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  1. 1. FREE WILL AND THE KNOWLEDGE CONDITION by Eddy Nahmias Abstract This dissertation argues that free will is constituted by a set of cognitive abilities and that free will is threatened not by determinism but perhaps by certain empirical theories. In Chapter 1, I argue that the question of free will should not be focused on the question of whether or not determinism is true. Rather, we should take a position (compatriotism) which is neutral about the logical relations between free will and determinism/indeterminism. Indeterminism does not necessarily threaten free will, and most of the threats thought to be posed by determinism are in fact distinct from that metaphysical thesis. The remaining threats posed by determinism cannot be answered by any legitimate libertarian theory. Instead, I suggest in Chapter 2 that free will should be analyzed in terms of the Knowledge Condition: our ability to know ourselves—specifically to know our conflicting motivations, to know which of them we really want to move us, and to know how to act accordingly. I analyze these cognitive abilities in light of Frankfurt’s theory of identification, and I discuss the relations between free will, free action, and responsibility. The sort of knowledge required by this theory of free will may be threatened by empirical theories about human nature. In Chapter 3, I specifically examine theories and experiments in social psychology that suggest we have a limited understanding of why we do what we do, and I offer some responses to these threats. The knowledge required for free will may also be threatened by certain philosophical theories about the nature of the human mind. In the Epilogue I discuss eliminativism and epiphenomenalism as case studies for such threats. I conclude by suggesting that we may make significant progress on the problem of free will if we come to better understand the nature of subjective consciousness. Finally, I offer an Appendix in which I discuss the evolution and development of the cognitive abilities required for us to have free will, specifically our ability to understand our own mental states.
  2. 2. Chapter 1 Situating the Free Will Problem 1. The Power Condition and the Knowledge Condition Most people believe we have free will. They believe that, if we did not have free will, we would not be responsible for our actions—and perhaps our lives would have no meaning. Some philosophers, however, argue that there is no such thing as free will; even more argue that, if a certain metaphysical thesis about the nature of causation (determinism) turns out to be true, then we do not have free will. Are these philosophers talking about the sort of free will ordinary people think they have, the sort they want to have for life to be meaningful? I don’t think so. In this dissertation I will describe some of the features that are essential to most people’s conception of free will. In this chapter I will argue that the metaphysical thesis of determinism is not relevant to this conception. What, then, are we talking about when we say we have free will? I think we are saying that we possess certain abilities—abilities that are uniquely expressed in humans and that we exercise with varying degrees of success when we make decisions and perform actions. These abilities involve knowledge and power. When we act of our own free will, we express these abilities: we know what it is we really want and what we need to do to satisfy that desire; and we have the power to act on that desire. We feel our freedom threatened when we experience a lack of knowledge or power or both. Often we feel constrained when we cannot get what we want, because some external force frustrates our ability to act on our desires. You want to leave the room but the door is locked. You want to get home but the traffic jam blocks your way. Some external forces are other people: police, parents, and politicians sometimes control us against our will (though they may also be crucial in securing our freedom). External forces and agents can undermine our power to get what we want. So can internal forces. Addictions, phobias, compulsive habits, and unconscious drives may make us act in ways we don’t really want to. Some moods and emotions make us act “despite ourselves”—the fit of anger, the paralyzing depression, the overwhelming lust. Hence, both external and internal forces may constrain our power to get what we really want. But sometimes we feel our freedom threatened by another type of internal conflict: we just don’t know what we really want or how to determine what we should do. We may feel pulled by conflicting desires and thus torn by the realization that we cannot follow two paths at once; we know we need to choose but we don’t know how to resolve the conflict. Or we may believe that we should act in one way but feel like acting in another way, and thus not know what to do. You may experience a conflict because you want both to read and to watch TV and you don’t know which you want to do more, and you may experience a conflict because you think you should help your friend move but you feel like going to the lake, and you don’t know whether to act on your obligations or your inclinations. If you don’t know what you really want to do, you can’t act on what you really want—even if you had the power to. Philosophers often analyze free will in terms of the Power Condition. It lies behind the basic libertarian view requiring that free agents have the power (a) to do what they choose and also (b) to choose otherwise (under the exact same conditions). And it also represents the basic compatibilist view of free will: we are free if we have the power to carry out what we want to 1
  3. 3. do—if our ability to act on our desires or intentions is not constrained (even if we lack the power to do otherwise in exactly the same conditions). Knowledge, however, is an important, and often overlooked, component of these abilities.1 To be able to act on what you really want, it helps to know what you really want, and it helps to know how your desires are related to how you will act, and to know how particular actions are likely to satisfy what you want. You must have some understanding of how desires relate to actions and of how actions affect the world. We often excuse people to the degree that they are ignorant of the relationship between their intentions and their situation; for example, when a nurse gives a patient mislabeled medication (though we may blame him if we have reason to believe he should have recognized the mistake). As Aristotle says of voluntary actions, “the initiative lies with the agent who knows the particular situation in which the action is performed.”2 Our legal system also recognizes that a person is not responsible if he “is unable to understand what he is doing and to control his conduct.” The M’Naghten rule for insanity excuses the accused if he does not “know what he was doing [or] know that it was wrong.”3 Thus the Power Condition, in addition to involving control and self-control, already involves significant types of knowledge about the world and yourself. The motto “knowledge is power” generally refers to the idea that increased information about yourself and the world increases your ability to satisfy your desires and goals.4 While most philosophers have focused on the Power Condition, I will focus on the Knowledge Condition. Knowing what we really want has been largely overlooked as a condition for free will, even though in some ways it is more important than power since it gets the ball rolling; we cannot try to get what we really want until we know what to aim for and how to act to get it. The Knowledge Condition involves several cognitive abilities. First, we must have introspective access to at least some of our most important desires; we must recognize what desires we have, how they conflict, and how they might motivate us to act. Second, we must be able to care about how we act and how we are motivated to act; we must be able to identify ourselves with some of our desires and not others. We must know what we really want. Third, we must be able to become motivated by those desires we identify with; this will involve a form of control over our desires that often requires knowledge of their influence on us. These three abilities, which I will call introspection, identification, and influence, are examined in Chapter 2, where I expand upon Harry Frankfurt’s theory of free will as I develop my own. These conditions will seem overly stringent to some philosophers. Surely we often act freely without introspecting or deliberating about what we want or how to carry out our action. I agree. I certainly do not want to suggest that we must be hyper-reflective about all of our decisions and actions in order to be free and responsible. As I will discuss in Chapter 2, agents may act freely without engaging the abilities discussed above, and they may act of their own free 1 Consciousness is also an important, and surprisingly overlooked, component of free will. Timothy O’Conner writes, “It is a remarkable feature of most accounts of free will that they give no essential role to conscious awareness” (2000: 122). I hope to remedy this problem, though the knowledge conditions I outline do not require that agents are concurrently conscious of what they are doing (see Chapter 2, section 3). 2 Nicomachean Ethics 1111a23 (my italics). 3 Model Penal Code, Article 4, “Responsibility,” in Morris (1961: 423). 4 Conversely, the first thing many repressive governments do is limit their subjects’ access to information, as when the Nazis confiscated Jews’ radios in 1935. 2
  4. 4. will—which I see as requiring more than free action—without engaging those abilities at the time of the action. The Knowledge Condition for free will does not apply directly to actions but to agents; it involves cognitive abilities which an agent must possess in order to have free will, and these abilities may be possessed to different degrees. Furthermore, agents may then exercise these abilities in different ways, which will result in actions that reflect different degrees of freedom and responsibility.5 Hence, satisfying the Knowledge Condition is necessary and sufficient for an agent to possess free will, but (1) since the Knowledge Condition comes in varying degrees, so too may different agents possess varying degrees of free will6 and (2) since free will applies to agents, not actions, an agent with free will may exercise it to varying degrees in different actions. (These relationships will be more fully discussed in Chapter 2, section 7). Some philosophers, notably libertarians, will see the abilities I associate with the Knowledge Condition as obviously insufficient for free will. They believe that free will requires the ability to do otherwise in a strong sense that is incompatible with deterministic causation (hence, they believe indeterminism of some sort is necessary for free will). Sometimes the term “free will” as used in philosophical debates is relegated to refer only to this ability to do otherwise, and all the attention is focused on whether this ability is compatible with determinism.7 I think this is a mistake. As I will argue in this chapter, the relation of determinism (and indeterminism) to free will is often presented in a misleading way. I suggest that, without giving up the language of free will, we should remain neutral on the question of determinism and focus our attention on more tenable and interesting questions. These questions will move the free will debate closer to problems in philosophy of mind about the nature of self- knowledge, consciousness, and reductionism. As I will discuss in Chapters 3 and the Epilogue, this view of free will also opens it up to empirical and conceptual challenges distinct from—and more significant than—the threat of deterministic causation. 