The Zygote Argument is invalid: Now what?

Philosophical Studies 172 (11):2911-2929 (2015)
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Abstract

This paper is based on the comments I gave to Alfred Mele regarding his original Zygote Argument during my presentation at a small workshop on manipulation arguments in Budapest back in 2012. After those comments, Mele changed the conclusion of his original Zygote Argument and redefined 'incompatibilism' so that it would refer to the conclusion of his new Zygote Argument (Mele 2013+). Yet, over the last decade, Mele has made no comment in print about the changes he made nor the invalidity objection that led to them. To my knowledge, Mele has only mentioned this 2015 paper once: in the context of defending his non-explanatory definition of 'incompatibilism' at the opening of Aspects of Agency (p. 6, n. 4), Mele draws his readers' attention to just *just this paper* as a place where they'll find the type of nonstandard/nontraditional definition of 'incompatibilism' that he rejects. If Mele had a general concern about unusual definitions of 'incompatibilism', he could have just as easily named almost any leading figure in free will for this purpose (since most reject the non-explanatory definition he now endorses). But for some reason, Mele thought an unemployed junior researcher should be singled out as an example. Moreover, if Mele were genuinely interested in helping his readers understand the ambiguity of terms like 'compatibilism' and 'incompatibilism' it is a mystery that he referenced a paper in which nothing of substance hung on the definitions given to these terms when he might have instead pointed them to my OTHER 2015 paper in which the MAIN AIM of the paper is to expose the difficulties facing anyone who wants to define the terms 'compatibilism' and 'incompatibilism' in a way that everyone will accept (including a critique of the definitions that Mele has adopted). By all appearances, Mele's aim was to give readers the false impression that my working definition of 'incompatibilism' played some role in my charge that his argument is invalid (which it doesn't, given that the term doesn't appear in either the premises or conclusion of that argument). In this paper, I simply use the invalidity of the simple 2-premise Zygote Argument to make a series of more philosophically significant points (e.g. regarding the dialectical structure of the free-will debate, the role of best-explanation reasoning, and to develop the first-ever "master manipulation argument"). Mele pays no attention to my answer to the "Now What?" question in this paper, even though that answer was the paper's main point. For those interested in a more recent discussion of how the logical and metaphilosophical observations made in this paper have helped to move the free-will debate forward, I suggest my contributions to the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Free Will (Intro and Chapter 4, 2023) and my paper "Free Will, Self-Creation, and the Paradox of Moral Luck" (2019).

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Kristin M. Mickelson
University of Colorado, Boulder (PhD)

Citations of this work

Free Will and Moral Luck.Robert J. Hartman - 2022 - In Joseph Keim Campbell, Kristin M. Mickelson & V. Alan White (eds.), A Companion to Free Will. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 378-392.
Constitutive Moral Luck and Strawson's Argument for the Impossibility of Moral Responsibility.Robert J. Hartman - 2018 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4 (2):165-183.
Free Will, Self‐Creation, and the Paradox of Moral Luck.Kristin M. Mickelson - 2019 - Midwest Studies in Philosophy 43 (1):224-256.

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References found in this work

An Essay on Free Will.Peter Van Inwagen - 1983 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Free Will and Luck.Alfred R. Mele - 2006 - New York, US: Oxford University Press.
Impossible Worlds.Francesco Berto - 2013 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013):en ligne.

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