Prof. Saul Smilansky - Chair
Department of Philosophy
Office: eshkol 1906
+972-4-824 0917
+972-4-824 9735

B.A. Tel Aviv Univ.; D.Phil. Oxford (1990)

Full Professor (2003)
Research Areas
Ethics, the free will problem, justice, problems of self-deception and social illusions.
Current Research
My main interests are the free will problem; normative ethics (with special emphasis on moral paradoxes, meta-normative theory, and the notion of contribution); and the role of illusion and self-deception in our lives. I am working on some new paradoxes, and thinking on what all this paradoxicality might mean. I have also begun to work on a bigger project, which concerns the idea of a "crazy ethics", whereby our true (or at least most plausible) moral beliefs might in some ways be "crazy". This project incorporates much of my previous work on free will, moral paradoxes, and illusion.


FREE WILL AND ILLUSION. Oxford University Press (Oxford) 2000 (Hardback);
2002 (Paperback).

. Blackwell Publishing (Malden, MA) 2007 (Hardback & Paperback).

Translations : Finnish, Hebrew , Korean , Polish, Portuguese

[Most of the new chapter on moral paradoxes in the 3rd edition of R.M Sainsbury's PARADOXES (Cambridge University Press, 2009) is devoted to a discussion of my work in 10 MORAL PARADOXES. Sainsbury discusses in detail three paradoxes: Fortunate Misfortune, The Paradox of Non-Punishment, and Not Being Sorry about the Morally Bad.]

An interview on my book on

Selected Articles

1. "Van Inwagen on the 'Obviousness' of Libertarian Moral Responsibility", ANALYSIS vol.50 (1990), pp.29-33.

2. "Utilitarianism and the 'Punishment' of the Innocent: The General Problem", ANALYSIS vol.50 (1990), pp.256-261.

3. "The Point in Principled Divestiture", PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY vol.7 (1993), pp.257-260.
Reprinted in David Boonin and Graham Oddie, WHAT'S WRONG? APPLIED ETHICISTS AND THEIR CRITICS (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

4. "The Time to Punish", ANALYSIS vol.54 (1994), pp.50-53.

[A reply to this paper is Christopher New, "Punishing Times: Reply to Smilansky", ANALYSIS vol.55 (1995), pp.60-62.]

5. "On Practising What We Preach", AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY vol.31 (1994), pp.73-79.

6. "The Ethical Advantages of Hard Determinism", PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH vol.54 (1994), pp.355-363.

[A reply to this paper is Richard Double, "The Ethical Advantages of Free Will Subjectivism", PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH vol.69 (2004), pp.411-422.]

7. "Is There a Moral Obligation to Have Children?", JOURNAL OF APPLIED PHILOSOPHY vol.12 (1995), pp.41-53.

8. "May We Stop Worrying About Blackmail?", ANALYSIS vol.55 (1995), pp.116-120.

9. "Responsibility and Desert: Defending the Connection", MIND vol.105 (1996), pp.157-163.

[A reply to this paper is Fred Feldman, "Responsibility as a Condition for Desert", MIND vol.105 (1996), pp.165-168.]

10. "The Connection Between Responsibility and Desert: The Crucial Distinction", MIND vol.105 (1996), pp.385-386.

11. "Egalitarian Justice and the Importance of the Free Will Problem", PHILOSOPHIA vol.25 (1997), pp.153-161.

[A reply to this paper is Sung-Hak Kang, "Free Will and Distributive Justice: A Reply to Smilansky", PHILOSOPHIA vol.31 (2003), pp.107-126.]

12. "Should I Be Grateful to You For Not Harming Me?", PHILOSOPHY AND PHENOMENOLOGICAL RESEARCH vol.42 (1997), pp.585-597.

13. "Preferring Not to Have Been Born", AUSTRALASIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY vol.75 (1997), pp.241-247.