2. Compatibilism, Libertarianism, and Compatriotism Historically the philosophical debate about free will has been about the “compatibility question” and fought between compatibilists and incompatibilists. Incompatibilists believe that free will is impossible in a deterministic universe—one in which the present state of the universe is necessary given its past states and the laws of nature (i.e. a description of the present state of the universe is entailed by a description of the state of the universe at any other time and the laws of nature). Compatibilists believe free will is possible even if determinism is true. Some compatibilists (“soft determinists”) believe both that determinism is true and that we have free will. Some incompatibilists (“hard determinists”) agree that determinism is true but then 5 As an analogy, we may apply the term “strong” to persons. Possessing strength to some degree will involve being able to perform certain actions (e.g. lift various amounts of weight). A strong person has these abilities even when not exercising them, and then she may or may not exercise them to various degrees in performing particular actions, such as lifting loads. 6 These degrees of freedom will apply between members within a type of creature, such as human beings (e.g. children have less free will than normal adults), and also between types of creatures (e.g. humans have more free will than apes). 7 Some philosophers have simply given up on the term “free will,” and turned to other concepts such as free action, choice, agency, autonomy, self-control, self-determination, and moral responsibility (see section 3 below). See Double (1991) for an argument that the term “free will” does not pick out a natural kind. 3
  5. 5. conclude that we do not have free will. More commonly, the incompatibilist will argue that we do have free will, and therefore, determinism must be false. This is the libertarian position. The compatibility question usually travels via the “could-have-done-otherwise” condition (CDO); most philosophers agree that, in some sense, to have free will we must be able to do other than we in fact do.8 Most compatibilists interpret the CDO condition in such a way that it can be met even if determinism is true. Incompatibilists, however, argue that if determinism is true, we can never act other than we in fact act. This debate has been (in every sense of the word) interminable and often seems to reduce to a clash of intuitions or to begging the question (or both): I will try to avoid this debate wherever possible.9 Instead, I will argue that the compatibility question, at least as it relates to the thesis of determinism, should not be the central question in debates about free will. A well-known incompatibilist, Peter van Inwagen, writes: There are four possible positions one might take about the logical relations that obtain among free will, determinism, and indeterminism: (1) Free will is compatible with determinism and incompatible with indeterminism (sc. of human actions); (2) Free will is incompatible with determinism and compatible with indeterminism; (3) Free will is incompatible with determinism and incompatible with indeterminism; (4) Free will is compatible with determinism and indeterminism. Positions (1) and (2) are the historically important ones. Position (3) has, to my knowledge, been taken only by C.D. Broad. Position (4) has, to my knowledge, been taken by no one. (1985: 349) I think van Inwagen’s categories do not accurately reflect the free will debate. He is right that position (2) is historically important; it represents all libertarians. But he suggests that position (1) represents all compatibilists when, in fact, it represents only soft determinists, and only some of them have explicitly argued that free will is incompatible with indeterminism.10 (Some hard determinists represented by position (3) also argue for the incompatibility of free will and indeterminism, claiming that indeterminism entails randomness. I will argue below that this claim is mistaken.) More importantly, some philosophers do hold position (4), that free will is compatible with determinism and with indeterminism—more precisely, that it is possible free will and determinism are jointly true and it is possible that free will and indeterminism are jointly true.11 Examples include, I believe, Peter Strawson, Harry Frankfurt, and Daniel Dennett, whose 8 Dennett (1984b) coined the acronym CDO and argues that it is not required for free will in many cases. 9 Fischer aptly calls the debate a “dialectical stalemate” (1994: 83-85). And Kant, of course, included it as one of his antimonies. 10 Notably, Hobart (1934), Schlick (1939), Nowell Smith (1948), Ayer (1954), Smart (1961), and Bergmann (1977, Appendix). Historically, the position is associated with Hobbes, Hume, Mill, Shopenhauer and perhaps the Stoics. See section 4 below. 11 Which is not to say it is possible for free will, determinism, and indeterminism to be true together. The way van Inwagen describes position (4) makes it seem unlikely any philosopher would hold it, since it seems the philosopher would have to offer positive arguments for each conjunct—that free will is compatible with determinism and that it is compatible with indeterminism. But below I explain that the position requires the least defense of the four since it only requires arguing against the necessity claims of the other positions. 4
  6. 6. analyses of free will do not require the truth of determinism or indeterminism.12 Frankfurt, for instance, writes, “My conception of freedom of the will appears to be neutral with regard to the problem of determinism” (1971: 25). Since van Inwagen made his claim, several other philosophers have followed this trend of remaining agnostic about the relations between free will and determinism. Fischer and Ravizza (1998), though they use the language of responsibility and control rather than free will, state: “Indeed, an implication of our approach to moral responsibility is that our personhood need not be threatened by either the truth of causal determinism or its falsity” (16). Alfred Mele (1995) using the language of autonomy, takes the position of “agnostic autonomism”: “agnostics do not insist that autonomy is compatible with determinism; nor need they insist that we are internally indeterministic . . . in a way of use to libertarians” (253). Such philosophers are usually identified as compatibilists since they often offer some account of how free will is possible even if determinism is true, though they also allow that free will may be compatible with at least some types of indeterminism. But they usually argue more emphatically that the question of determinism, at least as we presently understand it, is irrelevant to free will. Rather, their conceptions of free will are concerned with the specific causal processes involved in deliberation and action, and they remain neutral about whether such relations need to be deterministic or need to involve some sort of indeterminism. Fischer and Ravizza’s account of control, for instance, requires that we “look more carefully at the characteristics of the actual sequence that leads to the action . . . [which] holds that ascriptions of responsibility do not depend on whether agents are free to pursue alternative courses of action” (1998: 37). The account of free will I develop here also represents position (4). Perhaps van Inwagen (falsely) thinks this logical space is unoccupied because it, unlike the other three positions, has not been given a philosophical name. Let me correct this problem. I will name the position compatriotism. This name is meant to suggest that compatibilists and libertarians should put aside their debates about determinism and become “compatriots” in analyzing the positive conditions of a concept of free will worth defending and in battling more pressing and serious threats to such a view of free will.13 Compatriotism is phonetically similar to compatibilism, which is appropriate to the extent that it is anti-incompatibilist: it disagrees with (the first conjunct of) position (2) to suggest that it is possible that free will and determinism are jointly true [◊(F & D)]. But compatriotism does not hold that free will is incompatible with indeterminism—so it also disagrees with (the second conjunct of) position (1) to suggest that it is possible that free will and indeterminism are jointly true [◊(F & -D)].14 12 Strawson (1962), Dennett (1984a) and Frankfurt (1969 and 1971). Other philosophers who explicitly or implicitly accept this position include Watson (1983), Mele (1995), Wolf (1990), Fischer and Ravizza (1998), and Bok (2000). See also Fischer (1994), who calls his view that causal determinism is compatible with moral responsibility “semicompatibilism.” 13 Strawson (1962) suggests that a “reconciliation” between incompatibilists (whom he calls “pessimists”) and compatibilists (“optimists”) is possible if we properly amend the optimists’ meager requirements for free will (see Chapter 2 below). 14 Notice that if you believe that free will is incompatible with determinism [□ -(F & D)] and you also believe that free will exists in at least some possible worlds [◊( F)]—notably, ours—then you are committed to the claim that free will must be compatible with indeterminism [□ ◊ (F & -D)]. That is, the libertarian says, “There is at least one 5
  7. 7. Instead, compatriotists remain neutral with regard to the compatibility question for four reasons. First, it is the easiest position to hold—the default position, as it were. Each of the other three positions involves claims of incompatibility, which involve the modality of necessity. For instance, position (3) entails, “It is necessarily false that free will and determinism are both true” [□ -(F & D)] and also, “It is necessarily false that free will and indeterminism are both true” [□ -(F & -D)]. Hence, assuming the philosopher holding this position accepts that either determinism or indeterminism must be true, he is committed to the claim that necessarily free will does not exist (see footnote 14 for the other positions). Such necessity claims are metaphysically strong and require powerful arguments to back them up. The burden of proof is on those philosophers who argue for necessary truths and entailments.15 Possibility claims are weaker and require less support. To hold position (4) is to say it is possible that free will and determinism are both true and it is possible that free will and indeterminism are both true (which is not, of course, to say that it is possible that free will, determinism, and indeterminism are all true together). Some may say such a position is empty—that you have to take a firm stand on the logical relations between determinism, indeterminism, and free will.16 But compatriotists do offer arguments against the necessity claims of the other three positions (I will present some of these arguments below), and they have a great deal to say about the positive conditions required for free will and the causal relations such conditions involve—they just don’t see such causal relations as necessarily requiring determinism or indeterminism. Indeed, a second reason compatriotists remain neutral about the compatibility question is their belief that we (e.g. philosophers and scientists) do not have clear conceptions of determinism, indeterminism, or causation—much less, the logical relations between them—and until we do, we will not understand whether determinism or indeterminism or neither conflicts with free will (depending on how free will is conceived). Since we are unsure about how to analyze determinism and indeterminism, we should be unsure about the implications of each view, and should avoid claims about necessary implications for free will.17 Many philosophers, including some incompatibilists, say that science might discover whether deterministic or indeterministic causation in fact occurs in the relevant processes of humans’ coming to act. In fact, Peter van Inwagen, who strongly believes we have free will, says that if science did discover that these processes were deterministic, he would have to renounce his argument for incompatibilism.18 Martin Fischer, who calls such a possibility “metaphysical flip-flopping,” possible world—namely, our own—in which free will and indeterminism co-exist.” Similarly if you believe, like the soft determinist: ◊( F) and free will is incompatible with indeterminism [□ -(F & -D)], then you are committed to the claim that free will must be compatible with determinism [□ ◊ (F & D)]. (These modal entailments use the S5 system.) Compatriotists, who hold position (4) are committed to much weaker modal claims. 