Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society: An Overview

Gregg D. Caruso, Elizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


“Free will skepticism” refers to a family of views that all take seriously the possibility that human beings lack the control in action – i.e. the free will – required for an agent to be truly deserving of blame and praise, punishment and reward. Critics fear that adopting this view would have harmful consequences for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and laws. Optimistic free will skeptics, on the other hand, respond by arguing that life without free will and so-called basic desert moral responsibility would not be harmful in these ways, and might even be beneficial. In this chapter, we attempt to provide a brief sketch of the traditional free will debate, define the various positions, and frame the debate over the practical implications of free will skepticism. We focus especially on the implications of free will skepticism for the criminal law and the retributive justification of punishment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFree Will Skepticism in Law and Society
Subtitle of host publicationChallenging Retributive Justice
EditorsElizabeth Shaw, Derk Pereboom, Gregg D. Caruso
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781108655583
ISBN (Print)9781108493475
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • free will skepticism
  • free will
  • moral responsibility
  • criminal punishment
  • legal punishment
  • retribution
  • retributivism
  • philosophy of law
  • desert
  • optimism
  • free will illusionism
  • disillusionism


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