14. "Free Will: From Nature to Illusion", PROCEEDINGS OF THE ARISTOTELIAN SOCIETY vol.101 (2001), pp.71-95.
Reprinted in Michael McKenna and Paul Russell, eds., FREE WILL AND REACTIVE ATTITUDES: Perspectives on P.F. Strawson's "Freedom and Resentment". (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).
Reprinted also in Paul Russell and Oisin Deery, eds., THE PHILOSOPHY OF FREE WILL: SELECTED CONTEMPORARY READINGS. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

15. "Blackmail", ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF ETHICS 2nd Edition, (London: Routledge, 2001).

16. "Free Will, Fundamental Dualism and the Centrality of Illusion", in Robert. Kane, ed., THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF FREE WILL (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp.489-505.
Reprinted in John Martin Fischer, ed., FREE WILL (Critical Concepts in Philosophy series) (London: Routledge, 2005), vol.4.

Revised version in Robert Kane, ed., THE OXFORD HANDBOOK OF FREE WILL 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp.425-441.

17. "On Free Will and Ultimate Injustice", IYYUN vol.52 (2003), pp.41-55. [A reply to James Lenman.]

18. "Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline", ANALYSIS vol.63 (2003), pp.146-51.

[A reply to this paper is Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, "Smilansky's Baseline Objection to Choice-Egalitarianism", SATS - Nordic Journal of Philosophy vol.5 (2004), pp.147-50.]

[Another reply to this paper is Tal Manor, "Inequality: Mind the Gap! A reply to Smilansky's Paradox of the Baseline", ANALYSIS vol.65 (2005), pp.265-268.]

19. "Free Will and the Mystery of Modesty", AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY vol.40 (2003), pp.105-117.

20. "Free Will and Illusion: The Main Points", and "Free Will and Illusion: Replies To Criticism", IYYUN vol.52 (2003), pp.167-170; 187-191 (in Hebrew). [From a symposium on my book.]

21. "Can Deontologists Be Moderate?", UTILITAS vol.15 (2003), pp.71-75.

22. "Compatibilism: The Argument From Shallowness", PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES vol.115 (2003), pp.257-282.
Reprinted in Bruce Waller, ed., YOU DECIDE! - CURRENT DEBATES IN ETHICS (New York: Pearson/Longman, 2005).

23. "Free Will, Egalitarianism and Rawls", PHILOSOPHIA vol. 31 (2003), pp.127-138. [A reply to Sung-Hak Kang.]

24. "Terrorism, Justification, and Illusion", ETHICS vol.114 (2004), pp.790-805.
Reprinted in Thom Brooks, ed., THE GLOBAL JUSTICE READER (Oxford: Blackwell
Publications, 2008).
Reprinted also in Polish translation, in Tomasz Zuradzki and Tomasz Kuninski, eds., ETYKA WOJNY: ANTOLOGIA TEKSTOW (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 2009).

25. "Gratitude, Contribution and Ethical Theory", in Jonathan Seglow, ed., THE ETHICS OF ALTRUISM (London: Frank Cass, 2004).

26. "Reply to Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen on the Paradox of the Baseline", SATS - Nordic Journal of Philosophy vol.5 (2004), pp.151-153.

27. "The Paradoxical Relationship Between Morality and Moral Worth", METAPHILOSOPHY vol.36 (2005), pp.490-500.

28. "Free Will and Respect For Persons", MIDWEST STUDIES IN PHILOSOPHY vol.29 (2005), pp.248-261.

29. "On Not Being Sorry About the Morally Bad", PHILOSOPHY vol.80 (2005), pp.261-5.

30. "The Paradox of Beneficial Retirement", RATIO vol.18 (2005), pp.332-337.

[A reply to this paper is James Lenman, "Why I Have No Plans to Retire: In Defence of Moderate Professional Complacency", RATIO vol.20 (2007), pp.241-246.]