15 See, for instance, Lycan (1987: 10). 16 This claim may be legitimate if free will if defined in a way that conceptually ties it to determinism or indeterminism. But such a definitional move, I believe, is ill-founded (see section 4 below). 17 I believe some incompatibilist intuitions are fueled by a conception of causation left over from classical physics (the Newtonian picture of mechanistic interaction). The causation suggested by modern physics is very different, and not just because it suggests irreducibly indeterministic causal relations. It certainly is not best captured by the image of billiard balls colliding! 18 Specifically, he would give up the Beta principle. See van Inwagen (1984: 219). This seems to suggest that he does not accept that necessarily determinism precludes free will [□ -(F & D)]. 6
  8. 8. says, “I do not think that this very important and basic belief [in moral responsibility] should be ‘held hostage’ to esoteric scientific doctrines.”19 Nor should our basic belief in free will be ‘held hostage’ to esoteric philosophical arguments for incompatibilism. Indeed, the third reason compatriotists remain neutral about the relation between free will and determinism is that they believe the debates about this relation, and the related debates about interpretations of the word “can,” have not advanced, in part because of the ambiguity and disagreements about the terms involved.20 The debates suggest an antinomy which can only be escaped by, as Quine suggests, “a repudiation of our conceptual heritage.” Compatriotism represents one such repudiation by arguing the question of determinism, at least as presented in these debates, is simply irrelevant to free will. Fourth, and most importantly, compatriotists believe that the central questions about the nature of free will involve the cognitive abilities it involves—for instance, an agent’s ability to know what he really wants and to know how to act accordingly (the Knowledge Condition). Indeed, those philosophers, whether compatibilist or libertarian, who believe—contra position (3)—that humans do possess free will, share many intuitions about the positive conditions required for free will. I will lump together all such positive conditions under the name AS conditions (for “Agent-as-Source”), because they require that agents—their deliberations, desires, decisions, intentions—are the source of their actions.21 Despite any disagreements about the threat determinism may pose to free will, most participants in the free will debates put a lot of effort into analyzing AS conditions and agree on many of them. (No libertarian, after all, believes indeterminism is a sufficient condition for free will). Furthermore, these philosophers share views about various other threats to free will (some of which, we will see, are mistakenly associated with determinism). Compatriotism locates free will not in some metaphysical ability to do otherwise in the exact same situation but (where it seems to be located) in our cognitive abilities to know ourselves and know how to achieve what we want. That is, it situates questions about free will amidst questions about the nature of the mind and the mind-body and mind-world relations. In turn, compatriotism sees the most significant threats to free will not in determinism but in certain conceptions of the mind and of the types of causal processes involved in an agent’s coming to act, threats that derive from certain philosophical and scientific theories of human nature. Compatriotists view these threats as more serious and relevant than those thought to be posed by the metaphysical doctrine of determinism.22 They can then wage a unified battle against these threats. 19 Fischer (1999: 129). See also Fischer and Ravizza (1998: 253-254). As is clear from my Chapter 3, I certainly do not think free will must be immune to all scientific threats (but see note 23 below). 20 This is not to say the arguments have not been original, interesting, and impressive. Compatibilists’ conditional analyses of “can,” incompatibilist responses, new libertarian theories, and arguments for and against PAP (the principle of alternate possibilities), including Frankfurt-style examples, have made the late 20th century an exciting time for free will enthusiasts, but the debate about the compatibility question still seems deadlocked (see Fischer 1999). The more interesting moves, I believe, have been in the compatriotist direction—i.e. theories of free will that suggest determinism is irrelevant to free will (such as Frankfurt’s). 21 These conditions are often discussed in terms of “self-control,” “autonomy,” and “self-determination.” 22 Indeed, determinism is a theory that might be proven true or false by physicists doing experiments that do not involve humans (so the fate of our free will would be in the hands of a science that need not even consider us). On 7
  9. 9. Thus, compatriotism fills a logical space in the free will debates which has remained underdescribed: (1) The free will problem is not essentially about the question of determinism. Indeed, one can and should remain neutral about whether determinism or indeterminism is necessary for free will. In addition to this claim, I believe most of the philosophers I identify with the compatriotist position share two other views: (2) Free will is constituted by a set of cognitive abilities. (3) Most humans possess free will (i.e. possess the cognitive abilities that constitute free will). The rest of this chapter will continue to argue for the first thesis. Chapter 2 will discuss some of the cognitive abilities required for free will that have remained largely unexplored (thesis 2). I will argue for the third thesis to the extent that, in Chapters 3 and 4, I defend my theory of free will against empirical and conceptual threats. Beyond that, I will defer to a simplistic argument offered by several philosophers: free will is required for moral responsibility; we cannot seriously doubt that we (normal humans) have moral responsibility; therefore, we have free will.23 An even simpler argument might be, “We all know we have free will, it’s just a matter of defining what it is we all know we have.”24 I believe this is right, and such a definition will not involve determinism or indeterminism. 3. Is that the free will debate? “What men have esteemed and fought for in the name of liberty is varied and complex— but certainly it has never been metaphysical freedom of the will.” —John Dewey25 Before I proceed, I should answer a possible objection to the compatriotist position. Some philosophers (especially incompatibilists) might respond that the position is incoherent because the free will debate just is (by definition) the debate about the compatibility question. If you want to argue about other aspects of human freedom, they would claim, then use different language—talk about autonomy, agency, choice, deliberation, control, or moral responsibility (or at most free action). And perhaps when you are finished you can link up your discussion to the question of determinism and free will. In fact, many philosophers have taken this route, and especially in recent decades, have focused on the concepts of autonomy and moral responsibility, the other hand, scientific theories about human nature and the mind must take into account the evidence that we at least seem to be free and responsible (psychology, for instance, must deal with our experience of deliberation and choice). 23 See, for instance, van Inwagen (1983: 206-7). This argument underlies his willingness to “flip-flop” if we discover that our universe is, in fact, deterministic. Though I agree that free will is necessary for moral responsibility, I do not believe it is sufficient (see Chapter 2, section 8). 24 Which is almost as simple as Samuel Johnson’s famous quip, “Sir, we know our will is free, and there’s an end on’t.” 25 Dewey (1957: 303). 8
  10. 10. hence conceding that, after all, they are not trying to analyze free will.26 I have sympathy with this move, since changing the name of the debate is one way to change the terms of the debate. But I think it concedes too much. First of all, the term “free will” has a history in philosophy that goes beyond the debate about determinism, even if we take into account theological determinism (God’s foreknowledge) and logical determinism (fatalism). Most philosophers, including libertarians, spend many more pages discussing the positive conditions of agency required for free will (AS conditions) than the negative condition of freedom from deterministic causation. More importantly, the term “free will” has too much currency in ordinary language to concede that free will is only about the question of determinism and the ability to do otherwise. Peter van Inwagen disagrees. He claims that “the term ‘free will’ is a philosophical term of art. . . . If someone uses the words ‘free will’ and does not use them within [the phrase ‘of his own free will’], he is almost certainly a participant in a philosophical discussion,” and that discussion, he says, is about whether an agent can act in one way or another—can do otherwise in the exact same situation—an ability van Inwagen believes requires indeterminism (1989: 220). I offer several reasons to suggest van Inwagen is mistaken. First, when I ask my students to talk about what they mean by free will, most talk about our abilities to choose and deliberate, to be free of constraints and control by others, to be conscious and in control of what we are doing. Few bring up determinism (though some mention particular causal histories, such as brainwashing or genetic influences, which they see as threatening free will). They must be trained to think that universal deterministic causation may threaten free will (though, I admit, it is not hard to get them to feel the bite of that intuition if the incompatibilist argument is presented in certain ways).27 Second, the term “free will” is used often by people in the real world and usually without reference to the question of determinism, as in two recent letters to the editor of The New York Times: “The Chimps Don’t Have Free Will” (7/7/99) and “Kennedy ‘Curse’ or Needless Risk- Taking; Limits of Free Will” (7/21/99). When Robert Sapolsky writes in Newsweek, “Who are we then, and what will happen to our cherished senses of individuality and free will?”, he is concerned that “our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions are merely the sum of our genes.”28 As I will discuss below, this concern is distinct from the question of metaphysical determinism, which he does not discuss. Since “free will” appears in the popular media, especially in the voluminous discussions of recent scientific findings about human nature from psychology, genetics, and neuroscience, philosophers should not limit their use of the term to a distinct (and insular) debate. Indeed, scientists themselves use “free will,” usually to explain how their theories limit it or show it to be illusory. For instance, Matt Ridley (1999) titles a chapter of his book about the genome, “Free Will,” and argues that social causes threaten free will as much as genetic causes. 26 Autonomy is the focus, for instance, of Dworkin (1988), Haworth (1986), and Mele (1995). Fischer and Ravizza (1998) do discuss the compatibility question a great deal but still call their book Responsibility and Control and maintain a view they call semi-compatibilism—that even if free will requires the ability to do otherwise, moral responsibility does not. 27 In my experience, students feel threatened by determinism mainly because some incompatibilist arguments present determinism as entailing that the past controls us, that we are predictable, or that our conscious deliberations play no role in what we do. I discuss these misleading conflations in the next two sections. 28 Sapolsky, Robert, “It’s Not ‘All in the Genes,’” Newsweek, April 10, 2000, p. 68. 9
