on this page

Or send us an email

Application form

Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal

Pathways to Philosophy

Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner

International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue No. 194
11th June 2015


Edited by Richard Grego

I. 'Beethoven the Philosopher: A Reflection' by Linda Brown Holt

II. 'The Metaphysics of Bergson: A Critical Examination' by Ayodeji
W. Adesoye

III. 'The Ambiguity and Existentialism of Human Sexuality in The
Unbearable Lightness of Being' by John Hansen

IV. 'Compatibilism, Physicalism, the Consequence Argument, and
Criminal Responsibility in a Retributive Justice System' by Richard



One particularly intriguing way to explore philosophical themes is to
examine how they have emerged and reemerged in various ways throughout
the history of western civilization. The essays in this issue of
Philosophy Pathways share perspectives on how the idea of conscious
'agency' and 'free will' has been conceived in mediums as diverse as
music, metaphysics, literature, and jurisprudence during the course
of western intellectual history. They examine ways in which these
mediums have both configured and been configured by conceptions of
agency and free will from the Enlightenment to the present day.

The first essay on 'Beethoven the Philosopher' by Dr Linda Brown Holt
looks at the little-known but surprisingly pervasive influence of
German Enlightenment and Idealist philosophies on the artistic
development of Ludwig Von Beethoven's work at the turn of the 18th/
19th centuries. While Beethoven's musical transition from exemplar of
classicism to pioneer of the romantic style is well known, the
possible role that contemporaneous philosophical themes like freedom
and potentiality ---- characteristic of the romantic era ethos -- may
have played in inspiring this transition is little-examined and
largely unappreciated in the history of ideas. The essay establishes
a philosophical genealogy suggesting that this philosophical trend,
through the legacy of prominent professors at the university where
Beethoven studied philosophy, may have exerted a significant
formative influence on Beethoven's psychology and work.

In a similar vein, the second essay on 'The Metaphysics of Bergson'
by Ayodeji W. Adesoye analyzes, among other things, how concern with
metaphysical foundations of consciousness and volition also shaped
the development of Henri Bergson's neo-romantic concept of vitalism
at the turn of the 19th/ 20th centuries (which, in turn, anticipated
intellectual movements from post-structuralism and Gestalt psychology
to phenomenology and existentialism). Bergson's notions like
'intuition', 'duration', and 'elan vital', all establish an intimate
relationship between free will, conscious experience, and the fabric
of reality itself. However, as the essay concludes, whether this
relationship as Bergson describes it is a tenable one, remains an
open question.

These same themes, with respect to Nietzsche's famous principle of
'eternal return' or 'eternal recurrence', are highlighted in 20th
century literary giant Milan Kundera's renowned novel The Unbearable
Lightness of Being (and in the movie adaptation starring Daniel Day
Lewis) which is the subject of the essay by John Hansen on 'The
Ambiguity and Existentialism of Human Sexuality in Milan Kundera's
The Unbearable Lightness of Being'. While Nietzsche's concepts of
identity, consciousness and freedom were conceived contemporaneously
with those of Bergson at the end of the 19th century and share
similar concerns, Nietzsche's idea of eternal recurrence, as the
essay points out, leads to very different conclusions about them --
and these, in turn, are reflected in Kundera's interpretation. The
implications of eternal recurrence for existential freedom and
self-identity inform Kundera's vision of sexuality and human
relations throughout the novel, just as they have informed our
conception of these experiences in the contemporary intellectual
milieu generally. (We also see a brief mention of Beethoven's
philosophical relevance yet again in this essay.) Hopefully, this
interpretive insight will encourage philosophers unfamiliar with the
novel to read it for themselves.

Finally, the role of free will, consciousness, and volition in
western jurisprudence -- from the dawn of modernity to the present --
is addressed in my essay, 'Compatibilism, Physicalism, the Consequence
Argument, and Criminal Responsibility in a Retributive Justice
System'. If, as the essay contends, a common sense folk-psychological
libertarian notion of personal agency underwrites moral and legal
responsibility in our criminal justice system, then 'compatibilist'
attempts to explain away libertarian free will via the genetic,
cognitive, behavioral and neuro-sciences cannot be reconciled with
how we conceive and dispense criminal justice -- despite claims by
compatibilists that our justice system does not require libertarian
free will in order to attribute legal responsibility to volitional

Here then are four case-studies in philosophy's role as a diverse and
interdisciplinary cultural force in western intellectual history from
the Enlightenment to the present. Hopefully they will add some new
dimension of insight to the reader's knowledge of the works, ideas,
thinkers or institutions that they examine and/ or encourage
philosophers to engage them more deeply, or for the first time.

(c) Richard Grego 2015

Email: richard.grego@fscj.edu

About the editor:




We imagine the musical giant, who lived from 1770 to 1827, as a man
of passions, impulses, and creative fire thriving in an age of
revolution and rebellion. Portraits of the composer show a man in
torment, scowling, his unruly hair a-flutter, jaw braced in
determination, but also filled with self-confidence and daring.

One word, though, that does not spring to mind in describing
Beethoven is, 'philosopher.' Before the modern age, to be a
philosopher was to be deliberative, pondering, searching rationally
for answers to life's questions.

And yet, evidence from the time indeed shows us that Beethoven was
not only the rebel who liberated music and smashed a few keyboards
along the way. He was also, and perhaps was preeminently, a

Beethoven was born in what some regard as the golden age of German
philosophical thought. The mathematical philosophy of Leibnitz early
in the 18th century was followed by the contributions of Kant,
Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Herder, and Fichte. As the Enlightenment
spawned Idealism and morphed into Romanticism, inquiring minds
throughout the German states debated the major philosophical issues
of the day. Philosophy was not simply the province of the academic
community, but of Freemasons and the active network of anti-clerical
Illuminati. When the Illuminati were banned, the hunger for
philosophical debate redirected to Reading Societies
(Lesegesellschaften) whose members argued about the relative merits
of pure reason versus utilitarianism, and other topics.

It is commonly thought that Beethoven was raised in poverty, had
little schooling, and was ignorant of the ways of the intellectual
world. We think of him as a kind of wild child, forced to practice
music for long hours and regularly beaten or locked in the cellar in
futile attempts to curb his unruliness. This is only partly correct.
It is true, his family was poor, there was evidence of child abuse,
and he was taken out of school before he was 10.

But Beethoven's introduction to philosophy came steadily and
regularly. He was born and raised in Bonn, the seat of the court of
Elector Maximilian Friedrich, in the Holy Roman Empire. Friedrich was
a ruler known for his support of learning and culture. During
Beethoven's youth, the Elector was succeeded by Maximilian Franz,
also notable for his support of intellectual freedom and the arts.
Beethoven's grandfather had been the Kapellmeister, a leadership
position in the court chapel, and Beethoven's father, Johann,
remained a court tenor until defeated by alcoholism. Although the
official religion was Roman Catholic, there were plenty of Protestant
influences in the small, close-knit community, possibly including
Grandfather Beethoven and certainly Christian Neefe, the teacher and
mentor who molded the young Beethoven from scalawag to young man of
the world. Neefe was, for a time, director of the Bonn Illuminati, a
position which linked him directly with a 'who's who' of the leading
intellectuals of the German-speaking states (the conservative Jacobi,
the poet Goethe, the Viennese librarian and court physician, van
Swieten, etc.)[1] Religious and philosophical tolerance was the
hallmark of the era of the two Maxes, at least until the French
Revolution spilled over onto German soil.

Downtown Bonn at that time was a compact metropolis of 10,000 souls
hard by the Rhine, a little over a mile square. Within this concise
neighborhood were the sprawling court complex, the Minster, assorted
other schools and churches, theaters, restaurants, bars, and the
ever-changing location of the Beethoven home, as the composer's
family moved uptown and downtown as their fortunes rose and fell
(most frequently the latter).

As a boy who began studying with Neefe when he was around nine,
Beethoven was immersed in the culture of the time, of which
philosophy was the crown jewel. When he was unofficially adopted by
the prosperous von Breuning family in his teens, Beethoven was
scrubbed, cleaned up, fitted with good clothes, even had his hair
cut, but most important in his transformation into philosopher was
his exposure in the von Breuning household to books, visiting
scholars and other intellectuals, and the lively conversation about
current issues undertaken with the privileged von Breuning children
and Beethoven's BFF, Franz Gerhard Wegeler, soon to become a medical
professor at the new University of Bonn (and later, spouse to the
only female von Breuning sibling, Eleonore). Furthermore, Beethoven
encountered the heady world of intellectual life in his full-time job
as assistant organist (to Neefe), and later violist in the Elector's
orchestra. The orchestra, after all, included the hornist Nikolaus
Simrock and violinist Franz Anton Ries, both extraordinary thinkers
and Illuminati (later Reading Society) members. Even the local
theater impresario, Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Grossman (1743-1796),
served as Superior of the Bonn Illuminati before Neefe.[2]

By this time, Beethoven was reading the classics avidly, especially
fond of Homer but also the modern poets, Goethe and Schiller. He was
so swept up in the exciting intellectual life of Bonn that in 1789,
at the age of 18, Beethoven matriculated in philosophy at the
University of Bonn along with several of his friends. Here it is
expected he attended lectures, probably including those of Peter
Joseph van der Schnuren, an avid Kantian. According to Rumph, Franz
Wilhelm Freiherr von Spiegel, the head of the university who had
appointed van der Schnuren, had studied with Kant's leading disciple,
Carl Leonhard Reinhold[3], also an Illuminatus. The year 1789 was
smack-dab in the middle of three major Kantian Critiques (Pure
Reason, 2nd edition, 1787; Practical Reason, 1788; and Judgment,

Let's take a look at the fledgling University where the mere
grade-school graduate hobnobbed with some of the leading thinkers of
the age. The first sparks of a University had been kindled in 1777
from the ashes of Max Friedrich's Academy, funded in part by the
coffers of the by-then-abolished Jesuits.[5] In its early years,
lectures taught by Minorites, Benedictines, and Carmelites were
offered from November through September. After engaging a professor
of medicine named Rougemont[6] who had impressive credentials from
Paris and Lyons, a step up academically from the local monastics, the
government considered creating a true University. With the death of
Max Friedrich and the installation of Max Franz, the University of
Bonn was inaugurated in 1786 (Beethoven was 15 at the time). Franz
Wilhelm Freiherr von Spiegel, who had studied law at Louvain and
Gottingen, was appointed curator in 1789. A rector was elected every
year thereafter at an institution that pledged to offer the title of
doctor to all qualified men, regardless of their religious beliefs.[7]

