In philosophy, does the compatibilist position resolve the debate between libertarians and hard determinists?

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samson98 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Compatibilism attempts to resolve the problem of free will and determinism by proposing that the two positions are compatible. Specifically, it asserts that:

  1. Determinism is true, that is, all human behavior occurs due to pre-determined causes.
  2. Humans act as free, moral agents insofar as they can act according to their motivations and are not being coerced to act against their desires.

Although compatibilism inhabits a somewhat intermediary between libertarianism and determinism, compatibilism does not resolve the debate between the two philosophies. As philosophy professor Philip A. Pecorino asserts:

Compatibilism is NOT a position that combines the libertarian and determinist positions [and] NOT a compromise of the two other positions.

In his words, compatibilism is:

determinism with a slight modification for the sake of appearances and for our language use.  It is a position taken because of the perceived need to have some idea of accountability or responsibility for human behavior. 

Neither libertarians nor hard determinists would assent to this position, because they are both "incompatibilist." Libertarians presuppose free will and thus deny determinism, and hard determinists presuppose determinism and thus deny the existence of free will.