[Another reply to this paper is Ronald J. Manheimer, "The Paradox of Beneficial Retirement: A Journey into the Vortex of Nothingness", JOURNAL OF AGING, HUMANITIES, AND THE ARTS vol.2 (2008), pp.84-98.]

[A third reply to this paper is Gerald Lang,"Jobs, Institutions and Beneficial Retirement", RATIO, forthcoming.]

31. "Choice-Egalitarianism and the Paradox of the Baseline: A Reply to Manor", ANALYSIS vol.65 (2005), pp.333-337.

32. "The Paradox of Moral Complaint", UTILITAS vol.18 (2006), pp.284-290.

[A reply to this paper is Talia Shaham, "Is There a Paradox of Moral Complaint?", UTILITAS vol.23 (2011), pp.344-351.]

33. "Control, Desert, and the Difference Between Distributive and Retributive Justice", PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES vol.131 (2006), pp.511-524.

[A reply to this paper is Jeffrey Moriarty, "Smilansky, Arneson, and the Asymmetry of Desert", PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES, vol.162, pp.537-545.]

34. "The Paradox of Beneficial Retirement: A Reply to Lenman", RATIO vol.20 (2007), pp.348-351.

35. "Determinism and Prepunishment: The Radical Nature of Compatibilism", ANALYSIS vol.67 (2007), pp.347-349.

[A reply to this paper is Stephen Kearns, "Compatibilism Can Resist Prepunishment: A Reply to Smilansky", ANALYSIS vol.68 (2008), pp.250-253.]

[Another reply to this paper is Helen Beebee, "Smilansky's Alleged Refutation of Compatibilism",
ANALYSIS vol.68 (2008), pp.258-260.]

[A third reply to this paper is Matt Talbert, "Compatibilism, Common Sense, and Prepunishment", PUBLIC AFFAIRS QUARTERLY, vol.23 (2009), pp.325-35.]

[Another reply to this paper is Michael Robinson, "A Compatibilist-Friendly Rejection of Prepunishment", PHILOSOPHIA vol.38 (2010), pp.589-594.]

[A fifth reply to this paper is Ryan Lake, "Compatibilist Objections to Prepunishment", FLORIDA PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW vol.10 (2010), pp.7-15.]

[Another reply to this paper is Goran Duus-Otterstrom, "Pre-Bestraffing Och Forkunskap", TIDSKRIFT FOR POLITISK FILOSOFI 2 (2010), 6-20 (in Swedish).

[A seventh reply to this paper is Bill Wringe, "Pre-punishment, Communicative Theories of Punishment, and Compatibilism", PACIFIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY vol.93 (2012), pp.125-136.]

36. "Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Kearns", ANALYSIS vol.68 (2008), pp.254-257.

37. "More Prepunishment For Compatibilists: A Reply to Beebee", ANALYSIS vol.68 (2008), pp.260-263.

38. "Fischer's Way: The Next Level", in a symposium on John Martin Fischer's MY WAY, JOURNAL OF ETHICS vol.12 (2008), pp.147-155.

[Fischer responds in "MY WAY and Life's Highway: Replies to Steward, Smilansky and Perry" JOURNAL OF ETHICS vol.12 (2008), pp.167-189.]

39. "Free Will and Fairness", in Nick Trakakis and Daniel Cohen, eds., ESSAYS ON FREE WILL AND MORAL RESPONSIBILITY (Cambridge: Scholars Publishing, 2008).

40. "Free Will: Some Bad News", in Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke, and Harry S. Silverstein, eds., ACTION, ETHICS, AND RESPONSIBILITY (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2010).

41. "When Does Morality Win?", RATIO vol.23 (2010), pp.102-110.

42. "If Knowledge Is Good, We Are Always Born Too Early", JOURNAL OF VALUE INQUIRY vol.44 (2010), pp.55-59.

43. "Moral Demands, Moral Pragmatics, and Being Good", UTILITAS vol.22 (2010), pp.303-308.