A profile of the faculty and student body exists for 1792, up to
three years after Beethoven's tenure, which gives us a sense of areas
of study. The faculty were divided as following: theology, six; law,
eight; medicine, four; philosophy, eight; and language, two. For the
year 1791-92, the student body was divided among these disciplines:
theology, 39; medicine, 95; law, 46; philosophy, 28 (no word about
language).[8] From these statistics, we can infer that philosophy was
a significant area of study, the only non-professional pursuit after
medicine, law, and theology. (Although preparation for an academic
career in philosophy could be considered professional education)

Two of the faculty seem to have had some significant influence on
Beethoven's development as a thinker. Bartholomaus Ludwig Fischenich
(1768-1831) was appointed professor of constitutional and natural law
shortly after Beethoven's time at the University, but the two men came
to know each other well. Fischenich had been born in Bonn and was only
two years older than the composer. According to Rumph, Fischenich
informed his colleagues at Jena that the Bonn faculty (law, theology,
philosophy) was enthusiastically devoted to Kantian ideals.[9]

During a study year in Jena, Fischenich became friends with Schiller
and his wife Charlotte, avid Kantians, and reportedly spent time
reading the Critique of Practical Reason with them on a daily basis.
In a 1793 letter to Charlotte Schiller, Fischenich notes that
Beethoven hopes to set Schiller's An die Freude to music, little
realizing that some 30 years later, that idea will hatch into the
finale of the Ninth Symphony. 'I expect something splendid,' he
wrote, 'for, from what I know of him, he is interested only in what
is great and noble.'[10]

Another professor who made his mark on the composer was the firebrand
Eulogius Schneider (1756-1794), appointed a professor in 1789, the
year of Beethoven's matriculation. Schneider had a particular
attraction as a young man to the poetry of Christian Furchtegott
Gellert, whose songs Beethoven put to music as 'Six Lieder' Op. 48. A
monk and theologian specializing in classical literature, he has been
described as a demagogue, impatient for reform, and passionate about
the French Revolution. Beethoven, his friends, and even the Elector
subscribed to a book of poems filled with revolutionary fervor that
Schneider published in 1790. Yet even Max Franz could be only so
tolerant: in 1791 Schneider was dismissed from the university.
According to Sipe, Schneider then relocated to Strassburg where he
translated the Marseillaise into German and supported the Terror,
even traveling with his own portable guillotine.[11] Ironically, it
was a guillotine which ended his life in 1794.

Clearly there were many profound influences on a young composer's
consciousness as he moved from his teens into young manhood. There
are also surprising clues in the literature of the time regarding
young Beethoven's personality. Until he left for Vienna in 1791,
Beethoven is described by various first-hand sources as good-natured
and affable, more of the image of a (then) modern philosopher and
confident thinker than a tormented artist and rebel. For example,
when he was 20, Beethoven and the rest of the court orchestra joined
the Elector on a two-month trip on the Rhine to Mergentheim and other
cities in what is now Germany. Records indicate he not only was a
popular member of the crew (even serving as kitchen scullion along
with his friend, Bernhard Romberg, the cellist), but there are also
testimonials as to his modest, warm, and friendly personality. Abbe
Sterkel wrote that Beethoven played some piano variations 'in an
ingratiating manner,' while Carl Ludwig Junker, Chaplain at
Kirchberg, called him 'the dear, good Bethofen (sp)' and praised him
as 'an amiable, light-hearted man.'[12]

After leaving the University at an unknown time, Beethoven continued
to frequent the Reading Society get-togethers to debate ideas and
discuss forbidden political topics while enjoying the atmosphere of
the Widow Koch's cafe on the Dreieck Platz just north of the Minster.

Possibly influenced by Freemason literature containing Far Eastern
sources, Beethoven's interests extended to Egyptian and Indian
philosophical tracts once he made his home in Vienna, never to return
to Bonn. Until his death, he kept framed mottos from those works on
his desk, such as, 'I am all that is; all that was; and all that
shall be. No mortal man hath my veil uplifted,' supposedly taken from
a Temple of Isis inscription at Sais in Egypt[13]. And as deafness,
near-sightedness, and various medical afflictions increasingly made
his life a living hell, he turned to the stoics of ancient philosophy
for solace and strength. In his daybook, kept when he was in his late
40s, Beethoven speaks often of resignation, the fruit of a lifetime
steeped in philosophy. Is this the key to the cryptic words, 'Must it
be? It must be!' scrawled on the score of his last quartet?

One of the candidates for 'Immortal Beloved' honors, Bettina Brentano
(1785 to 1859), was herself an intellectual intrigued by the arguments
of philosophy and skilled in word play with some of the leading
artists and thinkers of her time. In a letter to Goethe in 1810, she
quoted Beethoven as saying, 'Music is a higher revelation than all
wisdom and philosophy.' Many have dismissed this remark as hyperbole,
or simply untrue. But I think they are imagining the emotional
Beethoven of heroic lore. The real Beethoven was a man formed by the
philosophical ideas of world culture. To liken music to philosophy,
he needed to know philosophy. And there are all indications that he


1. Melanson, Terry, Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order
of the Illuminati, Trine Day, 2009, p. 370.

2. Ibid, p. 312

3. Rumph, Stephen, Beethoven after Napoleon: Political Romanticism in
the Late Works, California Studies in 19th-Century Music, 2004.

4. Kant's Writing, University of Manchester,

5. It is sometimes reported that Beethoven was taught at the
Tirocinium by Jesuits, but their order had been abolished by the
Papal Bull of 1773 when he was but two. See Christian Adolph
Pescheck, Daniel Benham, The Reformation and Anti-reformation in
Bohemia, Volume 2, http://tiny.cc/npeuxx. We may safely assume that
“plain clothes Jesuits,” not the black-robed monastics of legend,
were responsible for the composer's grade-school education.

6. Circular[s] of Information, Issue 3, United States Bureau of
Education, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1882. Accessed at

7. Circular[s] of Information, Issue 3, United States Bureau of
Education, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1882. Accessed at

8. Ibid.

9. Rumph, ibid.

10. Clive, H.P., Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary,
Oxford University Press, 2001. Accessed at http://tiny.cc/agtsxx 

11. Sipe, Thomas, Beethoven: Eroica Symphony, Cambridge University
Press, 1998. 

12. Thayer, Alexander Wheelock, Life of Beethoven, Book I, Princeton
University Press, Revised Edition, 1991.

13. Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries: A Monthly of History,
Folk-lore, Mathematics, Literature, Art, Arcane Societies, Etc,
Volume 8, 1891 (Google eBook) http://tiny.cc/pefuxx 

(c) Linda Holt 2015

Email: l.holt@snhu.edu

Linda Brown Holt, D.Litt., is an adjunct professor of Humanities at
Southern New Hampshire University and is a Liberal Studies graduate
mentor and capstone coordinator with Thomas Edison State College. She
is the author of Viewing Meister Eckhart through the Bhagavad Gita and
a new novel, The Black Spaniard (Beethoven the Young Master) to be
published in the 2015-16 publishing cycle. Excerpts of the novel and
other adventures in publishing may be found at




Bergson bases knowledge of the nature of reality on the intuition one
has of one's own self. According to him 'there is one reality, at
least, which we all seize from within, by intuition and not by simple
analysis. It is our own personality through time -- our own self which
endures.' Upon this he establishes his idea of reality as duration.
This essay attempts a critical examination of the metaphysics of
Henri Bergson. I first offer a lucid, critical discussion of the
tenets involved, and thereafter attempt an appraisal of them. It is
suggested in this paper that though Bergson offers a theory of
reality that seems to explain the apparent fact of ordered growth,
his notion of duration may be flawed by certain difficulties.


Metaphysical questions are of a wide range but attempts in addressing
each of them are of a wider, very diverse range. The approach of Henri
Bergson to the question of reality is the business of this paper.
Henri Bergson (along with Alfred North Whitehead) represents the
metaphysical interest that survived Kant's criticism and continued to
dominate much of the nineteenth century thought. His metaphysics
sprouted out directly from the controversy between materialism and
vitalism, which was the major issue in the late nineteenth century,
and was an attempt to employ scientific findings to ground some
essentially antiscientific conception of reality (Jones and Fogelin
1952: 15). As will be seen as this paper progresses, Bergson's
metaphysics was 'Romantic' in its emphasis on dynamism and
continuity; in its denial of the capacity of reason to know the inner
nature of reality; and in its assertion that reality can nevertheless
be known -- in intuition. This represents an affinity between
Bergson's thought and Arthur Schopenhauer's, though Bergson differed
in some significant respect from Schopenhauer (majorly in the
latter's exaggerated pessimism).

The metaphysics of Bergson, as well as the philosophy of Alfred North
Whitehead and John Dewey, three philosophers of the same period of
birth, epoch, culture and outlook on life, is what is called
philosophy of progress. Bergson took the theory of evolution
seriously as a doctrine of progress. His philosophy grew out at a
time just when modern science was reaching its most impressive
heights. Bergson's interest was not to deny that the method of
science had yielded much for man's control of nature and ipso facto,
that science was a brilliant enterprise. What mattered to Bergson was
a philosophical question -- is reality what science assumed it to be?
(Stumpf 1971: 395) This question was against the backdrop that
science had assumed that reality, or things-in-nature is composed of
matter in space, and is a large mechanism whereby, matter is the
final irreducible stuff from which all things are formed. The
implication of this is that human nature was defined in material and
mechanistic terms, thereby 'dislodging' out of man the possibility of
being free, of possessing freedom of the will. Since Bergson was
concerned with a philosophy of progress, he conceived a need to ask
how inert matter can overcome static status and evolve. In this wise,
Bergson's attempt was to reveal the puzzle that science itself
generated in his time -- the belief in a material and mechanical
world and the acceptance of evolution theory.

Bergson was a French philosopher born in Paris in 1859. His works
include Time and Freewill (1889), Matter and Memory (1911), An
Introduction to Metaphysics (1903), Creative Evolution (1907) and The
Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932). In what follows, his
metaphysical notions of the limit of conceptual knowledge, duration;
the very nature of reality, and the elan vital, are set forth in
critical tone. Our argument thereafter indicates some inherent
problems in Bergson's discourse about reality.

