This comprehensive study offers a balanced assessment of libertarian accounts of free will. Bringing to bear recent work on action, causation, and causal explanation, Clarke defends a type of event-causal view from popular objections concerning rationality and diminished control. He subtly explores the extent to which event-causal accounts can secure the things for the sake of which we value free will, judging their success here to be limited. Clarke then sets out a highly original agent-causal account, one that integrates agent (...) causation and nondeterministic event causation. He defends this view from a number of objections but argues that we should find the substance causation required by any agent-causal account to be impossible. Clarke concludes that if a broad thesis of incompatibilism is correct--one on which both free will and moral responsibility are incompatible with determinism--then no libertarian account is entirely adequate. (shrink)
This paper examines recent attempts to revive a classic compatibilist position on free will, according to which having an ability to perform a certain action is having a certain disposition. Since having unmanifested dispositions is compatible with determinism, having unexercised abilities to act, it is held, is likewise compatible. Here it is argued that although there is a kind of capacity to act possession of which is a matter of having a disposition, the new dispositionalism leaves unresolved the main points (...) of dispute concerning free will. (shrink)
Philosophical theories of agency have focused primarily on actions and activities. But, besides acting, we often omit to do or refrain from doing certain things. How is this aspect of our agency to be conceived? This book offers a comprehensive account of omitting and refraining, addressing issues ranging from the nature of agency and moral responsibility to the metaphysics of absences and causation. Topics addressed include the role of intention in intentional omission, the connection between negligence and omission, the distinction (...) between doing and allowing, and the distinction in law between act and omission. (shrink)
This essay examines recent work on abilities to act. Different kinds of ability are distinguished, and a recently proposed conditional analysis of ability ascriptions is evaluated. It is considered whether abilities are causal powers. Finally, several compatibility questions concerning abilities, as well as the relation between free will and abilities of various kinds, are examined.
Consider the idea that suffering of some specific kind is deserved by those who are guilty of moral wrongdoing. Feeling guilty is a prime example. It might be said that it is noninstrumentally good that one who is guilty feel guilty (at the right time and to the right degree), or that feeling guilty (at the right time and to the right degree) is apt or fitting for one who is guilty. Each of these claims constitutes an interesting thesis about (...) desert, given certain understandings of what desert is. After examining these claims, the paper briefly explores the idea that an offender might deserve certain forms of treatment by others. The paper concludes by contrasting the modest theses on which it focuses with a far bolder one, to the effect that if we are morally responsible, then it makes sense to suppose that some of us might deserve to suffer eternal torment. The more modest theses do not commit one to anything of this sort. (shrink)
This paper defends a minimal desert thesis, according to which someone who is blameworthy for something deserves to feel guilty, to the right extent, at the right time, because of her culpability. The sentiment or emotion of guilt includes a thought that one is blameworthy for something as well as an unpleasant affect. Feeling guilty is not a matter of inflicting suffering on oneself, and it need not involve any thought that one deserves to suffer. The desert of a feeling (...) of guilt is a kind of moral propriety of that response, and it is a matter of justice. If the minimal desert thesis is correct, then it is in some respect good that one who is blameworthy feel guilty—there is some justice in that state of affairs. But if retributivism concerns the justification of punishment, the minimal desert thesis is not retributivist. Its plausibility nevertheless raises doubt about whether, as some have argued, there are senses of moral responsibility that are not desert-entailing. (shrink)
It is argued that intentionally omitting requires having an intention with relevant content. And the intention must play a causal role with respect to one’s subsequent thought and conduct. Even if omissions cannot be caused, an account of intentional omission must be causal. There is a causal role for one’s reasons as well when one intentionally omits to do something.
A growing number of philosophers now hold that agent causation is required for agency, or free will, or moral responsibility. To clarify what is at issue, this paper begins with a distinction between agent causation that is ontologically fundamental and agent causation that is reducible to or realized in causation by events or states. It is widely accepted that agency presents us with the latter; the view in question claims a need for the former. The paper then examines a “disappearing (...) agent” argument from Derk Pereboom that is aimed at showing that free will requires agent causation that is ontologically fundamental. It is argued that the argument fails. Further, it is argued that, contrary to Pereboom’s claim, the issue raised by his disappearing agent argument is distinct from the problem of present luck that libertarian theories of free will face. The paper concludes with an assessment of the prospects for success of a disappearing agent argument showing that agent causation that is ontologically fundamental is required for agency tout court. (shrink)
Dispositions can be finkish, prone to disappear in circumstances that would commonly trigger their characteristic manifestations. Can a disposition be finkish because of something intrinsic to the object possessing that disposition? Sungho Choi has argued that this is not possible, and many agree. Here it is argued that no good case has been made for ruling out the possibility of intrinsic finks; on the contrary, there is good reason to accept it.