44. "Hard Determinism and Punishment: A Practical Reductio", LAW AND PHILOSOPHY, vol.30 (2011), pp.353-367.

[A reply to this paper is Neil Levy, "Skepticism and Sanction", LAW AND PHILOSOPHY 31 (2012), pp.477-493.]

45. "On the Common Lament, That a Person Cannot Make Much Difference in This World", PHILOSOPHY vol.87 (2012), pp.109-122.

46. "A Problem about the Morality of Some Common Forms of Prayer", RATIO vol.25 (2012), pp.207-215.
Reprinted in a shortened version under the title "A Moral Problem about Prayer", THINK, forthcoming.

47. "Life is Good", in a symposium on David Benatar's Better Never to Have Been, SOUTH AFRICAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY vol.31 (2012), pp.69-78.

48. (With Juha Raikka) "The Ethics of Alien Attitudes", MONIST vol.95 (2012), pp.511-532.

49. "Free Will and Moral Responsibility: The Trap, the Appreciation of Agency, and the Bubble", JOURNAL OF ETHICS vol.16 (2012), pp.211-239.

50. "Why Moral Paradoxes Matter: ‘Teflon Immorality’ and the Perversity of Life”, PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES, vol.165 (2013), pp.229-243.

51. "A Difficulty Concerning Compensation", JOURNAL OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY vol.10 (2013), pp.329-337.

52. "The Paradox of Moral Complaint: A Reply to Shaham", UTILITAS vol.25 (2013), pp.277-282.

53. "Free Will as a Case of 'Crazy Ethics'", in Gregg Caruso, ed., EXPLORING THE ILLUSION OF FREE WILL AND MORAL RESPONSIBILITY (Lexington Books, 2013).

54. "Morally, Should We Prefer Never to Have Existed?", AUSTRALASIAN JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY vol.91 (2013), pp.655-666.

Unpublished Papers


Boycott Days

Israeli philosophy (The Philosopher's Magazine)

Determinism and Prepunishment: two discussions of my papers from the blog Garden of Forking Paths, here and here.

Determinism and Prepunishment: The Comics Version
Hard determinism and punishment (or funishment): a discussion of my paper in the philosophy blog Flickers of Freedom and in the economics blog Marginal Revolution.

An interesting study in experimental philosophy that attempts to refute my
free will Illusionism empirically

I was the Featured Author for November 2012 in the free will blog Flickers of Freedom (five posts, with a discussion):

1. Still a compatibility-monist, after all these years?
2. Is it about time?
3. Compatibilism, the individuation of responsibility, and The Trap
4. Parfit on desert, punishment and fairness
5. Free will as a case of "Crazy Ethics"

Why Do Ethicists Write Such Long Papers? A discussion in Ethics-etc is here, followed by a poll and further discussion here.

Some Questions About Moral Paradoxes (a five-part series of informal posts that appeared in the blog Ethics-etc.):
1. What is a moral paradox?
2. How can we tell moral paradoxes from non-paradoxes?
3. Where do moral paradoxes come from?
4. What should we do about moral paradoxes?
5. What can we learn from moral paradoxes?

Jean Kazez blogged on most of my paradoxical book in Talking Philosophy. Jean's discussion was perceptive; the comments were uneven, but some interesting points came up. I sometimes responded. The paradoxes discussed were chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 from the book; and then some general comments.

The Paradox of Beneficial Retirement: discussions in the philosophical blogs Leiter Reports and In Socrates' Wake, and in the economics blog Marginal Revolution

An interesting discussion of my Paradox of Moral Complaint

The Paradox of Blackmail at the New Yorker 

The Paradox of Non-Punishment in pursuit of the bankers

The Paradox of Non-Punishment: a discussion in the ethics blog PEA Soup

A short interview on 10 MORAL PARADOXES in the book supplement of Haaretz (in Hebrew)

The morality of prayer: a discussion of my paper in the Association for the Philosophy of Judaism blog