The Limit of Conceptual Knowledge

Metaphysics is the inquiry into the basic structure of reality. It
seems that Bergson could not talk about what reality is except he had
cleared the way of true access to it. He took a different point of
view from traditional philosophy on the way of knowing true reality.
Another way of saying this is that Bergson constructed his
metaphysics from his epistemology. What we might call his
epistemology is the distinction Bergson drew between conceptual
knowledge (knowledge by analysis) and intuition on the one hand, and
the knowledge of the relative and of the absolute, on the other hand.
For Bergson, conceptual knowledge is defective because it stops at the
relative, in contrast to intuition which Bergson claimed to be able to
attain the absolute. At the heart of Bergson's thought, therefore, is
the contention that there are two ways of knowing. But the
difference, it appears, is basically in pragmatic terms. One way can
get to reality while the other can only go round it, not getting unto
the very nature of it. Conceptual knowledge achieves knowledge of
reality ironically by destroying the object's essence. The essence of
an object is its dynamic, thriving, pulsing, living and continuing
existence -- its duration. In Bergson's own words:

     [There are] two profoundly different ways of knowing a
     thing. The first implies that we move around the object;
     the second that we enter into it. The first depends on the
     point of view at which we are placed and on the symbols by
     which we express ourselves. The second neither depends on a
     point of view nor relies on any symbol. The first kind of
     knowledge may be said to stop at the relative; the second,
     in those cases where it is possible, to attain the absolute
     (Bergson 1903: 1).

The foregoing portrays the distinction Bergson drew between analysis
and intuition. The first way that involves moving round the object is
analysis, while the other that implies that we enter the object is
intuition. One peculiarity of analysis is that it depends on two
things namely, points of view and symbols of expression. Analysis
yields knowledge derived largely from the vantage point from which we
observe the object. As such, this mode of knowledge will yield
knowledge that will be different for each observer and on that
account be relative. The knowledge so derived is again, expressed in
symbols. Symbols used in the expression of knowledge discovered
through analysis can refer not only to the specific object but any
and all similar objects. The symbols do not refer exclusively to the
object but are ways of describing the unfamiliar object by pointing
to other similar, familiar objects.

Bergson formulated a number of examples to illustrate the limit of
analysis and the raison-d'etre for preferring intuition. First, he
wants us to observe the movement of an object in space. My
observation of this object will vary with the point of view from
which the object is observed; moving, stationary, sitting, squatting
etc. In the bid to describe this motion, my expression of it will
vary according to the point of reference to which I relate it. Thus,
in observing and reporting the observation of the moving object, I am
placed outside of it. For instance, I think of a line that is divided
into units when I describe the moving object, and express this
through the symbol of a graph with its axes, a series of points
through which the object is thought to move. Now for Bergson, this
typifies a movement round the moving object and not into it, and
leads ultimately to the relative. But in contrast, an absolute
movement involves attributing to the moving object some interior
states of mind. This is the condition of sympathy in which one
sympathizes with those internal states, and inserts oneself in them
by an effort of imagination. By doing this, one would then know the
object as it really is and moves and not only as translated into
symbolic language of points and units of distances. The idea is that
what one experiences will depend neither on the point of view he may
take up in regard of object since he is inside the object itself, nor
on the symbols by which one may translate the motion since all
translation have been rejected in order to possess the original.
According to Bergson, by entering the object itself 'I shall no
longer grasp the movement from without, remaining where I am, but
from where it is, from within, as it is itself. I shall possess the
original.' (Bergson 1903: 1)

Bergson distinguishes also between reading about a character in a
novel and being that character himself. Bergson contends that no
matter how the character is described by the author, such description
cannot match what will be delivered to him should he be able for a
moment to be the person of that character himself. Being the
character or the moving object in space is what Bergson called
'coinciding' with the person or thing (Bergson 1903: 2).

From the foregoing, Bergson argues that the absolute can be given
only in intuition, while every other thing is come by through
analysis. He wrote:

     It follows from this that an absolute could only be given
     in an intuition, while everything else falls within the
     province of analysis. By intuition is meant the kind of
     intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an
     object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and
     consequently inexpressible. Analysis, on the contrary, is
     the operation which reduces the object to elements already
     known, that is, to elements common to both of it and other
     objects. To analyze, therefore, is to express a thing as a
     function of something other than itself. All analysis is
     thus a translation, a development into symbols, a
     representation taken from successive points of view... In
     its eternally unsatisfied desire to embrace the object
     around which it is compelled to turn, analysis multiplies
     without end the number of its points of view... and
     ceaselessly varies its symbols that it may perfect the
     always imperfect translation. It goes on therefore to
     infinity. But intuition if it is possible, is a simple act
     (Bergson 1903: 2).

Description and analysis require the employment of symbols, but
symbols are imperfect in comparison with the object of which a view
has been taken, or which the symbols seek to express (Stumpf 1971:
398). Bergson calls several analogies to service. Not all photographs
of Paris, taken from every conceivable point of view would ever be
equivalent to the solid Paris in which people live and move; not even
motion pictures would do. Likewise, not all the translations of a poem
could render the inner meaning of the original. Thus, of the object
there is a specific quality of being original, and this original we
can know absolutely only by entering into it. Should we opt for
analysis, i.e. translation or copy, then we should be contended with
the relative that points of view and symbols are capable of
delivering to the mind (Stumpf 1971: 399).

For Bergson, we will see that scientific reasoning, inasmuch as it
relies on analysis, falsifies the nature of whatever object it
analyses. In science according to him, analysis reduces the object to
elements already known, to elements common to it and several other
objects. Thus,

     ... the analytic intellect learns, ironically, by
     destroying the object's essence. Its essence is its
     dynamic, thriving, pulsing, living, continuing existence --
     its duration. Analysis however interrupts this essential
     duration; it stops life and movement; it separates into
     several independent and static parts what in true life is a
     unified, organic and dynamic reality (Stumpf 1971: 399).

Thus, we can derive the knowledge of an ant by analysis, taking it
apart, but in this manner, the ant is no longer the living thing it
was in its burrow in the ground. The same is said of the psychologist
who will not study the self as a single, indivisible, living and
dynamic entity but split it up into mental states. By doing this,
science kills the object, takes the pulsing life out of it, and
divides it into several distinct parts that its symbols of expression
would be able to handle -- all this by analysis. The fallout of this
is that the essence of the thing has been destroyed. The essence is
continuity, life and dynamism. But we can ask a fundamental question
here. What could be meant when one says that the essence of reality
is destroyed? Is it that the essence itself is destroyed or that the
mind has no true or full grasp of the essence because of the method
it deploys? The latter may be granted. But an affirmative answer to
the former will produce further questions. For example, can essence
cease to be?

Another important edge intuition enjoys over analysis is its ability
to show how contraries i.e. thesis and antithesis are reconciled into
the same reality. A fundamental thesis in Bergson is the rejection of
conceptual knowledge rooted in the conviction that concepts falsify a
continuous real by dividing it. This is in view of the nature of
reality as duration, a continuous flow, which is creative and of
great fecundity. People can have direct access to the nature of this
reality only by jumping into it without perspectives or
representations -- by intuition. Likewise, contraries (thesis and
antithesis) could only be known to not be radical opposites but just
parts of the same inner nature or reality through intuition.
According to Bergson:

     Concepts... generally go together in couples and represent
     two contraries. There is hardly any concrete reality which
     cannot be observed from two opposing standpoints, which
     cannot consequently be subsumed under two antagonistic
     concepts (for example, the self is both a unity and a
     multiplicity). Hence a thesis and an antithesis which we
     endeavor in vain to reconcile logically, for the very
     reason that it is impossible, with concepts and
     observations taken from outside points of view, to make a
     thing. But from the object, seized by intuition, we pass
     easily in many cases to contrary concepts; and as in that
     way thesis and antithesis can be seen to spring from
     reality, we grasp at the same time how it is that the two
     are opposed and how they are reconciled (Bergson 1903: 21).

According to Jones and Fogelin (1952), the opinion expressed in the
last few sentences obviously refers to Hegel's account of thought as
a triadic movement from thesis to antithesis to synthesis. Bergson
believed that though Hegel was correct in aiming at unity, not being
satisfied with plurality and diversity, he was, nevertheless,
mistaken in holding that the same cognitive process that develops the
contradictions can resolve them. 'To reconcile thesis and antithesis,
a radically different kind of cognitive process is needed', which is
intuition (Jones and Fogelin 1952: 20).

The Nature of Reality

At this juncture, it seems that the right question to ask is: 'what
reality is delivered in intuition?' Bergson bases his knowledge of
the nature of reality on the intuition one has of one's own self.
According to him 'there is one reality, at least, which we all seize
from within, by intuition and not by simple analysis. It is our own
personality through time -- our own self which endures' (Bergson
1903: 3). We are to look within therefore, and what we find when we
do so is what Bergson called 'duration', 'mobility' and life. Thus,
the nature of reality delivered in intuition is duration (continuity
and change). What we find is an experience of change, not of states
that change or of things of changing properties, but change itself.
In the experience of the self, the past infiltrates the present
through and through. This experience of duration, according to
Bergson is private and inexpressible conceptually, very difficult to
achieve. In this regard, Bergson wrote that

     I find, first of all, that I pass from state to state. I am
     warm or cold, I am merry or sad, I work or I do nothing, I
     look at what is around me or I think of something else...
     I change, then without ceasing. But this is not saying
     enough. Change is far more radical than we are first
     inclined to suppose (Bergson 1907: 1).

That Bergson constructed his metaphysics from the immediate knowledge
of the self is replica of Descartes' system. But Bergson differs from
Descartes in certain respects. Descartes constructed a system of
rationalism from his own idea of the self while Bergson thought that
such system is misleading, and extended the realm of intuition beyond
the self to the nature of reality in general. In this regard, we can
adequately say that while Descartes was a dualist in respect of the
self and the world, Bergson posited monism, in which the essence of
the self is identical with the essence of reality in general --
duration. But in certain other regards, Bergson himself is a dualist
of matter and life. It should be noted that not only Descartes had
such a starting point for philosophy. Such is typical also of
post-Kantian views of the self as activity and not static,
encapsulated substance. This was a view shared by Hegel,
Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard and Nietszche (Jones and Fogelin 1952: 22).
But Bergson parted from these philosophers because his view was
fundamentally influenced by his understanding of the theory of
evolution. According to Jones:

     What impressed Bergson about this theory was not the
     struggle for survival but the emergence of new forms of
     life; what caught his imagination was the vision of a great
     energy pouring itself forth in endless fecundity, instead of
     being confined to a few eternal archetypes (Jones and
     Fogelin 1952: 22).

