An Unconditioned Will: The Role of Temporality in Freedom and Agency

Dissertation, SUNY Stony Brook (2010)

Roman Altshuler
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Eliminativists about free will and moral responsibility argue that no action can be free and responsible because in order to be actions, our movements must be caused by features of our character or will. However, either the will is constituted by states that are themselves produced by events outside our control, or it is constituted by our own choices, which must themselves stem from our will in order to be up to us. Thus, any attempt to account for freedom and responsibility seems to either run into an infinite regress or leave the ultimate causes of our actions up to something outside our agency. Compatibilists attempt to respond to this challenge by arguing that we need not have control over our will in order to be free, but only to have control of our actions on the basis of our will. Libertarians, on the other hand, argue that we can be free so long as our choices are caused indeterministically and chosen for reasons. I argue that both approaches ultimately leave the constitution of the will up to non-agential factors because the dominant accounts view all choices—including those that constitute the will—as essentially events caused by other events, leaving no function for agents to perform. In response, I argue that we can avoid eliminativism if we take the will to be irreducible to events such as choices and also our own. Through an examination of recent non-volitionist approaches that allow for responsibility for non-deliberative action, I argue that such accounts presuppose a Heideggerian view of agency on which all action and deliberation occur on the basis of an underlying projection of possibilities into which we are thrown. Heidegger’s account of temporality in turn allows us to own ourselves in the present by retrieving our past as always already chosen in light of our self-projection into the future. Agents are thus self-constituting beings capable of owning themselves and independent of causation by prior events. Freedom and responsibility are therefore irreducible features of agency.
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