A disposition mask is something that prevents a disposition from manifesting despite the occurrence of that disposition’s characteristic stimulus, and without eliminating that disposition. Several authors have maintained that masks must be things extrinsic to the objects that have the masked dispositions. Here it is argued that this is not so; masks can be intrinsic to the objects whose dispositions they mask. If that is correct, then a recent attempt to distinguish dispositional properties from so-called categorical properties fails.
Many philosophical theories of causation are egalitarian, rejecting a distinction between causes and mere causal conditions. We sought to determine the extent to which people's causal judgments discriminate, selecting as causes counternormal events—those that violate norms of some kind—while rejecting non-violators. We found significant selectivity of this sort. Moreover, priming that encouraged more egalitarian judgments had little effect on subjects. We also found that omissions are as likely as actions to be judged as causes, and that counternormative selectivity appears to (...) apply equally to actions and omissions. (shrink)
Galen Strawson has published several versions of an argument to the effect that moral responsibility is impossible, whether determinism is true or not. Few philosophers have been persuaded by the argument, which Strawson remarks is often dismissed “as wrong, or irrelevant, or fatuous, or too rapid, or an expression of metaphysical megalomania.” I offer here a two-part explanation of why Strawson’s argument has impressed so few. First, as he usually states it, the argument is lacking at least one key premise. (...) The premise in question concerns the very point on which Strawson and many of his contemporary opponents disagree. Strawson will persuade these opponents only when he convinces them of the truth of this crucial premise. Second, Strawson employs a striking conception of responsibility that has not generally been remarked upon. Many might accept that responsibility so conceived is impossible. But there is very different conception of responsibility that appears of great importance to us. To be thoroughly convincing, Strawson will have to show either that this second conception is inadequate or that his argument goes through even given this alternative conception. (shrink)
Several philosophers claim that the phenomenology of one’s own agency conflicts with standard causal theories of action, couched in terms of causation by mental events or states. Others say that the phenomenology is prima facie incompatible with such a theory, even if in the end a reconciliation can be worked out. Here it is argued that the type of action theory in question is consistent with what can plausibly be said to be presented to us in our experience of our (...) agency. Several routes to a claim that there is nevertheless a prima facie incompatibility are examined, and all are found wanting. The phenomenology of agency, it is argued, is no threat to a standard causal theory of action. (shrink)
Often when one omits to do a certain thing, there's no action that is one's omission; one's omission, it seems, is an absence of any action of some type. This paper advances the view that an absence of an action--and, in general, any absence--is nothing at all: there is nothing that is an absence. Nevertheless, it can result from prior events that one omits to do a certain thing, and there can be results of the fact that one omits to (...) do something. This is so even if absences cannot be causes or causal effects. (shrink)
: On a standard libertarian account of free will, an agent acts freely on some occasion only if there remains, until the action is performed, some chance that the agent will do something else instead right then. These views face the objection that, in such a case, it is a matter of luck whether the agent does one thing or another. This paper considers the problem of luck as it bears on agent‐causal libertarian accounts. A view of this type is (...) defended against a recent and challenging version of the argument from luck. (shrink)
Skilled activity, such as shaving or dancing, differs in important ways from many of the stock examples that are employed by action theorists. Some critics of the causal theory of action contend that such a view founders on the problem of skilled activity. This paper examines how a causal theory can be extended to the case of skilled activity and defends the account from its critics.
This paper examines three views of what an omission or an instance of refraining is. The view advanced is that in many cases, an omission is simply an absence of an action of some type. However, generally one’s not doing a certain thing counts as an omission only if there is some norm, standard, or ideal that calls for one’s doing that thing.
It is widely held that one can be responsible for doing something that one was unable to avoid doing. This paper focuses primarily on the question of whether one can be responsible for not doing something that one was unable to do. The paper begins with an examination of the account of responsibility for omissions offered by John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza, arguing that in many cases it yields mistaken verdicts. An alternative account is sketched that jibes with and (...) explains judgments about a variety of omissions cases, including intentional omissions as well as simple failures to act. (shrink)
To have free will is to have what it takes to act freely. When an agent acts freely—when she exercises her free will—what she does is up to her. A plurality of alternatives is open to her, and she determines which she pursues. When she does, she is an ultimate source or origin of her action. So runs a familiar conception of free will.