Bergson transferred this cosmic vision to the lived experience of the
individual; the self as revealed in intuition, he contended, is the
continuous unfolding of new experiences that includes and
incorporates the past while moving steadily into the future.

Bergson's motive in metaphysics therefore, is to argue that
metaphysics should deploy intuition, that is, go beyond concepts in
accessing reality because concepts divide and destroy the nature of
duration i.e. its continuity, dynamism, and creativeness (fecundity).
Bergson said for instance that:

     Metaphysics... is only truly itself when it goes beyond the
     concept, or at least when it frees itself from rigid and
     ready-made concepts in order to create a kind very
     different from those we habitually use; I mean supple,
     mobile, and almost fluid representatives, always ready to
     mould themselves on the fleeting forms of intuition
     (Bergson 1903: 21).

Here, metaphysics contrasts heavily with positive science. The
ordinary function of positive science, according to Bergson, is
analysis. But if there is any means of possessing a reality
absolutely instead of knowing it relatively; of placing oneself
within it instead of looking at it from outside points of view; of
seizing it (reality) without any expression, translation, or symbolic
representation; metaphysics is that means. What then is metaphysics?
For Bergson,

     metaphysics, then, is the science which claims to dispense
     with symbols (Bergson 1903: 3).

The concept of 'duration' is one of very important two that form the
pillar of Bergson's metaphysics. The other one is 'elan vital'. The
elan vital is used to explain evolution, that is to account for the
great energy pouring itself forth in endless fecundity, instead of
being confined to a few eternal archetypes. We will consider these
notions in turn.


Bergson, pointing to the nature of reality as duration, has said that
'the inner life is all this at once: varieties of qualities,
continuity of progress, and unity of direction' (Bergson 1903: 4).
Thus, to think in intuition is to think in duration. The inner life
is compared by Bergson to a continual rolling up like a thread on a
ball, for our past follows us, it swells incessantly with the present
that it picks up on its way, and consciousness means memory. Bergson
contended that no image can be used to replace the intuition of

At the core of Bergson's thought is the process of duration. He
criticized traditional philosophical systems for failing to take
'duration' or 'becoming' seriously. Bergson criticized the
rationalist and the empiricist that neither of them took the matter
of mobility, development, becoming and duration seriously. The
primacy Bergson placed on duration is explained in his statement that
'to think in duration' means to have a true grasp of reality. Thinking
in duration also gives us a more accurate notion of time; real,
continuous time, as compared with the 'spatialized' time created by
the intellect (Stumpf 1971: 401). Bergson displaced Zeno's paradoxes
against the reality of motion, saying that only when we conceive of
time and motion in 'spatialized' terms do we have trouble with such
paradoxes. Bergson contended that although the intellect can grasp
static parts, it is incapable of grasping movement or duration. In
other words, there is no way we can truly understand evolution by the
method of analysis, or when we conceive of it in spatially static and
split terms, but only when we grasp it as a whole, as a simple,
immediate reality. Reality is duration. According to Bergson, reality
does not consist of things, but only things in the making; not
self-maintaining states, but only changing states (Stumpf 1971: 401).
In short, for Bergson, reality is tendency; rest is only apparent.
That is, reality is an ever living propensity to change or evolve.

Elan Vital

Elan vital is a concept Bergson used to address the question of
self-organization and spontaneous morphogenesis of things in an
increasingly complex manner. Elan vital is translated into English as
the 'vital impulse' and is a hypothetical explanation for evolution
and development of organism, which Bergson linked closely with

According to Bergson, evolution is best explained in terms of a vital
impulse,-- the elan vital, which drives all organisms towards
constantly more complicated and higher modes of organization (Stumpf
1971: 402). The elan vital means the essential interior element of
all living beings, and is a creative power that moves in unbroken
continuity through all things. There is a certain essential
relationship between the elan vital and duration. The elan vital is
the essence of duration, of movement, and all change, which is
absolutely indivisible. The elan vital motivates or drives all
things; it is the fundamental reality. In the elan vital, the
structure and movement of reality is encoded as in the DNA biological
data are said to be encoded. And in it evolutionary progress is to be
understood. The truth that intuition discovers about reality is that
reality is continuous and thus, cannot be reduced to parts, and that
the creative process caused by the elan vital is absolutely
irreversible (Stumpf 1971: 402).

Bergson held that the vital impulse moved in three directions,
producing vegetable beings, anthropoids, and vertebrates including
man. He contended, more importantly, that the elan vital must itself
resemble consciousness. He posited that where life and its creative
possibilities emerge from -- the creative effort of the elan vital --
is the being 'of God', if it is not God himself (Stumpf 1971: 402).

Critical Appraisal

The metaphysics of Bergson may be broader than what has been
enunciated in this essay; nonetheless, the central theme has been
examined successfully. Some suspicion stares us in the face regarding
Bergson metaphysics inasmuch as it is anchored on duration. Bergson's
idea of reality is bound up with his notion of duration, and the
theory of duration is itself bound up with his theory of memory.
Inasmuch as his theory of memory is defective, the whole idea of
reality as duration, continuous, indivisible flow, will be
inadequate. Bertrand Russell lucidly describes this matter in the
following terms. According to Bergson's theory of memory, things
remembered survive in the memory and thus interpenetrate present
things: past and present are not mutually external, but mingled in
the unity of consciousness. Action, he says is what constitute being,
but mathematical time is a mere passive receptacle, which does nothing
and therefore is nothing (Bergson 1907: 41). The past he says, is that
which acts no longer, and the present is that which is action (Bergson
1911: 74). But in this statement, as indeed throughout his account of
duration, Bergson is unconsciously assuming the ordinary mathematical
time; without this, his statements lose their essence, that is, have
no meaning. What is meant by saying 'the past is essentially that
which acts no longer, except that the past is that of which the
action is past? For Russell, the words 'no longer' are words
expressible of the past to a person who did not have the ordinary
notion of the past as something outside the present; these words
would have no meaning (Russell 1912: 321-334). In this wise,
Bergson's definition is circular. What he says in effect is that the
past is that of which action is past. The same applies to his
definition of the present as that which is acting.

All this makes it clear that when Bergson speaks of the past, he does
not mean the past, but our present memory of the past. The past when
it existed was just as active as the present now: if Bergson's
account were correct, the present moment ought to be the only one in
the whole history of the world containing any activity (Russell 1912:
321-334). Thus, the tenet that the past infiltrates, (that is, flow
into) the present through and through is inadequate.

Apart from the foregoing difficulty, we need to ask a crucial
question regarding intuition. How is intuition to be exercised as the
method of philosophy? In what practical way can we literally enter
into the object in order not to transform its nature or falsify it?
How can we practically dispense with reason/ analysis in the bid to
get at the nature of reality? We should have it in our mind that the
reality we want to describe is itself transcendent to us. It is
beyond and larger than our own self. Thus, how is it logically and
practically possible to do a sympathizing with the object?

In a very close connection, given that the reality is not just us; we
are a tiny part of the whole reality of the universe, just like any
other physical or non-physical being, how sufficient is it to infer
from one's conscious awareness of his own self to the general
conclusion that reality is thereby duration and continuous? Bergson'
construction of the nature of reality from the cognition of the self
is problematic.

Finally, question of a more theoretical nature can be raised about
Bergson's thought. How is it that Bergson posited that conceptual
discourse is intrinsically distorting to reality and inadequate and
could still use conceptual discourse to express this idea? Also,
Bergson has said that reality is inexpressible in analysis. Yet
Bergson did not stop at the recommendation of intuition so that the
reader can go and exercise intuition and thereby grasp the nature of
reality by himself at once. Rather, he went ahead to describe the
nature of this reality as if he wanted the reader to understand him
and believe his description with uttermost credulity. I do not think
that the intensity of this problem can be overlooked. What we cannot
end this essay without noting is that it appears Bergson's thought,
at the fundamental level, because of his sole emphasis on intuition
alone, is the extremist version of Kantian constructivism and
relativism. Without any pretension, it verges on untruth to say that
Bergsonian intuitionism can provide a metaphysical basis for
objective knowledge of the world.


This paper has examined the metaphysics of Henri Bergson. For
Bergson, we must opt for intuition since is it capable of giving us
the true awareness of the absolute. Reality cannot be grasped in
conceptual analysis for it distorts the reality itself. Analytic
science treats of nature as static and disjointed, whereas true
metaphysics (that is one that deploys intuition) treats of nature as
dynamic, living unity. Science is inadequate because its use of
analytic reasoning exaggerates further the disjointed and static
conception of things. In all, reality is duration, and this fact can
be understood when we look within our own 'self'. The way of knowing
the true self is intuition, and the self is a continuous change in
temporal unity.

The explanation, therefore, for how inert matter can overcome static
status and evolve, the very question that spurred Bergson, is the
postulation of an immaterial force-elan vital, which he described as
the essential interior element of all living beings and is the
creative power that moves in unbroken continuity through all things.
This approach to the problem of evolution and self-organization in
nature is of a particular attraction. It would appear that the idea
of a principle of ordered growth is preferable to a theory of
spontaneous development, for the latter defies the obvious unity and
regularity that characterize our natural world. Spontaneity will only
allow for a situation in which we should always expect any, I mean any
sort of arbitrary growth, events, and effects in the world. The
attraction of this explanation through elan vital can be seen if we
move back historically to Aristotle's entelechy, and forward again to
how Prof. Hans Driesch employed the same notion of entelechy in his
biological vitalism.

