you were manipulated into thinking it. Frankfurt’s famous thought experiments—the so-called ‘Frankfurt cases’—flesh out his reasoning. Allow us to create our own example for you.
Imagine yourself contemplating a choice: namely, you consider slating the TV series Game of Thrones online. Mainly, you really didn’t like the plethora of plot devices, the inexplicable character development, the drastic changes in pace, and the poor ending. However, every time you settle on writing out these criticisms, some evil-nerd genius (pictured) intervenes with your brain activity to prevent you from posting your review online.
Now imagine another scenario: because you also like some parts of Game of Thrones —even though they mostly occurred during the first few seasons—there is a chance that your ‘chosen’ course of action is to write out and post some positive opinions. In this case the evil-nerd scientist will allow you to crack on.
You ‘decide’ to write out the complimentary review and post it. Despite the evil-nerd scientist’s intervention, according to Frankfurt, you are morally responsible for it; the post still came from you. Therefore, he concluded, alternative possibilities aren’t required for moral responsibility.
What do you think?
(Aside from technological limitations, a primary issue with Frankfurt’s position is that, in line with the thesis of indeterminism, the evil-nerd genius may have no theoretical guarantee of what you will do next. Furthermore, conversely, if the thesis of determinism is true and every action is determined—say, by the physical laws of nature or a deity—what exactly distinguishes your decisions?)