Ability and cognition: A defense of compatibilism

Philosophical Studies 63 (August):231-43 (1991)
The use of predicate and sentential operators to express the practical modalities -- ability, control, openness, etc. -- has given new life to a fatalistic argument against determinist theories of responsible agency. A familiar version employs the following principle: the consequences of what is unavoidable (beyond one's control) are themselves unavoidable. Accordingly, if determinism is true, whatever happens is the consequence of events in the remote past, or, of such events together with the laws of nature. But laws and the remote past are not under our control and, by the principle, neither are their consequences. Therefore, none of our choices and actions, nor anything that results from them, is under our control.1 Whether refinements of the closure principle underlying this unavoidability argument are acceptable depends upon the precise sense of 'consequence' and 'unavoidable' involved. Roughly, a proposition P is a consequence of a set of propositions M iff it is impossible that P be false when each member of M is true, or, conversely, when M necessitates P. Since P is unavoidable for S when P is true and S is (was) unable to prevent P from being true, it might seem that if P is unavoidable the same should hold of what is necessitated by P. There is, in fact, 1 an easy defense of the principle which utilizes the incompatibilist condition that S is able to do action K only if it is as yet undetermined whether or not S will K. With it, there is no question but that one is unable to accomplish what is already determined by what one was unable to prevent. Of course, this reasoning is unlikely to impress the compatibilist who rejects the condition outright and, expectedly, it is not the procedure of the proponents of the unavoidability argument. The latter might rest content with appeals to intuition, but more significant are defenses of the closure principle and independent derivations of the unavoidability argument that rely upon distinct principles concerning the logic of the practical modalities, for example, closure of ability under entailment (Cross 1986, Brown 1988) or, claims about the "fixity of the past" and the "inescapability of laws" (Ginet 1990)..
Keywords Avoidability  Compatibilism  Consequence  Determinism  Metaphysics
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DOI 10.1007/BF00381690
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