Again, Bergson's thought suggests an inclination toward unity as an
ideal. To such extent that this is true, comprehending reality as a
unity rather than dividing it up by analyzing it to parts and
segregating the parts in respect of time, place, desire and research
motives also becomes an imperative. This in fact, presents a simpler,
economical method of grasping reality self and essence. It is also
epistemologically safe (from errors) that analysis may bring about,
since the mind simply embraces the reality as a whole single kernel
without nuts needing cracking, but kernels that are essentially part
and parcel of the kernel and are available in an instant with the
kernel itself at a one-go intuition. I desire such an epistemological
situation. Anyone should desire it, even more for the fact that moral
norms can be comprehended with unity as such. However, given the
issues raised in the previous section, we are left yet with a doubt
as to whether reality is organized basically into duration (unity),
and if it is, whether our perception of the continuity in our
consciousness tells anything about the exact nature of reality, and
yet, whether the distinction between analysis and intuition, as well
as the glorification of intuition, is anything useful. It would seem
that realty is not organized into this intuitional unity but only
available in bits and parts, and if it is, it does not seem that
intuition, or anything different from successful analysis can
comprehend this unity.


Bergson, Henry. 1903. An Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by
Hulme, T.E. New York:

Bergson, Henry. 1907. Creative Evolution. Translated by Mitchell, A.
New York: Henry Holt.

Bergson, Henry 1911. Matter and Memory. London: Swan Sonnenschein.

Jones, T.W and Fogelin, R. J. 1952. A History of Western Philosophy:
The Twentieth Century To Quine and Derrida. Florida: Harcourt Brace &

Russell, Bertrand. 1912. 'The Philosophy of Bergson' in The Monist,
Vol. 22. 1912. Retrieved on 01/02/2013 from:
http://en.m.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Philosophy_of _Bergson_(Russell)

Stumpf, S.E.: Philosophy: History and Problems (USA: McGraw-Hill
Inc., 1971).

(c) Ayodeji W. Adesoye 2015

Email: dejidesoye@gmail.com



In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera presents a
complex theme of sexuality as it relates to his two primary
characters, Tomas and Tereza. Although one could make a reasonable
attempt in analyzing these characters in terms of human sexuality, it
is submitted that the deeper undertones of Kundera's text can only be
understood from a philosophical approach that views the sexuality of
Kundera's characters as a metaphor of Friedrich Nietzsche's
existentialism. That is to say, since Kundera's characters are
largely embedded in the myth of Eternal Return, one cannot plausibly
analyze the sexuality of his characters based upon human behavioral
models, since by the very nature of Nietzsche's philosophy all life
is incoherent and ambiguous -- and should not be subjected to
traditional philosophical or psychological analysis (Kundera 31; Thus
Spoke Zarathustra, 'Of Reading and Writing,' Nietzsche).

At the very outset, Kundera questions the meaning of Nietzsche's idea
of Eternal Return. Kundera states that if the idea of Eternal Return
is correct, and every second of our lives recurs indefinitely, then
we humans must necessarily bear an immense responsibility for every
action we take (Kundera 5). If the idea of Eternal Return is true,
then as Nietzsche states, it is indeed the heaviest of all burdens
(Kundera 5). But Kundera also sees that there is a pervasive
ambiguity in the theory of Eternal Return. That is, if Eternal Return
is the heaviest of all burdens, then it should follow that our lives
can transcend the heaviness of perpetual recurrence by maintaining a
'splendid lightness' (Kundera 5). However, Kundera realizes that the
distinction between 'lightness' (being positive) and 'weight' (being
a negative burden), may not be as simplistic as the philosopher
Parmenides imagined, and that Nietzsche's idea of Eternal Return is
much more ambiguous (Kundera 6). Kundera's theme of sexuality in The
Unbearable Lightness of Being is a paradigm of Nietzsche's theory of
Eternal Return. Contrary to Parmenides' view of analyzing human
behavior in terms of lightness and heaviness, Kundera's characters do
not fit into neatly definitive categories, but rather are devoid of
purpose or finality -- and can only be interpreted from the
Nietzschean text of styled ambiguity (Kundera 6; Thus Spoke
Zarathustra, 'Of Reading and Writing,' Nietzsche).

Before examining the sexuality of Kundera's characters as they relate
to Nietzsche's existentialism, a further discussion of Nietzsche's
myth of the Eternal Return and Kundera's theory of the lightness of
being is warranted. In his essay, 'Kundera, Nietzsche, and Politics:
On the Questions of Eternal Return and Responsibility,' Erik Parens
compares the Eternal Return with Kundera's philosophy of the
'lightness of being.' Parens begins his discussion by contrasting
these philosophical theories in the context of the French Revolution:
'If the French Revolution were to recur eternally, we would be less
proud and more horrified by that definitive European event. Not
believing in the myth of Eternal Return is thus enormously useful: it
helps us forget' (Parens 286). But even though there are distinct
advantages of not believing in the idea of Eternal Return, there is
also a danger in a belief system that adheres to Kundera's theory of
the lightness of being:

     Not so long ago, I caught myself experiencing a most
     incredible sensation. Leafing through a book on Hitler, I
     was touched by some of the portraits: they reminded me of
     my childhood. I grew up during the war; several members of
     my family perished in Hitler's concentration camps; but
     what were their deaths compared with the memories of a lost
     period in my life, a period that would never return?
     (Kundera 4)

In other words, if nothing will return, then everything is cynically
permitted in advance (Kundera 4). In a world without eternal
recurrence, there is no moral responsibility because no one can find
fault where everything is in transit. As Parens puts it:

     If all is flux, and if the attribution of praise and blame
     requires a stable subject, then the time for attribution of
     praise and blame has passed; perhaps it is not an
     exaggeration to say that the time for politics as it has
     been understood is passed. In a world without eternal
     recurrence, life is unbearably light. (Parens 287)

In his first section, 'Lightness and Weight,' Kundera introduces his
main characters, Tomas and Tereza. Tomas is initially portrayed as
living a light-hearted bachelor existence. After a divorce and
alienating himself from his entire family, Tomas begins a life of
womanizing and pursuing brief sexual encounters. In order to perfect
his light-hearted affairs, and protect his independence, Tomas
devises a kind of contractual relationship with his mistresses. That
is, the parties mutually understood that their relationship would be
purely physical and could only last a maximum of three encounters.
Furthermore, the parties to this agreement would understand that
there would be absolutely no engagement of emotions or compassion
during their brief encounters (Kundera 12-13). However, Kundera is
careful not to portray Tomas as being driven by an uncontrollable
sexual appetite, or in treating women as sexual objects (Kundera
208). Indeed, from the very beginning Tomas's existentialism and his
sense of loathing for human love are divulged: After having a sexual
encounter with one of his mistresses, Tomas is overcome by a desire
to separate himself from his lover because her physical body has
become distasteful to him (Kundera 14). Thus, Tomas is torn between a
desire to copulate with any woman with unusual features, and then to
immediately expel her 'alien body' from his presence after the sexual
encounter. With direct parallels to the doctrine of existentialism,
Tomas's constantly recurring sexual escapades brings with it a sense
of dread that the entire nature of sexual relationships and the
exchange of human bodies are, in fact, disgusting and distasteful
(Kundera 14). However, even though Tomas experiences a sense of dread
in his brief sexual encounters, it is clear that this character is not
remorseful about his affairs because he is a metaphor for Kundera's
lightness of being: Since all life is transitory, and there is no
eternal recurrence for Tomas, there is likewise no moral
responsibility for his actions (Parens 288).

The introduction of Tereza into Tomas's world is typified by Tereza's
arrival with a heavy suitcase. On the surface, it appears that
Tereza's suitcase is a metaphor for the weight and heaviness that
Tereza brings with her. The burden of the suitcase is clearly
Tereza's desire to possess Tomas with her monogamous love. While
Tomas feels a loathing in sleeping over with his sex partners, Tereza
felt that the sexual encounter was only a prelude to the more
significant act of sleeping together (Kundera 15). In fact, Tereza
was somewhat paranoid by her compulsion to sleep together with her
lover: she would literally hold on to Tomas's hands or feet to show
her sense of permanency to their relationship (Kundera 14).

Tomas's relationship with Tereza appears to be a conflict between
lightness and heaviness that Kundera identifies at the outset of his
text. Tomas is drawn by the lightness of the sexual encounter, and
desires that his partners engage in the same light eroticism. When
Tereza comes into his life with her heavy suitcase and her desire to
hold onto Tomas during their sleep, Tomas sees that his erotic
friendships are evaporating. At one point, Tomas is incapable of
further sexual exploits without first becoming drunk (Kundera 21). He
must become intoxicated in an effort to rid Tereza's image during his
infidelities. On the other hand, Tereza wants a much weightier brand
of love. She wants Tomas to devote himself to her alone. Tereza's
possessiveness of Tomas borders on paranoia: 'Tereza saw herself
threatened by women, all women. All women were potential mistresses
for Tomas, and she feared them all' (Kundera 18). In this sense,
Tereza's fear of Tomas's mistresses typifies her compassion for Tomas
that burdens their relationship: Tereza wants to consume Tomas with
her compassion, which cannot be shared with his other mistresses.

In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera portrays the 'heavy'
Tereza and the 'light' Tomas as characters who are enticed and drawn
by their polar opposites. By being drawn to the other extreme, we can
see that both characters display the ambiguity that is part of life in
the Eternal Return. The ambiguity displayed here is simply that
neither Tomas nor Tereza can easily be fit into categories of
'lightness' (Tomas's recurrent sexual encounters) or of 'heaviness'
(Tereza's desire for a single relationship). In Tomas's case, after
having lived seven years bound to Tereza's weighty idealism, Tomas
begins to experience a tremendous feeling of compassion toward Tereza
(Kundera 31). Based upon his new feeling of 'compassion' towards
Tereza, Tomas finds that his life is unbearable apart from Tereza --
who has taken up residence in Prague (Kundera 33). After Tereza's
departure, Tomas begins to experience an affinity with the music of
Beethoven. Similar to Beethoven's 'difficult resolution,' Tomas sees
the extrinsic value in performing a sacrificial act of returning to
his occupied country in order to be with Tereza (Kundera 33-34).
Tomas believes that his life will be significant and meaningful by
sacrificing his recurrent sexual encounters. Nevertheless, Tomas's
own philosophical beliefs tell him that all life is vague, ambiguous
and full of chaos; thus, any path we may 'choose' will never be
considered significant (Kundera 33-34). Likewise, in the myth of
Eternal Return, everything is incoherent simply because the recurrent
circle is itself comprised of ambiguity and disorder (Kundera 31). In
Tomas's particular case, he finds that life is unsatisfyingly 'light'
based on his recurrent sexual adventures. But he also discovers that
by leaving this lifestyle to be with Tereza -- and experiencing her
heavy 'compassion' -- that the other extreme is equally unsatisfying.
Thus, Tomas is caught in a recurrent cycle that is devoid of meaning
or symmetry: he can find no value in the light or the heavy part of
the circle.

