Philosophical Studies

, Volume 164, Issue 1, pp 189–203 | Cite as

Defending (a modified version of) the Zygote Argument

  • Patrick Todd


Think of the last thing someone did to you to seriously harm or offend you. And now imagine, so far as you can, becoming fully aware of the fact that his or her action was the causally inevitable result of a plan set into motion before he or she was ever even born, a plan that had no chance of failing. Should you continue to regard him or her as being morally responsible—blameworthy, in this case—for what he or she did? Many have thought that, intuitively, you should not. Recently, Alfred Mele has employed this line of thought to mount what many have taken to be a powerful argument for incompatibilism: the “Zygote Argument”. However, in interesting new papers, John Martin Fischer and Stephen Kearns have each independently argued that the Zygote Argument fails. As I see it, the criticisms of Fischer and Kearns reveal some important questions about how the argument is meant to be—or how it would best be—understood. Once we make a slight (but important) modification to the argument, however, I think we will be able to see that the criticisms of Fischer and Kearns do not detract from its substantial force.


The Zygote Argument Manipulation arguments Free will Moral responsibility Compatibilism Incompatibilism Alfred Mele 



For helpful comments on previous versions of this paper, I wish to thank Neal Tognazzini, Ben Mitchell-Yellin, Justin Coates, Philip Swenson, and Al Mele. For helpful conversations about these topics, I thank Andrew Chignell and Kristen Inglis. Finally, I'm deeply grateful (as usual) to John Martin Fischer for extensive comments on multiple drafts of the paper; the paper is (I believe) much improved as a result.


  1. Capes, J. Mitigating soft compatibilism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming).Google Scholar
  2. Fischer, J. M. (2011). The zygote argument remixed. Analysis, 71, 267–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Haji, I. (2009). Incompatibilism’s Allure: Principal arguments for incompatibilism. Toronto: Broadview Press.Google Scholar
  4. Kearns, S. (2011). Aborting the zygote argument. Philosophical Studies (online April 2011).Google Scholar
  5. Mele, A. (2006). Free will and luck. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Mele, A. (2008). Manipulation, compatibilism, and moral responsibility. The Journal of Ethics, 12, 263–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Todd, Patrick. (2011). A new approach to manipulation arguments. Philosophical Studies, 152, 127–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. van Inwagen, Peter. (1983). An essay on free will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of California, RiversideDallasUSA

Personalised recommendations