Several theories of causation reject causation of or by absences. They thereby clash with much of what we think and say about what causes what. This paper examines a way in which one kind of theory, causal dispositionalism, can be modified so as to accept absence causation, while still retaining a fundamental commitment of dispositionalism. The proposal adopts parts of a strategy described by David Lewis. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the problem of the proliferation of causes.
The first, the Transfer Version, employs an inference principle concerning the transfer of one's powerlessness with respect to certain facts. The principle says, roughly, "If a person is powerless over one thing, and powerless over that thing's leading to another, then the person is powerless over the second thing". The key premises are the Fixity of the Past and the Fixity of the Laws. Fischer defends the transfer principle against objections that have been raised by Anthony Kenny and Michael Slote.
This paper examines the view of abilities to act advanced by Kadri Vihvelin in Causes, Laws, and Free Will. Vihvelin argues that (i) abilities of an important kind are “structurally” like dispositions such as fragility; (ii) ascriptions of dispositions can be analyzed in terms of counterfactual conditionals; (iii) ascriptions of abilities of the kind in question can be analyzed similarly; and (iv) we have the free will we think we have by having abilities of this kind and being in circumstances (...) that are propitious for their exercise. I raise doubt about each of these claims. Further, I argue that even if abilities of the kind in question are dispositions, and even if determinism is compatible with our commonly having unexercised abilities of this kind, the compatibility of determinism and free will remains in question. (shrink)
Free will is often said—by compatibilists and incompatibilists alike—to be a power (or complex of powers) of agents. This paper offers proposals for, and examines the prospects of, a powers-conception of free will that takes the powers in question to be causal dispositions. A difficulty for such an account stems from the idea that when one exercises free will, it is up to oneself whether one wills to do this or that. The paper also briefly considers whether a powers-conception that (...) invokes powers of a different kind, such as agent-causal or noncausal powers, might fare better with respect to this problem. (shrink)
Frankfurt-style cases are supposed to show that an agent can be responsible for doing something even though the agent wasn’t able to do otherwise. Neil Levy has argued that the cases fail. Agents in such cases, he says, lack a capacity that they’d have to have in order to be responsible for doing what they do. Here it’s argued that Levy is mistaken. Although it may be that agents in Frankfurt-style cases lack some kind of capability, what they lack isn’t (...) required for them to be responsible for doing what they do. Differences between actions and omissions, and between the requirements for responsibility for these two, are also discussed. (shrink)
This paper examines libertarian accounts that appeal to event causation but avoid appeal to agent causation. Such views are modest in their metaphysical commitments and may be modest, as well, in what they promise. It is argued that an action-centered version should be preferred; on such a view, indeterminism is required in the direct production of decision or other action. Although a view of this kind does not improve on compatibilist accounts when it comes to moral responsibility, they may be (...) preferable in other respects. (shrink)
This paper is part of a symposium discussing Helen Steward's A METAPHYSICS FOR FREEDOM. Steward argues for what she calls Agency Incompatibilism: agency itself is incompatible with determinism. This paper examines what Steward presents as her main argument for Agency Incompatibilism and finds it wanting.