Tereza's view of sexuality is tempered by her childhood memories of
her mother. Tereza's mother viewed the human body with disdain and
banality: 'Tereza can't reconcile herself to the idea that the human
body pisses and farts' (Kundera 45). Tereza wanted to keep her
femininity hidden and modest; her mother sought to expose it. At
times when she was engaged in love-making, Tereza would scream out
loud. As Kundera noted, her screaming was not an expression of
sensuality, but rather an expression of her naive idealism of her
love (Kundera 54). In order to reconcile Tomas's infidelities, Tereza
devised a scheme that she hoped would maintain her idealism of
sexuality with Tomas's recurrent eroticism: She would allow Tomas to
bring his mistresses along to view their sexual encounter. Tomas's
mistresses would then stimulate his attraction to Tereza, and
ultimately cause the two of them to be permanently merged into a
hermaphrodite (Kundera 62). In this context, Tereza's erotic scheme
could be viewed as a compromise to Tomas's lightness. That is, one
could interpret Tereza's scheme as a concession to the ambiguity that
pervades the Eternal Return: Tereza is unable to maintain her weighty
idealism when all life is wrought with disorder and incoherence.

Tereza's infrequent sexual encounters outside her relationship to
Tomas is also revealing as to her attitude toward purely sensual
relationships. As an adoption of her mother's contempt of the human
body, Tereza generally finds the body itself a disgusting creation.
She seeks to escape from her mother's conception that the body is, in
essence, a mechanism of 'farting and pissing' (Kundera 45). However,
Tereza finds that she cannot escape this human drudgery: Her
encounter with the tall engineer is the paradigm of the recurrent
disgust. While she is initially attracted to the engineer's handsome
physique, after he lures her onto his bed, Tereza's immense disgust
is exposed and she proceeds to spit in the engineer's face
immediately after intercourse. In a further display of disgust and
remorse, Tereza then empties her bowels -- associating sex with her
mother and with base bodily functions (Kundera 155-56). As was the
case with Tomas, Tereza's view of sexual relations can be seen as a
metaphor of Nietzsche's existentialism -- both characters are held in
a recurrent cycle that brings with it a loathing of human existence.

Regarding Tereza's idealistic concept of her relationship with Tomas,
Erik Parens compares her conception to one of Homer's heroes when she
tries 'to see herself through her body' (Parens 289; qtd. in The
Unbearable Lightness of Being 41). By looking at herself before the
mirror, Tereza is able to conclude that her soul has a distinctive
meaning, and is not simply reducible to her body (Parens 289). As
being the paradigm of eternal recurrence, Tereza is the antithesis of
the idea that 'human beings are soulless bodies in motion' (Parens
290). In particular, Tereza makes a concerted effort to maintain a
hopeful perspective that where everything does recur, every moment is
important and everything does matter (Parens 290). However, as Tereza
learns from her relationship with Tomas, there is a constant
ambiguity and dread associated with eternal recurrence: the suffering
she is subjected to in her relationship with Tomas will be recurrent
and eternal, and her choice to bear the burden of this affair will
never be mitigated, and will never have a 'good' ending -- thus, the
dread of the Eternal Return (Parens 287).

One could view Tomas's pursuit of erotic engagements as his own
attempt of breaking through the myth of Eternal Return. For Tomas,
his pursuit of eroticism was not based upon an idea that women were
to be viewed as sex objects (Kundera 208). Rather, Tomas saw his
pursuit of eroticism as a method of taking possession of and
conquering that very small part of a woman that could only be exposed
during sex (Kundera 200). Kundera explains this desire as one of
appropriating the one-millionth part of a woman dissimilar to others
of her sex (Kundera 200). In pursuit of such specialized knowledge,
'epic womanizers' such as Tomas, 'turn away from conventional
feminine beauty, of which they quickly tire, and inevitably end up
curiosity collectors' (Kundera 201). During one of his exploits,
Tomas presumably found this one-millionth part in the giraffe-woman.
Tomas believed that during his sexual encounter with the
giraffe-woman he appropriated her unique clumsiness during
intercourse; and her act of raising her legs during the act was
paramount to 'a soldier surrendering to a pointed gun' (Kundera 206).
For Tomas, his sexual encounter with the giraffe-woman gave him the
joy of taking possession of another piece of the world and somehow
breaking through the monotony and burden of life (Kundera 207).

The paradox and the ambiguity of lightness and heaviness that Kundera
poses in the beginning of The Unbearable Lightness of Being may have
been reconciled in the end. As they enter their bedroom for the final
night of love-making, Tereza observes two beds pushed together
(Kundera 314). This observation connotes Tereza's idealism of love --
drawing Tomas into the magic stream, with closed eyes, and merging
with him (Kundera 209). However, Tomas does not see the two beds
pushed together; he observes the large nocturnal butterfly that
circles the room (Kundera 314). For Tomas, this radiant butterfly
represents the final resting place for his poetic memory. Somehow, by
their ambiguous compromise, Tereza and Tomas have found happiness and
entered the room of Eternal Return.

Works cited

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. New York: Harper &
Row, 1984. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 'Of Reading and Writing.' Thus Spoke
Zarathustra. New York: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969. 67-69. Print.

Parens, Erik. 'Kundera, Nietzsche, and Politics: On the Questions of
Eternal Return and Responsibility.' Philosophy Today 37.3 (1993):
285-297. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 15 Apr. 2010.

(c) John Hansen 2015

Email: hansenjohnp@gmail.com




Its intransigence may make the ongoing debate about free will and
moral responsibility, as John Searle famously claimed, a 'scandal' in
contemporary philosophy, but this has also ensured that it remains
significant, interesting, and as relevant as ever to the issue of
culpability in our criminal justice system. Western moral psychology
and, indeed, our conception of human nature itself, are underwritten
by ideas about autonomy, agency, intention and volition, which (at
least to some extent) presuppose freedom of the will. Our
social-political-cultural institutions are also consequently
predicated upon the assumption that free will grounds the very
possibility of meaningful thought, action, and ethics in human
affairs. As one such institution, the criminal justice system is
therefore predicated upon the assumption that free will is essential
to both personhood and legal responsibility.

Despite its significance, this assumption has been articulated in a
relatively vague and sporadic way in contemporary jurisprudence, but
nonetheless remains a foundational premise that makes the concept of
retribution within the criminal justice system sensible and fair. A
robust and vital presumption of free will is essential to the notion
that we are morally and legally responsible human agents deserving of
praise, blame, reward, and punishment. The United States Supreme Court
has stated that 'belief in freedom of the human will and consequent
ability and duty of the normal individual to choose between good and
evil is... universal and persistent in mature systems of law'[1], and
it would certainly be difficult to countenance the role that the
criminal justice system has traditionally played in western culture
-- at least since the Enlightenment -- without this presumption.

Of course, the extent to which this presumption may or may not be
tenable is integrally connected to the larger debate regarding the
nature of free will and responsibility. This paper examines how
various Compatibilist perspectives on free will generally, and on the
Consequence Argument specifically, fare in current debates concerning
the way criminal responsibility is, and should be, conceived within
the justice system. At issue is whether Compatibilism is successful
in reconciling its deterministic premises with its retributive
conclusions about the viability of moral and legal responsibility.

I argue that, despite the overwhelming current popularity of
compatibilism among contemporary philosophers, psychologists,
neuroscientists and jurists, it fails to accomplish this task and
does not, in any of its incarnations, provide a satisfactory
vindication of the kind of free will or legal responsibility required
by the contemporary criminal justice system. In particular, many
Compatibilist assumptions about naturalism and the causal closure of
the physical world, the nature of mind/ consciousness, weaknesses in
its responses to the Consequence Argument because of these
assumptions, and its subsequent conclusions about the role of free
will and criminal responsibility, are ultimately unsatisfactory if
retributive justice (administering punishments, privileges, or
rewards that are earned or deserved by autonomous and morally
responsible agents) is a basic goal of the criminal justice system.
Moreover, I also suggest that deterministic and physicalist
assumptions which underwrite the compatibilist position involve
conceptions of personhood that may render free will hopelessly
problematic and thus defeat its own project: Resulting in views like
mind-brain identity, epiphenomenalism, the situational self, and
extended cognition, which tend to delegitimize, decenter, or
deconstruct the very kind of self-identity and personal agency that
makes the attribution of autonomy or individual volition possible for
the purpose of determining criminal responsibility.

I conclude by suggesting that recognizing Compatibilism's failure in
this respect may refocus attention on Compatibilism's less popular
competitors in the free will debate: Hard Determinism and
Libertarianism. Since Hard Determinism's metaphysical assumptions
cannot be reconciled with moral or legal responsibility, and it
therefore appears to undermine the ethical viability of retributive
justice (a conclusion that would be unpalatable to most jurists,
criminal justice professionals, and the public at large), perhaps the
time has come to reconsider Libertarianism as a rationale for
acknowledging and preserving the idea of free will and the legitimacy
of retributive justice in criminal law.

Compatibilism and the Consequence Argument

Although definitions of free will are the subject of endless ongoing
debate in the philosophical community, most philosophers, legal
scholars and jurists concur that the popular common-sense 'working'
conception of free will assumed by social institutions generally and
the criminal justice system specifically, is the more-or-less
'folk-psychological' one. This conception of free will prescribes an
agent's (person) being the source or originator of his/ her own
actions, having control over these thoughts/ actions, and having the
ability to think/ act otherwise. Although there are philosophical
traditions that qualify, critique, or reject one or more of these
criteria[2], the general social consensus is that free will
encompasses them in some sense, and the criminal justice system has
traditionally subscribed to the folk-psychological view of free will.
Its notion of retribution also requires that free agents meet these

While there is also lively debate regarding precise definitions of
the traditional categories: Determinist, Libertarian, and
Compatibilist, for this paper's purposes these terms will be assumed
to denote the general scope of their usual usage. Libertarianism
(especially in its agent-casual form) claims that agents (persons)
have the kind of free will that meets the folk-psychological criteria
and, hence, can be held morally and legally responsible for their
thoughts and actions. Hard Determinism claims that, because agents
are completely subject to determining forces (physical laws,
mechanistic causation, divine will, etc) they do not have the kind of
free will that meets the folk-psychological criteria and are therefore
not morally/ legally responsible. Compatibilism claims that although
thoughts/ actions are determined in the way understood by Hard
Determinists, agents nonetheless possess free will in a substantial
(although not contra-causal Libertarian) sense, and can thus be
considered morally/ legally responsible for thoughts and actions,
despite these being determined. Of these, Compatibilism is probably
the consensus view of free will among contemporary philosophers,
psychologists, and legal scholars thinking about the implications of
free will for criminal responsibility in a retributive justice system.