  11. 11. And a series of articles in American Psychologist (July 1999) discusses “recent fundamental breakthroughs in the understanding of motivations, free will, and behavioral control” (461).29 Furthermore, our legal system, one might say, is predicated on the concept of free will and frequently makes reference to the term. Rarely, however, does the subject of determinism come up in court. Instead, we want to know whether the accused knew what he or she was doing and had the mental capacities to act on such knowledge.30 When defense lawyers use the insanity defense (or the Twinkie defense or the Steroid Rage defense), they are not claiming their clients’ crimes were, like all behavior, caused by the past and the laws of nature, but that, unlike our (normal) behavior, they were caused by a particular, mitigating causal history. Perhaps the only instance of the question of determinism leaving the sphere of philosophical debates was Clarence Darrow’s attempt to use it as a legal defense, but even he referred to particular causal histories, not the general thesis that all behavior is the inevitable result of the past and laws of nature: “every case of crime could be accounted for on purely scientific grounds if all the facts bearing on the case were known: defective nervous systems, lack of education or technical training, poor heredity, poor early environment, emotional imbalance.”31 These are all examples of unfortunate histories, not necessarily deterministic histories. Finally, the concept of free will also makes frequent appearances in literature, from the poetry of Donne and Milton to the works of D.H. Lawrence and Dostoyevsky. These writers may mention the concept of fate, or refer to our ability to act as we wish, but they rarely mention causal determinism. Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man defines free will as the ability “to choose what is contrary to one’s own interests,” to defy Reason. And Milton’s Adam and Eve gain free will not by eating from the Tree of Indeterminism but by eating the Fruit of Knowledge. When they become aware of their motives as being good or evil, this knowledge endows them (and their descendents) with the burdens and blessings of free will and moral responsibility.32 Hence, the question of free will, in philosophy and especially in the real world, is not just—indeed, not mainly—about the threat of determinism, and it should not now be relegated within philosophy to that one question. Compatriotists believes that, in understanding the nature of human freedom, self-determination, and responsibility, the question of determinism is of 29 The “breakthroughs” discussed are just the sort I will discuss in Chapter 3 as threatening to free will, but not because they describe deterministic processes, rather because they suggest that “the source of behavioral control comes not from active awareness but from subtle cues in the environment and from thought processes and information not readily accessible to consciousness” (461). That is, they suggest we usually act without knowing why we are acting—a question that is unrelated to whether determinism is true. 30 And a defendant’s responsibility is usually mitigated if he did not intend and could not reasonably foresee the deleterious outcomes of his actions—though there are some interesting discrepancies in some cases, where we punish people for consequences they could not foresee, which point to the philosophical question of “moral luck” (e.g. Nagel [1979] and Williams [1981]). 31 Quoted in Ekstrom (2000: 79). She takes this quotation to suggest that “the judgments of ordinary persons are responsive to the consideration of determinism.” I take it to suggest that such judgments are responsive to particular causal histories rather than to the problem of universal determinism. 32 One more (personal) example: when I tell people outside philosophy that I am writing on free will, their ears perk up, but not because they want to hear about the relationship between free will and some metaphysical thesis about the nature of causation. They want to know about free will—a term they use and hear about a lot—what it is (the positive conditions) and what allows us (as opposed to animals, for instance) to have it. If I say I am writing about agency or autonomy ears perk up much less. 10
  12. 12. secondary importance to questions about the abilities of agents to deliberate, choose, and act autonomously. Hence, they certainly accept that discussions about each of the italicized concepts in the previous sentence are crucial to the free will debate, but they are not willing to give up their right to the term “free will” in favor of those concepts alone. To do so is to give up the game to the incompatibilist.33 Indeed, to do so would be like the naturalist giving up talk about “minds” in response to a dualist who suggests that the essential question in debates about the mind is whether or not it must be an immaterial substance. Or like the moral subjectivist giving up talk about “good”’ and “ought” in the face of a moral objectivist’s claim that the debate about such terms must be about what objective property they refer to. Hence, I will not give up the rhetorical battle, and I will continue to talk about free will, with the caveats that the “free” need not be contrasted with deterministic and the “will” need not suggest some dualistic faculty of mind (or homunculus within the brain). Rather, the will refers to our motivational structure, and for the will to be free requires that we have certain abilities in regards to our motivations, notably some knowledge of them and power to influence them. Indeed, the most important reason to hold tight to the concept of “free will” is that the abilities I will discuss have to do with our control over our internal motivational structure, our freedom to influence our will, and not simply our freedom to control our actions (e.g. to be free from external constraints). 4. Misconceptions about Indeterminism In this section and the next I will dispel some misconceptions about indeterminism and determinism that have led philosophers to accept positions (1) and (2) described by van Inwagen. Specifically, I will counter some of the arguments that indeterminism is incompatible with free will, then counter some of the arguments that determinism is incompatible with free will. These tactics do not, of course, entail that free will is in fact compatible with either determinism or indeterminism. But they provide reasons to reject the necessity claims of incompatibilists and of those compatibilists who claim that free will requires determinism. Along the way, we will also see that other issues are more central to the question of free will than determinism and indeterminism. Some philosophers have argued that free will is incompatible with indeterminism and hence believe that free will requires determinism.34 If they then want to defend the existence of free will, as most do, they naturally see this conclusion as a reason to believe there must be something wrong with incompatibilist arguments and also to develop a conception of free will that is clearly compatible with determinism.35 Nowell-Smith states, “I could not be free to choose what I do unless determinism is correct. . . . Freedom, so far from being incompatible 33 This is one more reason to differentiate compatriotism from compatibilism, since compatibilism is defined in contrast to incompatibilism, and historically it has focused on defending the possibility of free will in the face of determinism, hence offering inadequate positive conditions for free will. Peter Strawson (1962) recognized this deficiency in compatibilist (“optimist”) accounts of free will and suggested refinements that have been further developed by more recent philosophers (see Chapter 2). 34 See footnote 10. C.D. Broad, the hard determinist who holds position (3), argues that free will is incompatible with indeterminism for similar reasons (but concludes that we do not have free will). 35 This has led to the development of some overly economical accounts of free will—e.g. free will as the ability to do what you want or as freedom from external constraints. See footnote 33 above. 11
  13. 13. with causality implies it.”36 Notice the identification of “determinism” with “causality.” These compatibilists assume that causation requires deterministic laws, such that given the cause, the effect necessarily follows (i.e. the cause is sufficient for the effect). R.E. Hobart writes, “Thus power [to choose] depends upon, or rather consists in, a law. The law in question takes the familiar form that if something happens a certain something else will ensue. . . . It is just because determinism is true, because a law obtains, that one ‘could have done otherwise’” (1934: 72-74). That is, for the agent to act freely and responsibly, his action must be sufficiently caused by his will (e.g. his desires and volitions), and so his act must be determined by his will. In fact, Hobart suggests that an undetermined action is not an action at all—it is a behavior that happened to the agent, not something that he did. This position is predicated on the belief that any lack of determinism involves an absence of causation such that any undetermined event must be random, or an accident. Hence, Ayer argues, “Either it is an accident that I choose to act as I do or it is not. . . . if it is not an accident that I chose to do one thing rather than another, then presumably there is some causal explanation of my choice: and in that case we are led back to determinism” (1954: 275).37 The incompatibilist would argue that for a choice (say, my choice to help a friend move or to go to the lake) to be free, it must be undetermined by prior events. But, according to Ayer, if my choice is really undetermined, then the event of my choice is an accident and hence out of my control.38 It is important to distinguish between two interpretations of this claim. It could mean that, if there are not sufficient conditions (e.g. my deliberations and desires) to determine my choice, then if I choose to help my friend, that action is out of my control and if I choose to go to the lake, that action is out of my control. That is, if the choice is undetermined, then whichever action occurs, it is uncaused and hence out of my control (or, as Hobart suggests, it is not even an action). A second interpretation is that, if my choice is undetermined, then I do not control which of the two alternatives I choose, but (so long as I have reasons and desires for either choice) I control and am the cause of my action of helping my friend or of working, whichever occurs. This second interpretation will be discussed below, but it need not present a threat to the requirement of a theory of free will that the agent causes his actions—that is, the agent can still be the source of his actions. The first interpretation does, however, conflict with an agent’s ability to cause or to control his actions, and this is the view suggested by compatibilists who claim indeterminism is incompatible with free will. However, it is a misleading interpretation of indeterminism. Philippa Foot (1957) offers an ordinary language rebuttal of the claim that if an event is undetermined, this suggests it is accidental or random: “It is not at all clear that when actions or choices are called ‘chance’ or ‘accidental’ this has anything to do with the absence of causes”; 36 Quoted in Foot (1957: 96). 37 Compare Hume: “According to my definitions, necessity makes an essential part of causation; and consequently liberty [in the libertarian sense], by removing necessity, removes also causes, and is the very same thing with chance” (Treatise on Human Nature, 407). 38 Many incompatibilists agree with this claim, such as Richard Taylor (1963: 47). Thus they argue that agent causation is the only theory that can explain how agents can be undetermined and control their actions (see section 6 below). 12
