David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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This thesis is an investigation into free will, and the role of alternative possibilities. I defend an incompatibilist notion of freedom, but argue that such freedom is not exercised in all cases of decision-making. I begin by considering the debate surrounding Harry Frankfurt’s famous argument that alternative possibilities are irrelevant to freedom. I argue that the main disagreement can be best understood by considering the dispute surrounding the 'Flicker-of-Freedom' objection, which contends that there are still alternatives left open in Frankfurt's example. Compatibilists have argued that any such alternatives are outside the agent’s voluntary control and hence irrelevant. But the arguments for this conclusion commit the compatibilist to the more general claim that volitions are not within agents' voluntary control, and incompatibilism is generally motivated by a rejection this claim - so if we could support this claim, we would refute incompatibilism without appealing to Frankfurt’s argument. This disagreement about whether volitions are within agents' voluntary control has not received much attention in recent years, despite figuring implicitly in the debate. But in previous centuries, this figured explicitly as the main focus. I consider the historical debate, started by the famous dispute between Hobbes and Bramhall, and continuing throughout the eighteenth century. Although the libertarian position better captures our ordinary conception of freedom, compatibilists argue that it introduces freedom-undermining irrationality, and randomness of the sort that is either unhelpful or incoherent. Whilst for many cases of decision-making, these challenges are justified, they are not justified in cases involving a particular kind of reasons conflict. I argue that decisions are free in cases of this sort, but we cannot have incompatibilist freedom more generally. However, I also argue that these are the most important cases, given the nature of our concerns about freedom. By restricting the domain of incompatibilist freedom to just these cases, we can avoid introducing irrationality, or randomness of the sort that has made incompatibilism seem incoherent, whilst preserving the incompatibilist's intuition that an important sense of freedom rests on alternative possibilities.
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