The traditional 'Consequence Argument' (appearing, in various
incarnations, from Diodorus Cronus to Peter Van Inwagen[3]) outlines
the basic challenge to compatibilism on this issue. It states that if
all events are caused of necessity by prior events, and our thoughts
and actions are events, then our thoughts and actions are caused
necessarily by prior events which are therefore ultimately outside of
our volition, beyond our control, and for which there are no alternate
possibilities. We are therefore not responsible for our thoughts and
actions. Stated in a more naturalistic context: If all events,
including our thoughts and actions, are aspects of the physical
universe, and the physical universe is casually closed, then our
thoughts and actions must be determined mechanistically by the
physical laws and processes of this universe, rather than by any
contra-causal agent-centered 'mental' event (Quantum randomness does
not help either, as random events are, obviously, not free in the
folk-psychological sense). We are, thus, not responsible for our
thoughts and actions in the folk-psychological sense and should not
be held morally or criminally liable for them in a retributive
justice system. therefore the dilemma for compatibilism is how to
reconcile its deterministic view of the human condition with its
simultaneous endorsement of free will, responsibility and retributive
justice -- that the Consequence Argument contends is logically

Legal Compatibilism's Response to the Determinist Challenge Via the
Consequence Argument

Compatibilist responses to the Consequence Argument take many forms,
but generally turn on the notion that, while human agents are not
free in the Libertarian folk-psychological sense, they are
nonetheless free in a more limited but quite legitimate sense. By
relocating freedom in such dynamics as rationality, volition, and
deliberation (rather than in an undetermined self-caused agent) they
argue, our thoughts and actions can still be considered free despite
being ultimately determined. Even if choices are ultimately
determined, they are 'free' if they are the result of uncoerced and
rational deliberation, and this kind of freedom, in Dennett's famous
words, is 'The only kind of free will worth wanting'[4]. For legal
Compatibilists, this means that criminal responsibility is vindicated
despite deterministic constraints on free will.[5]

Mens Rea, or the 'guilty mind' requirement necessary to establish
culpability in Anglo-American criminal law generally requires that
the intentional commission of an Actus Reus, or criminal act, be
committed in such a way that the agent 'purposely, knowingly,
recklessly or negligently' chooses his/ her course of action.[6]
Similarly, the Voluntary Act requirement involved in any criminal act
demands that this act or omission be willed or intended, rather than
involuntary or unconsciously done.[7] However these requirements do
not entail Libertarian or folk-psychological kinds of freedom,
according to legal Compatibilists. A legitimately intentional
criminal act may still be the result of a deliberate (and hence,
free) chain of thoughts, impulses, and desires which are nonetheless
determined and beyond the immediate control of the perpetrator. Even
if the ultimate causes of criminal acts are beyond the perpetrator's
control, they are free choices for which he/ she is responsible and
warrant retribution if they are the result of that perpetrator's
rational deliberation and voluntary action.

Thus, legal Compatibilists claim, a host of contemporary
deterministic challenges to criminal culpability are refuted a
priori. Things like unconscious psychological drives, genetic
predispositions, situational environmental influences, and neural
correlates of conscious thought all may determine how we think and
act, but these do not preclude the kind of ability to think and act
that makes us criminally responsible. Stephen Morse and Nita
Farahany, for instance, have recently argued that despite impressive
advances in neural imaging and brain science, neuroscience is neither
sophisticated enough to establish the reduction of mind (and hence,
free will) to brain chemistry, nor comprehensive enough to
deterministically explain criminal intent and voluntary action solely
in terms of brain-function. Though they are both metaphysical
materialists and determinists, they nonetheless acknowledge that
criminal responsibility involves the complex dynamics of 'whole
people' rather than simple brain states and that human thoughts and
actions, though ultimately physically determined, are the result of
an elaborate, multi-textured, and intricately influenced process of
rational deliberation that is sufficient to make them intentional and
voluntary and, hence, free.[8] Moreover, because the criminal justice
system restricts its purview to this narrow conception of freedom, it
need never address the issue of ultimate responsibility and free will
raised by the Consequence Argument. In actual practice, no discussion
or definition of free will in these terms even figures into
determinations of criminal responsibility.[9]

Compatibilism's failure to Meet the Determinist Challenge Via the
Consequence Argument

Legal Compatibilism, however, fails to address substantial challenges
to criminal responsibility posed by the Consequence Argument for
several reasons. First, the claim made by Morse and others that free
will is somehow irrelevant to or beyond the purview of the criminal
justice system fails to address the tacit reality of what we want the
justice system to accomplish. Although all of the more intricate
philosophical questions regarding free will may not be addressed in
the practical discourse of criminal law, the nature and scope of free
will is still a vitally important concern in criminal justice policy
and practice. Its institutions operate and dispense justice on the
basis of assumptions about folk-psychological free will, and these
are integral to the theory of retribution in contemporary criminal
justice, whether or not it is articulated this way specifically.

Moreover, almost all contemporary legal compatibilists are
determinists of the naturalistic or physicalist variety, who disavow
any non-physical or super-natural dimension of causality, agency, or
mind, and acknowledge only material entities, causes, and laws as
defined by the current physical sciences. They are therefore, along
with the physical sciences, committed to 'efficient' (mechanistic)
causation explicable in physical terms, non-teleological
(non-purposeful) explanations for events, and the causal closure of
the physical world -- all of which necessitate that human thoughts/
actions are part of a determined process that began with the origin
of the physical universe, cannot be contra-causally altered by any
intervening non-physical agent, and could not have occurred in any
way other than that which this relentless and incorrigible process
dictates. Human minds, thoughts, and actions then, are entirely
physical, non-teleological, and causally closed events, which are
entirely determined by this process.

However, if thoughts and actions are determined in this way (as
compatibilists claim), it seems untenable to also claim that, in any
meaningful sense, human agents are the source of thoughts/actions (in
the sense of their desires, decisions, etc, originating in the
immediacy of their own conscious deliberation), they control what
they think or do (in the sense of their being autonomous conscious
authors of their choices), or they could have done otherwise (in the
sense that they have an option to intervene contra-causally in the
physical chain of events that results in the course of their thoughts
and acts). Since they lack these capacities, it seems untenable to
claim that they have free will and, hence, personal responsibility
for what they think/ do as these concepts are commonly understood in
the folk psychological sense. And since they lack free will and
personal responsibility as these are commonly understood in our
culture, they therefore lack the kind of autonomous agency required
by the Voluntary Act principle, Mens Rea, etc, and should -- as per
the Consequence Argument -- not be held responsible for criminal

Most Compatibilists, however, are physicalists of various
non-reductive varieties, and respond that although mental events and
cognitive activity are indeed physical, they are nonetheless more
subtle and complex than other, simpler, physical processes. Human
agents performing mental functions are, therefore, more free in
making their choices than are simple brains, artificial intelligence,
etc. Daniel Dennett, for instance, locates free will in the
distinctively complex 'competencies' of human neurological processes,
which involve sophisticated levels of self-surveillance[10], and John
Searle finds warrant for free will in a substantively enhanced status
for mental processes which, though still physical, are qualitatively
different and more elaborate than their other physical
correlates.[11] Proponents of 'extended cognition', like Shaun
Gallagher, also see a viable capacity for free will in the
'relational' person who, rather than being reducible to simple brain
function, is a complex and nuanced 'physical system' comprised of
his/ her entire surrounding environment.[12]

Following this logic, Compatibilists like Morse and Farahany justify
legal attributions of free will and responsibility on the basis of
the intricacy and multi-leveled hierarchy of human neuro-biology,
cognition, and relationships. Our ultimate dispositions and
deliberations may be physically based and mechanistically determined,
they claim, but our specific choices in immediate situations have a
greater degree of variation, unpredictability, and possible options
than do more rudimentary physical systems. This kind of enhanced
complexity makes human choices free -- and hence morally and legally
accountable -- in a sense that other physical processes are not.[13]

The problem with this response is that it pushes the Consequence
Argument dilemma back one step without resolving it. No matter how
intricate or complex a naturalistic process may be, it remains a
completely physical, non-teleological, causally closed -- in sum,
entirely determined -- process that does not permit free will in the
folk psychological sense required for legal and moral responsibility.
Thus, no matter how complex a physical human organism or system may
be, it is still a mechanistic, causally-closed and efficiently caused
process driven ultimately by the laws of physics and prior physical
events beyond that human organism's immediate control. These dynamics
make impossible the kind of self-authorship, autonomous control, and
ability to do otherwise that are required by folk-psychology and the
Consequence Argument -- and hence, the criminal justice system -- for
free will and responsibility. Thermostats, I-phones, and
super-computers, for instance, are entities that may possess
relatively complex levels of cognitive sophistication (in some ways,
more sophistication than human cognition) but none of them ever rises
to a level of complexity that would justify our attributing free will
and legal responsibility to their cognitive processes or actions.
This is because mechanistic physical phenomena -- including human
thoughts and actions in a causally closed purely physical universe --
cannot possess free will in a way that warrants an attribution of
moral or legal responsibility sufficient to avoid the implications of
the Consequence Argument, no matter how elaborate their functioning
may be.