  14. 14. rather, she says, accidental actions are unintentional (107). She also argues that an agent’s motives need not determine his actions.39 If accidental (or random) events are contrasted with determined events, then if determinism is true, there could be no accidents at all, and if determinism is not true, then any event with a probability less than 1 would be an accident (regardless of whether it had a .01 or a .99 chance of occurring).40 Elizabeth Anscombe (1971) also offers a rebuttal of the claim that causation requires determinism. Causation need not be seen as a logical connection (as Hume “discovered”), and it need not be seen as a Humean relation of constant conjunction either; some causes may be non- necessitating—that is, irreducibly statistical or probabilistic: “A non-necessitating cause is then one that can fail of its effect without the intervention of anything to frustrate it” (101). Such an idea is anathema to many philosophers, steeped in the principle of sufficient reason, who want something (some cause) to make the difference whenever there is a difference (an effect). But Anscombe argues that the burden of proof is on the philosopher who claims it is a necessary truth that all causes are deterministic.41 Anscombe’s view has been supplemented by positive accounts of probabilistic causation. Such accounts suggest that some laws of nature are irreducibly statistical; given a particular situation (set of causes), there are certain probabilities that one of several effects will follow. One of the proponents of such accounts, Wesley Salmon, explains that the common response that such probabilities are only epistemological not ontological—that “hidden variables” will explain away the probabilities—is “a declaration of faith.”42 Probabilistic accounts generally define a cause as some factor that increases the probability that an effect will occur, in contrast, for instance, to those accounts that define a cause in terms of sufficient conditions (i.e. given the cause, cetibus paribus, the effect necessarily follows). So, on a probabilistic account, a virus is a cause of a disease if, when a person is infected with the virus, she is more likely to contract the disease than a non-infected person (even if, on some relevantly similar occasion, a person does not contract the disease). These causal accounts were developed in part to deal with the revolution in 20th-century physics launched by quantum mechanics. The classical physics of Newton and Galileo inspired Laplace and later philosophers to embrace determinism and mechanism in conceiving of causation.43 The predictions and explanations in quantum mechanics, however, are irreducibly 39 She argues that motives are not causes at all—they are descriptions of actions and hence analytically, not empirically (i.e. causally), related to the actions. In general, I will accept the Davidsonian view (1963) that reasons are causes (see Epilogue). 40 See Loewer (1996: 100). 41 Hence, the burden of proof is on the philosopher who supports the conclusion that free will necessarily requires determinism with the premises that (1) free will requires causation (sc. of human actions) and (2) causation necessarily requires determinism. 42 Salmon (1980). He discusses several probabilistic accounts of causation, including those of Hans Reichenbach, I.J. Good, and Patrick Suppes. 43 I believe this historical connection between deterministic causation and mechanistic causation has fueled incompatibilism. It provided (e.g. for philosophers like Descartes) a reason to think that if the mind is part of the physical universe, it will have to be explained not only in mechanistic terms but also in deterministic terms. So, to avoid the implications of either mechanism or determinism, the other had to be rejected (e.g. with a theory like substance dualism). See section 5D below. 13
  15. 15. indeterministic, at least according to the current “orthodox” interpretation.44 Hence, given a certain type of event, such as an electron’s being fired at a barrier, there are certain probabilities that the electron will penetrate or be deflected by the barrier. Each outcome is possible given the same initial conditions, and each outcome is caused by those conditions. So, quantum theory offers a model for probabilistic causes, undermining the idea that science requires the concept of determinism. As Anscombe rightly points out, “It has taken the inventions of indeterministic physics to shake the rather common dogmatic conviction that determinism is a presupposition, or perhaps a conclusion, of scientific knowledge. Not that the conviction has been very much shaken even so” (103). Some philosophers suggest that, even if quantum events are irreducibly indeterministic, they cancel out at the macro-level, including the level of causation involved in mental events and actions. But such a claim also seems to be a “declaration of faith.” Quantum events may— perhaps through the sensitive dependence on initial conditions suggested by nonlinear dynamics—“percolate up” to the macro level (for instance, to neuronal activity). And many philosophers have offered thought experiments in which an indeterministic event, for instance, a Geiger counter measurement, has large-scale effects, such as the dropping of a nuclear weapon.45 Some philosophers and scientists also believe that indeterministic causation may occur at the macro level autonomously (i.e. without being based on quantum effects), for instance, in the processes of natural selection.46 Again, it is not known whether probabilistic causation is required to explain and predict events only at the quantum level or whether such causation may be required to deal with “bigger” events as well, including perhaps events in the human brain, but the possibility should not be dismissed a priori. Probabilistic accounts of causation are controversial, but so is every other account of causation. The point is that they provide arguments against the claim that it is necessary that causation requires determinism and that indeterminism entails randomness. Hence, they provide reason to dismiss the claims of those compatibilists who argue that free will requires determinism, and hence, there must be something wrong with incompatibilism. In fact, some libertarians have made use of probabilistic accounts of causation in order to develop a theory of human choice and action that is causal but not deterministic.47 For example, Robert Kane’s (1996) impressive libertarian theory of free will suggests that quantum indeterminacy is magnified by nonlinear dynamics (chaos theory) to affect neuronal activity in the brain: In effect, conflicts of will . . . stir up chaos in the brain and make the agents’ thought processes more sensitive to undetermined influences. . . . The result is that [some choices] are influenced by, but not determined by, past motives and character. The uncertainty 44 The Copenhagen Interpretation. Other interpretations (Bohm’s) are deterministic, though the predictions remain fundamentally statistical. See Loewer (1996). 45 Schroedinger’s cat was perhaps the first such thought experiment. 46 See Brandon and Carson (1996). Most laws in psychology are presented in statistical terms, but no argument is provided that these laws are actually deterministic and only epistemically probabilistic. 47 For instance, Kane (1996), Ekstrom (2000), Ginet (1990). See section 6 below. 14
  16. 16. and inner tension that agents feel at such moments are reflected in the indeterminacy of their neural processes” (130).48 So, for instance, when I feel conflicted in my deliberations about whether to help my friend or go to the lake, it is because I have good reasons for either choice and these reasons are instantiated in competing neural networks, sensitive to micro indeterminacies. If the reasons are near equilibrium, the indeterminacy may affect my choice, making it undetermined. But since I have a reason to help my friend move, then these reasons can be a cause of my action even if my choice to help him is undetermined (I might choose to go to the lake). So, if I in fact help my friend, the action is still caused in the appropriate way (e.g. by my desires) to call it an action. Since I also have a desire to go to the lake, then if I choose to do that, the action is also caused by my desire, even though the choice is undetermined. My reasons may, in Leibniz’s phrase, “incline without necessitating” my choice.49 Hence, Hobart’s argument that undetermined behaviors cannot be actions is mistaken. Whether to call such actions free actions will depend on conditions other than whether my choice is determined or undetermined. I will discuss below whether or not such indeterminism helps secure free will, but it certainly offers a model for undetermined choices that are nevertheless caused by an agent’s mental states (and can thereby satisfy AS conditions). It undermines the arguments of those compatibilists who claim that indeterminism entails randomness and thus lack of control by the agent. Given the arguments of Foot and Anscombe, the positive accounts of probabilistic causation, current theories in physics and other sciences, and contemporary libertarian accounts like Kane’s, we may conclude that: (1) The causation required for accounts of action and free will—for instance, that one’s reasons cause one’s actions—may be probabilistic (i.e. irreducibly indeterministic). (2) Since it is not necessary that such causation is deterministic, it is not necessary that undetermined choices and actions are uncaused and therefore random (as asserted by some compatibilists). (3) So, it is not necessary that free will is incompatible with indeterminism (at least for the reasons given by such compatibilists). (4) Hence, it is possible that free will is compatible with indeterminism. For all we know, the universe may have a degree of metaphysical “looseness” or openness without having random “causal gaps.” Events may be caused without being deterministically caused (i.e. without there being sufficient prior causes). That this middle ground between deterministic causation and randomness has opened up suggests to the compatriotist that the concepts of causation, determinism, and indeterminism (and the relations between them) may be elucidated in a way that will make the age-old debate between compatibilists and libertarians outdated. 48 See also Eccles (1995), Thorp (1980), and Ekstrom (1999) for similar accounts. 49 See also Ginet (1990), chapter 6, for a discussion of anomic reasons explanations in which “the very same antecedent state of the world could afford a reasons explanation for either of two or more different alternative actions” (146). 15
