Date of Award

Summer 6-15-2011

Degree Type

Closed Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Eddy Nahmias

Second Advisor

Andrea Scarantino

Third Advisor

Dan Weiskopf


This thesis explores the merits and limits of John Hawthorne’s contextualist analysis of free will. First, I argue that contextualism does better at capturing the ordinary understanding of ‘free will’ than competing views because it best accounts for the way in which our willingness to attribute free will ordinarily varies with context. Then I consider whether this is enough to conclude that the contextualist has won the free will debate. I argue that this would be hasty, because the contextualist, unlike her competitors, cannot tell us whether any particular agent is definitively free, and therefore cannot inform any practices that are premised on whether a particular agent is morally responsible. As such, I argue that whether the contextualist “wins the free will debate” depends on whether it is more important to capture the ordinary understanding of ‘free will’ or more important to inform our practices of ascribing moral responsibility.