In fact, Compatibilist attempts to locate freedom in an agent's
cognitive complexity tends to undermine the concept of legally
responsible agency itself. Jaegwon Kim has pointed out that
non-reductive physicalist philosophies of mind, by adding
extra-physical sounding 'mental' capacities (over-and-above
unconscious brain function) to brain-based consciousness in order to
explain free will, run the risk of either devolving into a kind of
epiphenomenalism (the claim that non-physical states of consciousness
exist, but have no capacity to influence human activity) which cannot
be reconciled with free will, or evolving into a kind of incoherent
substance dualism (the claim that two kinds of elements exist --
physical and mental) which cannot be reconciled with their
physicalism.[14] Compatibilists like Morse and Farahany face
precisely this problem in positing special kinds of conscious or
mental states that can be 'free' (and hence, legally responsible) in
a sense that other biologically-based physical states are not. Both
reject epiphenomenalism but then posit mental states that are somehow
both physical (mechanistically neurologically determined) but
substantively different from everything else that is physical (they
are consciously motivated in a non-mechanistic extra-physical
sounding sense), in order to retain the status of being free in a
morally/ legally privileged way. 'The plausible theory of mind that
might support such explanations is thoroughly material but
non-reductive and non-dualistic', Morse writes, 'It hypothesizes that
all mental and behavioral activity is a causal product of lawful
physical events in the brain... that they are caused by lower level
biological states in the brain... but not at the level of neurons,
and that mental states are causally efficacious'. Along these same
lines, Farahany claims that conscious intention is somehow divided
between more-determined 'freedom of choice' and less-determined
'freedom of action', both of which are essentially brain-based but
are also somehow fundamentally different in their causal efficacy.
The only apparent difference, however, is in their relative levels of
neurological complexity, which is assumed -- inexplicably -- to make a
genuine difference in their relative levels of freedom.[15]

The problem with this mental foundation of free will, is that it must
be either self-contradictory (simultaneously physical but also
extra-physical in certain respects) or dualistic in a Cartesian way
that Morse, Farahany, and almost all compatibilists deny. Similarly,
theories of 'extended' or 'relational' cognition and consciousness
(that our cognitive and 'mental' capacity extends to the tools and
environment that we mentally interact with), like those proposed by
Shaun Gallagher, Mason Cash, and others[16], offer important new
insights into how dynamics like self-identity and agency might be
re-conceptualized, but also raise new confusions about how free and
responsible agency in the folk-psychological sense can remain
coherent in a retributive criminal justice system that assigns
culpability to autonomous individuals. While not obviating the
possibility of individual responsibility, theories of extended
cognition expand and decenter personal identity in ways that render
assignations of freedom, blame and praise to individually responsible
agents, increasingly problematic.

Libertarian Freedom as a Viable Alternative

The Compatibilist position therefore does not adequately respond to
the Consequence Argument and hence does not present an account of
free will necessary to establish the kind of moral/ criminal
responsibility and retributive justice required by the criminal
justice system. Its commitment to determinism, physicalism, and
causal closure undermines its endorsement of decisions and acts that
are authored by a responsible agent, under the agent's control, and
that could have been otherwise -- at least in the folk psychological
sense in which these are understood by our legal system. Hard
Determinism obviously faces the same problems and, although some of
its adherents suggest that determinism is compatible with either a
straight-forward utilitarian standard of justice (that punishments
/rewards should be conferred simply to produce behavioral results in
the agent instead of giving the agent what he/she retributively
'deserves') or even preserving the myth of retribution in our society
for purely utilitarian purposes[17] it fails, like compatibilism, to
provide adequate warrant for praise, blame, reward, or punishment.

Of the three perspectives then, this leaves the prospect of a
Libertarian vindication of free will, responsibility, and retribution
available for consideration and, though such consideration is beyond
the purview of this paper, it is worth noting that Libertarian free
will is already largely assumed by folk psychology, the criminal
justice system, and our cultural institutions generally. It also
meets the challenge of the Consequence Argument by refuting
determinism and acknowledging an autonomous contra-causal agent as
the source of free will and responsibility.

Though popular in the larger culture, Libertarianism has been largely
dismissed by current philosophers, neuroscientists, psychologists and
jurists. Its contra-causal self-authoring agent --essential to legal
responsibility -- has been rejected as a logically incoherent
uncaused cause, as over-determining physical causation, as violating
the principle of causal closure, and as an obsolete remnant of
Cartesian dualism that is unsupported by empirical evidence.[18]
However Libertarians can, and have, offered responses to these
charges that are equally compelling -- claiming, for instance, that
agent-causation is the only effective rationale for providing the
kind of teleological reasons-oriented explanations (vs.
mechanistically caused explanations) that common-sense demands for
conscious human choices,[19] and that causal closure of the physical
world has been neither logically or empirically established by
science or philosophy.[20] Indeed, as many philosophers of science
have pointed out, the very nature of 'the physical' is itself an
ephemeral and malleable concept that has not been defined in a firm,
non-circular way.[21] In addition, there is a growing body of
empirical evidence from physics, psychology, anthropology,
neuroscience, and philosophy (not to mention a long tradition of
non-western philosophy and science largely -- and inexcusably --
ignored in the west) supporting the possibility of consciousness
metaphysically distinct from the physical world and brain, but still
causally efficacious in the physical world in ways that support the
Libertarian concept of free will.[22]

While Libertarianism may face logical and empirical problems, it can
be argued that these are no more precarious than those facing
Compatibilism and Hard Determinism. Though this paper is not the
forum in which to explore Libertarian arguments, it is sufficient now
to note that the failure of Compatibilism and Hard Determinism to
provide an adequate response to the Consequence Argument or an
adequate vindication of free will, clears the way and provides an
incentive to reexamine the prospect of adopting a more robust and
well-defined Libertarian conception of free will for validating and
supporting our common-sense intuitions about responsibility and
retribution in the criminal justice system.


1. Morisette V U.S. 342 U.S 246, 250 (1988)

2. Frankfurt and successors, for instance, beginning with :
'Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility' Journal of
Philosophy 66: 829-39 (1969), 'Freedom of the Will and the Concept of
a Person' Journal of Philosophy 68: 5-20 (1971)

3. Van Inwagen, P. 'Free Will Remains a Mystery' Oxford Handbook of
Free Will ed. Kane University Press (2002)

4. Dennet, D. Elbow Room. (Cambridge: MIT Press) 1984

5. Michael Moore and others have argued that basing responsibility on
mental capacity rather than on causation is the only tenable way to
preserve its integrity or utility in the legal system. Placing Blame:
A General Theory of Criminal Law. (Oxford: University Press) 2010,
Buchanan argues that neuroscience can support this standard via a
'functional test' of brain activity if the Mens Rea concept is
interpreted liberally. Buchanan A. 'Commentary: Freedom and Function'
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 36:25-26

6. In Marby's classic words: 'an attitude of mind in which the doer
of an act averts to the desires that follow' it.

7. Model Penal Code Standards

8. Farahany, N. Neuroscience and the Law 4 Sta Tech Law Review
(2004), Morse, S. 'The Non-Problem of Free will in Forensic
Psychiatry and Psychology' Behavioral Sciences and the Law 3:11 (2007)

9. Morse Ibid.

10. Dennet, D. Ibid

11. Among other places, Searle, J. Freedom and Neurobiology.
(Columbia: University Press) 2006.

12. Gallagher, S. 'Consciousness and Free Will' Danish year Book of
Philosophy 39 7-16 (2004)

13. Morse, S. 'Criminal Responsibility and the Disappearing Person'
28 Cardozo Law Rev 2545 (2007)

14. Kim, J. 'Mental Causation' Oxford Handbook of Free Will. ed.
Walter (University Press) 2009

15. Farhany, Morse, ibid

16. Cash M. 'Extended Cognition, Personal Responsibility and
Relational Autonomy' Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (4)
645-671 (2010) Others, like Shaun Gallagher, 'Consciousness and Free
Will' Danish Yearbook of Philosophy 39 7-16 (2004), also expand
self-identity to a wide matrix of relationships, but ultimately
restrict these to the physical.

17. For instance, Flanagan O. The Problem of the Soul. (New York:
Basic Books) 2002, Pereboom D. 'Living Without Free Will' Oxford
Handbook of Free Will (University Press) 2002, Smilanski. S 'Free
Will Fundamental Dualism, and the Centrality of Illusion' Oxford
Handbook of Free Will (2002), Wegner D. The Illusion of Conscious
Will. (Cambridge: MIT Press) 2002

18. There are innumerable presentations and formulations of these
kinds of arguments, of course. For example: see the preceding citation

19. For example: Lowe E, 'Dualism' Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy
of Mind. ed.Walter (University Press) 2009, Miextner U. 'Materialism
Does Not Save the Phenomena' The Waning of Materialism. ed. Koons
(2010) Nida M. 'An Argument From Transtemporal Identity for
Subject-Body Dualism' The Waning of Materialism, Swinburne R. The
Evolution of the Soul. (Oxford: University Press) 1997

20. For example: Goertz S. Naturalism. (Cambridge:UK: Eerdsman
Publishing) 2008, Hodgeson D. 'Quantum Physics Consciousness and Free
Will' Oxford Hand Book of Free Will(2002), Robinson H. 'Idealism'
Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Mind (2009)

21. For example: BonjourL. 'Against Materialism' The Waning of
Materialism (2010), Montero B. 'What is the Physical?' Oxford
Handbook of the Philosophy of Mind

22. For example, From Neuroscience and Cognitive science, Beauregard
M. The Spiritual Brain. (New York: HarperCollins) 2007, Hoffman D.
'Conscious Realism and the Mind-Body Problem' Mind And Matter vol 6,
87-121 (2008), Penrose R. Shadows of the Mind. (Oxford: University
Press) 1996, Schwartz J. The Mind and the Brain. (New York:
HarperCollins) 2002, Radin D. Entangled Minds. LA: Paraview Books
(2006), From physics, Bohm D. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. (New
York: Routledge) 2002, Rosenblum B. Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters
Consciousness. (Oxford: University Press) 2007, Stapp H. Mindful
Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer. Springer
(2007), Wigner E. 'Remarks on the Mind-Body Question' (1950), From
Philosophy: Chalmers D. 'Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness'
Explaining Consciousness ed. Shear, (Cambridge MIT )2000, Shear J.
'The Hard Problem: Closing the Empirical Gap' Explaining
Consciousness (2000), Velmans M. 'The Relation on Consciousness to
the Material World' Explaining Consciousness (2000) For Historical
cross-disciplinary perspectives: Skirbina D. Panpsychism in the West.
(Cambridge:MIT) 2005

(c) Richard Grego 2015

Email: richard.grego@fscj.edu

 Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
 Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

 To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
 request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

 The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
 reflect those of the Editors.

Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page