  17. 17. 5. Misconceptions about Determinism We have seen that the argument that free will is incompatible with indeterminism is based on particular views of indeterminism and causation that are implausible and are certainly not necessary truths. Now I will turn to some of the arguments for the incompatibility of determinism and free will to show that they too are misconceived. Traditionally incompatibilists have presented determinism as a monolithic threat to free will: if determinism is true, then agents cannot do other than they do and hence they cannot have free will (since it requires the ability to do otherwise). But in fact, determinism is usually presented, implicitly or explicitly, as a many-headed monster posing a plethora of threats to free will: determinism “hardens” the universe and prunes any possible alternatives for action; it makes our actions the inevitable result of physical forces beyond our control; it makes us mere outcomes of our genes and upbringing; it makes our conscious states epiphenomenal, as if we are turning steering wheels towards roads we have to go down anyway; it makes us part of a predictable machine such that we could be manipulated by someone who knew our “program.” Once we separate these images and arguments, we can see which of them are threats legitimately implied by determinism and which are not. We can also see if indeterministic theories can help overcome the threats. I will thus take on the many heads of the “monster of determinism” one by one and, in most cases, sever them from determinism. I argue that, in the end, the threat of determinism is much diminished and what is left of it cannot be defeated by any tenable theory of indeterministic causation. My divide-and-conquer strategy begins by laying out six different threats that incompatibilists have suggested determinism poses to free will. These six threats are: (1) external constraint, (2) scientific determinism, (3) predictability, (4) reductionism and epiphenomenalism, (5) a closed future, and (6) lack of dual control. In this section I will argue that it is a misconception of determinism to suggest that it implies any of the first four of these threats to free will. In the next section I will discuss the last two (legitimate) threats of determinism and suggest that, while the fifth (closed future) may be countered by indeterminism, it is not what we really want out of free will nor what incompatibilist arguments demand. The sixth threat (to dual control) can only be countered by a theory, agent causation, which is untenable. Again, the goal of this strategy is not to prove that free will is necessarily compatible with determinism, but rather to counter many of the arguments that claim determinism is necessarily incompatible with a legitimate conception of free will (arguments that, I believe, account for the strong hold—stranglehold?—that incompatibilist intuitions have on us). I will also show that coherent libertarian theories do not answer the dilemma posed by incompatibilist arguments. Along the way, it will also become clear that, because the most significant threats to our ability to be responsible for our actions are not in fact tied to determinism, we should develop a conception of free will that answers to these threats, and we should leave behind the compatibility question. A. External Control and Constraint We legitimately feel that to be free we must be able to act on our desires and choices without some external force or agent controlling or constraining us. As discussed in section 1, we want the power to act on what we really want. I am not free to help my friend move if that’s what I want to do but I’m locked in my room or paralyzed. I am also not free if someone hypnotizes me to avoid helping my friend or if an evil neurosurgeon “excises” any desire I have to help. In describing the conflict between determinism and free will, some incompatibilists 16
  18. 18. depict the past and the laws of nature as if they were analogous to these external constraints. They personify history and nature to blur the boundary between constraints we all recognize as exculpating and metaphysical limitations on our ability to change the past or the laws of nature. Richard Taylor, for instance, writes, “What am I but a helpless product of nature, destined by her to do whatever I do and to become whatever I become,” and he claims that there is no difference between “an ingenious physiologist [who] can induce in me any volition he pleases” and “perfectly impersonal forces” such as deterministic laws (1963: 36). He continues, “Whether a desire which causes my body to behave in a certain way is inflicted upon me by another person, for instance, or derived from hereditary factors, or indeed from anything at all, matters not in the least” (46). Of course it matters! First of all, there is the ordinary language point that we do distinguish between control by external agents and other causal histories.50 To suggest that all causes are coercive undermines our ability to describe only certain causes as coercive. For instance, contra Taylor’s assertion, we ascribe responsibility very differently to a person who chooses to steal because someone threatens him (or even because he is “coerced” by his poverty) than a person who chooses to steal because he wants more stuff. And we do not blame a person for having a hereditary disease, but we may blame someone (somewhat) for contracting a disease he knew he could avoid by refraining from risky behaviors.51 To suggest that determinism entails that all our actions are like coerced actions is to beg the question against compatibilists since they agree that coercion undermines free will but disagree that the laws of nature are coercive. External agents can coerce us in a way that Mother Nature cannot, because agents have desires of their own, whereas the laws of nature have no goals or purposes. Indeed, the concept of coercion seems teleological in a way that would preclude its applicability to anything that did not have goals—that is, goals it wanted to achieve by coercing someone to do something.52 Furthermore, if we act on other agents’ desires only because they induce or implant them in us without our knowledge or assent, then it seems more accurate to say we are acting on their desires, not our own. More precisely, if we can trace the development of the desires that move us to act directly to other agents’ manipulation (based on their desires), then they should be seen as the source of our actions. To respond that we might have developed the same desires anyway is to suggest that, in analyzing free will, different types of causal processes make no difference— for instance, that learning from your parents about why helping others is a good desire to cultivate is no different than having a “friend” (who wants help moving) slip you a drug that will induce that desire. 50 Ayer (1954) effectively makes this point. Ironically, he does so using ordinary language considerations similar to those, described above, that Foot uses against Ayer (and others) to show that he mistakenly conflates “accidental” with “undetermined.” 51 To make this point is not to suggest that it is easy to ascribe varying degrees of responsibility in these cases. Determining which sorts of causal histories mitigate one’s freedom and responsibility is the reason for engaging the question of free will in the first place. I will return to this problem in Chapter 2. Fischer (1994, chap. 1) argues that there is no in principle difference between constraint by agents and other external forces, yet his theory of responsibility is based on distinguishing whether the actual causal sequence leading to action involves coercion. 52 Hence the scare quotes around “coerce” in the example above: poverty often constrains people’s choices but we personify poverty (endowing it with intentionality) if we suggest it coerces people. 17
  19. 19. Even most libertarians allow that coercion and compulsion must be marked off from other types of causation.53 It is a misconception of determinism to suggest that it implies that we are always controlled by external forces, that the past and the laws of nature are just like agents who manipulate our desires and actions. If determinism threatens our free will, it is not because it entails that we are always pushed around or forced to do what we do. And when we are pushed around or forced to do what we do, it is not because the universe is governed by deterministic laws.54 B. Scientific Determinism Some incompatibilists (and compatibilists too) associate determinism with scientific practice. They then link threats to free will implied by certain scientific theories to the thesis of determinism. Laura Ekstrom, for instance, calls the thesis that every event is causally necessitated by a previous event “scientific determinism” (2000: 16), suggesting that determinism is implied by or required for scientific explanations. Other philosophers suggest that scientific determinism is just a specific formulation of metaphysical determinism: scientific discoveries (e.g. about human genetics and neurobiology) simply spell out the deterministic laws that necessitate our choices and actions. The bony metaphysical thesis of determinism is thus “fleshed out” with scientific theories about how agents’ actions are in fact causally determined— by genes or behavioristic reinforcement or neural activity or economic conditions or Freudian drives, etc. These threats are more alarming than the metaphysical thesis of determinism since they are more comprehensible and specific (and they get more media coverage). But they are also more alarming because they far outstrip the threat to our ability to do otherwise; they pose potential problems for many aspects of our conception of agency, such as our ability to understand why we do what we do. And often they replace the reasons we offer for our behavior with causes we don’t (consciously) want to move us, such as Oedipal drives to “marry” our mothers or genes to “choose” our mates based on their pheromones. However, it is a mistake to equate determinism with science, and so, the very term “scientific determinism” is a misnomer. First of all, scientific practice does not require deterministic causation. After all, it was quantum theory which first developed a coherent model of indeterministic causation, though the thesis of determinism is often maintained despite claims of scientific theories such as quantum mechanics. Furthermore, theories in almost every branch of science use statistical explanations, and while scientists may view such indeterminacies as epistemological and pursue explanations to eliminate them, they need not commit themselves to the metaphysical claim that every effect has a sufficient cause.55 Though perhaps inspired by Newtonian science, determinism is a metaphysical thesis that arose well before the Enlightenment with the Atomists and the Stoics. Scientific practice may rely on some 53 See, for instance, Kane (1996: 30) and van Inwagen (1975: 52). 54 Dennett (1984, esp. chapters 1 and 3) elucidates much more fully on the arguments in this section. 55 Some philosophers and some scientists nevertheless believe determinism is a necessary condition for scientific work (see, for instance, James’ comment about psychology that “for her scientific purposes determinism can be claimed” [cite]). What is necessary, however, is not determinism but some conception of causal connections and laws. A belief in determinism might, however, serve as a useful motivational tool to keep a scientist looking for underlying factors when faced with statistical results. 18