Most philosophers now accept that an agent may be responsible for an action even though she could not have acted otherwise. However, many who accept such a view about responsibility for actions nevertheless maintain that, when it comes to omissions, an agent is responsible only if she could have done what she omitted to do. If this Principle of Possible Action (PPA), as it is sometimes called, is correct, then there is an important asymmetry between what is required for responsibility (...) for actions and what is required for responsibility for omissions. However, I argue here that PPA is in fact false. It has been advanced on the basis of an insufficiently varied group of examples. Examination of a broader range of cases shows that responsibility for an omission sometimes is, and it sometimes is not, undermined by an inability to have acted. In Sections II and III, I offer two alternative principles to PPA governing ability and responsibility for omissions. (shrink)
Our conception of freedom requires, then, that decisions have an "executive function": making a decision must ensure that one will remain motivated to act as decided, and, provided that the decision is rational, it must leave one disposed to act rationally in performing the action decided upon. Second, since, as we conceive our freedom, it is by making decisions that we exercise control over future actions, decisions must themselves be actions. Most of the book is devoted to developing and defending (...) these two main theses against philosophers who have denied them and against an apparent inconsistency between them. (shrink)
Nonreductive physicalism is currently one of the most widely held views about the world in general and about the status of the mental in particular. However, the view has recently faced a series of powerful criticisms from, among others, Jaegwon Kim. In several papers, Kim has argued that the nonreductivist's view of the mental is an unstable position, one harboring contradictions that push it either to reductivism or to eliminativism. The problems arise, Kim maintains, when we consider the causal powers (...) that mental properties are held to carry on the nonreductivist's view and the causal transactions into which mental events are said to enter. My aim here is less than that of defending nonreductive physicalism against all of Kim's criticisms. I wish primarily to call into question the claim that nonreductive physicalism is committed to emergentism with respect to the causal powers of the mental. As subsidiary points, I shall offer a limited defense of nonreductivism against two related objections that Kim raises. However, even if my conclusions are correct, problems remain for the nonreductivist's treatment of mental causation. I shall close the paper with a brief discussion of these difficulties. (shrink)
It is widely held that any justifying reason for making a decision must also be a justifying reason for doing what one thereby decides to do. Desires to win decision prizes, such as the one that figures in Kavka’s toxin puzzle, might be thought to be exceptions to this principle, but the principle has been defended in the face of such examples. Similarly, it has been argued that a command to intend cannot give one a justifying reason to intend as (...) commanded. Here it is argued that ordinary agents in ordinary cases can have justifying reasons for deciding that are not and will not be justifying reasons for doing what, in making those decisions, they come to intend to do. The paper concludes with some brief observations on the functions of decision-making. (shrink)
An argument from luck purports to show than an undetermined action cannot be a free action. I examine here an argument of this sort recently set out by Alfred Mele. Mele does not endorse the argument; rather, he claims, it constitutes a serious challenge to standard libertarian accounts of free will, and he has some proposals about how the challenge can be met. I offer an assessment of Mele's proposals and some observations on the strengths and weaknesses of the argument (...) for luck. (shrink)
An autonomous reason for intending to A would be a reason for so intending that is not, and will not be, a reason for A-ing. Some puzzle cases, such as the one that figures in the toxin puzzle, suggest that there can be such reasons for intending, but these cases have special features that cloud the issue. This paper describes cases that more clearly favour the view that we can have practical reasons of this sort. Several objections to this view (...) are considered and rejected. Finally, it is considered whether the existence of such reasons would conflict with an attractive coherence principle linking the rationality of intending with that of acting as intended. The paper concludes with a qualified affirmation of autonomous reasons for intending. (shrink)
Carl Ginet has advanced an account of action explanation on which actions can be entirely uncaused and action explanations need not cite causal factors. Several objections have been raised against this view, and Ginet has recently defended the account. Here it is argued that Ginet’s defense fails to come to grips with the chief problems faced by his view.
This essay examines several varieties of libertarian accounts of free will. Some require free actions to be uncaused, some require agent causation, and some require non-deterministic event causation. Difficulties are raised for all of these varieties.
This paper examines the libertarian account of free choice advanced by Robert Kane in his recent book, The Significance of Free Will. First a rather simple libertarian view is considered, and an objection is raised against it the view fails to provide for any greater degree of agent-control than what could be available in a deterministic world. The basic differences between this simple view and Kane's account are the requirements, on the latter, of efforts of will and of an agent's (...) wanting more to do a certain thing than he wants to do anything else. It is argued here that neither of these features yields any improvement over the simple libertarian view; neither helps to meet the objection that was raised against the simple view. Finally, it is suggested that a modest defense of that view might be available. (shrink)
This paper addresses an argument from Richard Double to the effect that any libertarian account of free will must attribute to human action a kind of rationality that is impossible. Double's argument relies on an alleged principle of rational explanation. Here it is argued that the proposed principle is false, and hence that Double has failed to show that libertarianism has any problem with rationality. The paper concludes with a suggestion as to how the sort of rationality in question is (...) made possible. (shrink)
The paper is a contribution to a symposium on Dana Nelkin's MAKING SENSE OF FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY. Nelkin advances accounts of moral freedom--the freedom required for moral responsibility--and deliberative freedom--the freedom that any rational deliberator must believe in. She argues that the two come to fundamentally the same thing. I raise doubt about this claim, and also about whether the kind of ability that Nelkin characterizes suffices for responsibility in all cases.