Van Inwagen’s Two Failed Arguments for the Belief in Freedom

Southwest Philosophy Review 26 (1):43-50 (2010)
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In chapter 6 of An Essay on Free Will Peter van Inwagen presents an influential argument that we are justified in believing we are free. He does so by claiming that the determinist’s objection to the argument for the belief in freedom fails in the exact same way that the skeptic’s argument fails to prove that none of our empirical beliefs are justified. I show that this strategy to defend the belief in freedom fails due to a disanalogy. The failure of his attempted defense raises the question whether there are any other arguments available to him for his target conclusion. I answer this question affirmatively by presenting an interesting argument for belief in freedom that van Inwagen gestures toward without ever explicitly formulating. Namely, that “If you deliberate about what to do while believing you’re not free, then you have inconsistent beliefs.” Alongside this conclusion, van Inwagen suggests that (1) inconsistency is an epistemic defect and (2) it is implausible that some truth is such that your simply believing it would make epistemically defective your engaging in so basic an activity as deliberation. In this way, the above conclusion plays an important role in van Inwagen’s overall argument for the thesis that we should (epistemically speaking) believe in free will. Finally, I show that this argument fares no better than the other.



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Zachary J. Goldberg
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

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