  20. 20. conception of causation and laws (though philosophers have not agreed on which, if any, conception), but it is not wedded to deterministic causation and laws. More importantly, the scientific theories that seem to threaten free will (and often motivate incompatibilist intuitions) need not rely on deterministic causation and, even if they turn out to be deterministic, that would not be why they were threatening. For instance, if the truth of radical behaviorism threatens free will, it is not because the theory requires deterministic causation—it’s laws (if it has any) could be irreducibly probabilistic—but rather because it denies the existence (and/or causal efficacy) of mental states, such as conscious deliberations, which are required by most theories of free will.56 If the idea of the Freudian unconscious threatens free will, it is not because unconscious drives deterministically cause our behavior; it is because unconscious drives cause our behavior, and because we have no knowledge or control over our unconscious drives (at least not until, through therapy, we make them conscious).57 If the truth of sociobiology threatens free will, it is not because the theory claims we are deterministically caused by our genes or evolutionary history to act in certain ways, but rather because it suggests severe limits to our abilities to overcome our genetic “programming” for behaviors such as aggression, altruism, or sexual attraction (again, these “programs” could involve probabilistic causation).58 Compatibilists can and do fret about these scientific threats as much as libertarians. Both fret about such threats because they conflict with our abilities to deliberate rationally and act on our consciously considered desires, not because they are specific examples of deterministic causal chains. Libertarians too often present psychological theories as particular examples of universal causal determinism, but the latter is neither necessary nor sufficient for the former. Conversely, compatibilists sometimes ignore the threats of particular scientific theories of human nature because they associate them with deterministic causation, which they do not see as a threat to free will. If particular scientific theories, such as Freudian psychology, evolutionary psychology (the new name for sociobiology), or reductive neuroscience, threaten free will, it is not because their explanations follow the dictum of determinism that every state is necessary given previous states and the laws of nature. Their explanations may end up being irreducibly probabilistic. But such indeterminism need not suggest that “anything goes.” Just because the exact time of decay of a particular atom is indeterministic, this does not entail that the atom is free never to decay (much less, to jump to the moon). Similarly, if the relationship between genes and certain behavior in humans is probabilistic, that does not entail that there is no relationship between them (much less, that a baby with two blue-eyed parents could have brown eyes). In fact, probabilistic causes can be more limiting than deterministic causes if the alternatives are more limiting. For instance, a (hypothetical) gene that has a 70% chance of producing early-stage 56 In fact, behavioristic laws, such as schedules of reinforcement, are almost always presented as probabilistic, but this does not diminish the worry that behaviorism threatens free will. 57 See Hospers (1950) for a discussion of the implications of Freudian psychology for free will, implications that are distinct from the question of causal determinism, though Hospers conflates them. 58 The term “genetic determinism” adds to the confusion I am describing. If any of our genes determine (causally necessitate) any of our behaviors—a highly unlikely claim—it is not because the thesis of determinism is true, and the falsity of the thesis of determinism would not entail that our genes cannot substantially influence many of our behaviors in a way that conflicts with our conception of free will. 19
  21. 21. Alzheimer’s before the age of fifty and a 30% chance of producing late-stage Alzheimer’s after the age of sixty is more limiting (e.g. to our survival) that a gene that has a 100% chance of producing late-stage Alzheimer’s.59 Scientific theories conflict with free will, to the extent they do, not because of the type of causal laws they invoke (deterministic or indeterministic) but because of the content of the theory (i.e. the specific causal stories they suggest). They are threatening to the extent that they undermine AS conditions. Isiah Berlin writes, “If social and psychological determinism were established as an accepted truth, our world would be transformed more radically than was the teleological world of the classical and middle ages by the triumphs of mechanistic principles or those of natural selection.”60 Again, linking the word “determinism” to social and psychological sciences is misleading. But Berlin is absolutely right to suggest that such sciences could radically transform our “notions of choice, of responsibility, of freedom.” They would threaten such notions, for instance, if they eliminated teleological concepts, such as desires and goals, from human deliberation and action. Berlin concludes, “There is, as yet, no need to alarm ourselves unduly.” True, but this is not because the human sciences have turned out to be indeterministic; it is because they are increasingly recognizing the need to explain, not explain away (or eliminate), the purposeful aspects of our mental life. In order to combat the specific threats to free will from scientific theories, compatriotists do not see indeterminism as the savior. Rather, they focus their arguments on developing accounts of free will that are consistent with good scientific theories but that offer alternatives to interpretations of those theories that undermine our freedom. (This will be the approach I take in Chapter 3 when I defend free will against experimental work in social psychology that suggests we do not understand the reasons we act the way we do.) Here, I have shown that there is no reason to link the truth of threatening scientific theories with the truth of determinism. If the metaphysical thesis of determinism threatens free will, it is not because it is inextricably linked to scientific theories that threaten our free will. This head can be severed from the “monster of determinism.” C. Predictability Incompatibilists often portray determinism as a threat to free will by suggesting that it entails the predictability of our choices and actions. Laplace’s demon personifies the connection between determinism and prediction: “Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it . . . nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes.”61 Such an intelligence (or God or perhaps a supercomputer) could know every total state of the universe if it knew any total state of the universe along with the laws of nature, as 59 Mele (1995: 188) offers another example: “King George’s advisors might be able to steer him in the direction of a handful of options—any of which would serve their purposes, and none of which conduces to George’s aims— without being able to ensure that he selects their most preferred option.” This undetermined manipulation is more constraining on George’s ability to get what he wants than if George were causally determined to choose his preferred option. 60 Berlin (Four Essays on Liberty, p. 113) quoted in Ayer and O’Grady (1992: 60). 61 Laplace (1951: 4). Some philosophers (e.g. Karl Popper) define determinism in terms of predictability by science. I think this is a mistake for several reasons; for instance, quantum mechanics, though indeterministic, offers the best predictions for certain phenomena (see also Goldman [1970: 171]). 20
  22. 22. long as those laws were deterministic. Given that our choices and actions are events in the universe, it would be able to predict them as well.62 This idea is troubling not only because it suggests our future actions could be known before they happened, but also because it threatens our sense of individuality and control. We want to believe we know ourselves (at least in some ways) better than anyone else could. And as Alasdair MacIntyre writes (in reference mainly to psychology and social sciences), “success in explaining and predicting can never be divorced from success in manipulating and controlling” (1957: 241). For instance, the external agents described earlier (such as the evil neurosurgeon) could control and coerce us much more effectively if they could predict how we will act. Anti- utopian novels like Brave New World (and Walden Two if you see it as anti-utopian) scare us because they present the possibility that humans can be controlled in predictable ways. The contentment of the people in the stories does not outweigh our sense that they lack freedom.63 However, there are several reasons to distinguish determinism from predictability. First of all, indeterminism does not entail lack of predictability. If the best available theory in a particular domain invokes probabilistic causation, as in quantum mechanics, it does so because the probabilities involved offer the best predictions. Randomness may be appropriately contrasted with predictability, but as we have seen, indeterminism need not mean randomness. If the best theories of human behavior turn out to be probabilistic, that might limit the precision of some predictions, but it would not mean we were unpredictable. Furthermore, unpredictability of the sort suggested by randomness seems inimical to free will to the extent it entails that agents cannot predict or control their own behavior (this is one reason some compatibilists argue determinism is necessary for free will). As we will see, free will requires that agents can know how their motivations are related to their actions, and this requires some degree of self- prediction. What we really seem to want is that other agents—or even conceivable agents like Laplace’s Demon—cannot predict our behavior as well as, or better than, we can ourselves (as I will discuss below, we may have what we want, regardless of whether determinism is true). In any case, determinism may not in fact entail predictability. First of all, determinism certainly does not entail predictability in practice. Many systems, especially the human brain, are too complex to predict with complete accuracy given even the most optimistic hopes for future science and technology. However, there are also reasons to believe determinism does not entail predictability in principle. First, there is the problem that, despite the truth of determinism, any predictor that is part of the universe it is describing will be unable to predict its own future behavior perfectly.64 There are also two speculative scientific theories that suggest that determinism does not entail predictability.65 62 This view suggests a connection between causal determinism, theological determinism (the threat of God’s foreknowledge of our actions), and logical determinism (the threat that propositions about our actions must be true or false timelessly and so the actions they describe cannot be other than they are). 63 It should be noted that, while these novels do illustrate certain threats to our free will, it is not because they present a universe in which determinism holds (or indeterminism for that matter). 64 Perhaps this is irrelevant if we are worried only about others predicting our behavior, but it may be relevant if we are worried that determinism undermines the rationale for deliberation. See Dennett (1984a, chapter 5). 65 Alvin Goldman (1970, chapter 6) also offers some philosophical reasons to “carefully distinguish between determinism and predictability” (171). His admonition supports my point, though his arguments are directed specifically to undermine the claim made by “anti-predictionists” that human actions are not determined, because if they were, they would be predictable, and they are not predictable. Most of Goldman’s arguments are aimed at 21
