Metaphysicians, ethical theorists and philosophers of law squabble endlessly about what it is for a person to act — or perhaps even to ‘will’ — more or less freely. A vital issue in this controversy is how we should analyse two obvious but surprisingly problematical contrasts. The first antithesis is between things we do because we are forced, and deeds we perform because we want to — sometimes after having discovered preponderant reasons in their favour. The other polarity is more (...) general. In most situations, if I act on my desire, I act more freely than if I had not had the desire. But what if my attitude is the product of childhood conditioning — or later brainwashing, brain surgery, hypnosis, behaviour modification, alcoholisim, narcotics addiction, neurosis, psychosis or worse? Then isn't my autonomy diminished? What is it about these latter desires, or their origin, that differentiates them from their unthreatening congeners? (shrink)
At a meeting shortly before his death, Malcolm X was asked by a young white listener: “What contribution can youth, especially students who are disgusted with racism, make to the black struggle for freedom?” Malcolm X's reply has become a familiar one: “Whites who are sincere should organize among themselves and figure out some strategy to break down prejudice that exists in white communities.… This has never been done.”.
C.A. Macdonald's incisive note, ‘On the Unifier-Multiplier Controversy', gave me fresh thoughts regarding the method of actindividuation which he defends against Jonathan Bennett's and my own misgivings. I believe a second look at the Reductive Unifying account, in light of Macdonald's apology for it, will help us size up the issues, notably those involving causation and time.I shall follow previous debaters and dwell upon examples of mayhem, where one individual kills another by carrying out a more rudimentary action. Here is (...) Donald Davidson's case. A queen murders her royal husband by emptying a vial of poison into his ear as he sleeps. To be exact: she rotates her wrist, and the lethal drug cascades toward his ear. (shrink)
Professor Chisholm’s lively “Reflections on Human Agency” develop themes which have appeared in at least nine earlier papers of his on action and the kindred topic of events. His latest variations on the Incompatibility thesis will be my sole concern here. This is the doctrine that fully voluntary deeds of a free agent, for which we may justifiably hold him accountable, cannot result from earlier or contemporaneous events. Chisholm’s general Incompatibility formula reads.