Philosophy Index

Galen Strawson

Galen Strawson (1952— ) is an English analytic philosopher focused on philosophy of mind and metaphysics. Additionally, Strawson is also a scholar of David Hume, Immanuel Kant and John Locke. He currently teaches at the University of Reading in Berkshire, UK and is a regular visiting professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center. He has also previously taught as a visiting professor at NYU and Rutgers.

Galen Strawson is a son of another well-respected philosopher, P. F. Strawson.

Strawson on Free Will and Morality

On the subject of free will versus determinism, Galen Strawson argues that a meaningful, moral vision of free will is impossible. In fact, for Strawson, it doesn't matter whether or not determinism is true; in either case, there is a sense in which nobody is morally responsible for their actions even if undetermined, and nobody is truly free to decide their actions either.

Strawson's argument, which he calls his “basic argument”, hinges on moral responsibility. He arues that anything you do in any situation is caused by who you are, the way you are. Consequently, in order to be ultimately, morally responsible for anything, you must be ultimately responsible for who you are. But you can't be ultimatley responsible for the way you are, because you did not create yourself, nor did you control many of the impactful events of your life. Therefore, you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do.

Strawson's basic argument has two implications. The first is that nobody is truly free, though this is arguably a premise of his argument rather than a conclusion, since it is given that actions are a function of who the agent is and the way that they are. The second is that nobody is ultimately morally responsible for their actions.

Selected Works

  • Freedom and Belief (1986)
  • Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does physicalism entail panpsychism? (2006)


Name: Galen John Strawson
Born: 1952
Degrees: DPhil (Oxford, 1983)
BPhil (Oxford, 1977)