  23. 23. First, some interpretations of nonlinear dynamics (chaos theory) suggest that certain systems, though deterministic, may nonetheless be unpredictable in principle—i.e. not simply because we lack some relevant information. John Dupre writes of such a system: “no measurements to a finite degree of precision of parameters at a time would suffice to predict its state at a future time. Many physical systems, for example those in meteorology, are hypothesized to obey such functions, and thus to be both deterministic and in principle unpredictable.”66 The basic idea is that unmeasurable differences lead to measurable differences. Of course, even if these interpretations turn out to be unfounded and deterministic but complex events, such as human actions, are predictable in principle, chaos theory still suggests that these events, though deterministic, are not predictable in the way imagined within the Newtonian mindset of mechanical systems. The more complex the system, the more difficult it is to take into account all the minute factors that can make significant differences. Given the complexity of our brains alone and their sensitivity to external events, predicting our actions will never be like predicting eclipses, the motions of the planets, or the arc of a cannonball.67 A second theory that suggests a disconnect between determinism and predictability involves a particular interpretation of quantum mechanics: Bohm’s theory. Contrary to the “orthodox” (realist) interpretation that suggests subatomic particles really exist in indeterminate states, Bohm’s theory suggests that a particle is assigned a probability of having a particular position, but it actually has a determinate position and that position is deterministically caused by earlier states. That is, the theory suggests both ontological determinism and unpredictability. This unpredictability is not due to our epistemological limitations; it is due to the nature of the phenomena being measured. The theory entails that another system (e.g. a measuring device or human observer) cannot access the (determinate) position of the particle; the information is limited to probabilities so that predictions are imprecise just as they are under the “orthodox” interpretation. Barry Loewer suggests that if “some of these uncertainties infect an agent’s actions [then] even on the deterministic Bohmian theory it would sometimes be impossible to predict with certainty an agent’s choices.”68 These interpretations of chaos theory and quantum mechanics indicate that it is “a mistake to assume that, in a deterministic universe, even Laplace’s demon could predict the evolution of events.”69 They equally indicate that the agent himself would be limited in his ability to predict (some of) his own actions, at least at the level of precision associated with a Laplacian demon. In fact, however, we don’t require that level of precision in predicting our own behavior. We just want to be able to know how we are likely to act given our beliefs and refuting the claim that human actions are not—or could not be—predictable. I am more concerned with showing that determinism (not just of human actions) does not entail predictability. 66 Dupre (1993: 175). See also references in Kane (1996: 231, note 5) and Juarrerro (1999). 67 Furthermore, predictions made about increasingly distant times in the future will require increasingly more information. For instance, a prediction about any event 10 years from now would require the predictor to have information about the state of a sphere 10 light years in diameter (thanks to David Sanford for this point). Unless the predictor could calculate instantaneously (like God perhaps), the information would become irrelevant by the time any predictions could be made. 68 Loewer (1996: 111, note 24); see also p. 99. 69 Dupre (1993: 3). 22
  24. 24. desires in a particular situation. And we want our predictions about our own actions to be, in general, more accurate and extensive than the predictions of others are. There is good reason to believe that this is—and will remain—true, regardless of whether or not we are deterministic systems. This is because humans are conscious creatures; we directly experience mental states that (in some cases) are the causes of our actions. And no one else can directly experience our mental states. As Owen Flanagan puts it: “The structure of the nervous system accounts for the happy fact that we each have our own, and only our own, experiences” (1992: 107). Despite the general acceptance that our conscious mental states are directly related to (e.g. supervene on, are identical to) physical states of our bodies, an observer of those physical states is unlikely to be able to make certain predictions about us. An observer of another agent’s brain states, for instance, will have to make connections and calculations about those states that the agent, being directly hooked up to them, can perceive directly and immediately. The agent has a different type of access to and information about some of his own mental states than can be obtained with information about the physical states of the agent’s brain and body.70 If such first- personal information about conscious states is, in certain cases, crucial for the agent to know what he is likely to do, then he should be able to know what he will do in a way that an observer cannot.71 The significance of this discrepancy of knowledge between subject and observer would be challenged, however, if our access to our conscious mental states does not offer reliable information about how we will act. Indeed, certain scientific theories and certain reductive theories of mind suggest that our knowledge of our own mental states does not map onto the actual causes of our behavior and does not provide reliable information about our actions. They suggest, in fact, that knowledge of the physical states that underlie our conscious states and of the environmental conditions in which the agent behaves are, in all cases, more accurate and reliable for predicting behavior than the conscious states themselves. But it is important to remember that these theories (which I will discuss in Chapter 3 and the Epilogue) do not rely on determinism to be threatening. I have not suggested that predictability is unrelated to free will. It is, most obviously, because we do not want to be predictable in a way that makes us controllable by other agents. Instead, I have suggested that predictability is not necessarily entailed by determinism and that indeterminism does not entail unpredictability. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that to any extent a system is unpredictable (due to deterministic chaos or Bohmian theory or due to indeterministic factors), everyone will be equally “in the dark.” So, the agent herself will be unable to predict anything about her future mental states or actions that is also unknowable to 70 This idea is based on so-called perspectivalist views that suggest there is a difference between information gained through conscious experiences and information gained through observation of the physical states underlying such experiences (e.g. Jackson’s knowledge argument [1986]). 71 This argument, too quickly sketched here, will be developed further in the Epilogue. The idea, put simply, is that the first-person perspective offers a mode of presentation of information that is different than the third-person perspective. This difference in information available from different perspectives may entail a discrepancy in the ability to make predictions based on such information. If so, then the conscious agent may be able to make predictions about the relations between his conscious mental states and his actions that no one else can make as accurately (or at least as quickly), even if the agent’s brain is a deterministic system, and hence even if the relations between brain states could be predicted by Laplace’s demon or a well-informed neuroscientist. (I’ll ignore God, though it is an interesting question to consider whether God can know—experience—what we experience in the way we do; if so, it raises the interesting theological problem of God experiencing the desire to rape or plunder!). 23
  25. 25. any observer.72 Especially when we recognize the importance to free will of knowing one’s own motivational states, the attraction of any unpredictability offered by indeterminism fades (especially since probabilistic theories may offer the best predictions of our behavior). If we want to be unpredictable to other agents, we should not look to indeterminism. Instead, we should look, first, to the fact that we are complex enough that we will remain unpredictable in practice despite any advances in the human sciences and, second, to the fact that we are conscious creatures—the way we are hooked up to ourselves likely offers us more knowledge about (some aspects of) ourselves than can be had by others. In any case, we have seen that determinism does not necessarily entail predictability; to the extent predictability threatens free will, it is not because it is part of the “monster of determinism.” D. Reductionism and Epiphenomenalism One of the ways incompatibilists make it seem as if the laws of nature constrain us (as described in subsection A above) is by suggesting that these laws are the laws of physics, and since we are physical systems, our actions are dictated by the history and laws of the physical universe. Peter van Inwagen, for instance, defines determinism in terms of “the state of the entire physical world” and “the laws of physics.”73 Hence, incompatibilists subtly import reductionism into their arguments for the incompatibility of free will and determinism by suggesting that all causal interactions could be explained by reference to the laws of physics alone. Not only do past events sufficiently cause future events, but lower-level events (e.g. what physics describes) determine higher-level events (e.g. our conscious experiences). Incompatibilists often go on to describe reductionism in a way that suggests epiphenomenalism, the idea that our conscious deliberations do not do any causal work since all the action, so to speak, happens at the lower level. It then looks as though it is a particular implication of causal determinism that our thoughts and deliberations are epiphenomenal; they are determined by mechanistic brain events that we cannot consciously influence and these are ultimately determined by external events over which we have no control.74 As Richard Swinburne puts it, “an agent would not be morally responsible at all if he was caused necessarily, predetermined, to try to do what he did, by his brain state, and that in turn by some prior state, until we come to causes outside the agent’s body and ultimately to causes long before his 72 This point will arise again when I discuss Kane’s libertarianism. The indeterminism required by his theory suggests that an agent will not know what she decides until she decides: “the agents will settle the issue of which is wanted more by deciding” (1996: 133). 73 van Inwagen (1975: 47), my italics. I do not think this description invalidates his argument for incompatibilism (which I will discuss below), but it does make it look as if the physical states and laws of the universe control everything else, including us. 74 Norman Malcolm (1968) and Charles Taylor (1971) argue that the teleological concepts required for free will are incompatible with mechanism, and they suggest that mechanism is “a special application of physical determinism” (Malcolm, p. 127). I agree will the first claim but disagree with the second (see Epilogue). 24