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Two Libertarian Theories: or Why Event-causal Libertarians Should Prefer My Daring Libertarian View to Robert Kane's View

  • Alfred R. Mele (a1)

Abstract

Libertarianism about free will is the conjunction of two theses: the existence of free will is incompatible with the truth of determinism, and at least some human beings sometimes exercise free will (or act freely, for short). 1 Some libertarian views feature agent causation, others maintain that free actions are uncaused, and yet others – event-causal libertarian views – reject all views of these two kinds and appeal to indeterministic causation by events and states. 2 This article explores the relative merits of two different views of this third kind. One is Robert Kane's prominent view, and the other is the ‘daring libertarian’ view that I floated in Free Will and Luck. 3 (I labeled the view ‘daring’ to distinguish it from a more modest libertarian view that I floated a decade earlier.) 4 I say ‘floated’ because I am not a libertarian. I do not endorse incompatibilism; instead, I am agnostic about it. But if I were a libertarian, I would embrace my daring libertarian view (or DLV, for short). This article's thesis is that event-causal libertarians should prefer DLV to Kane's ‘dual or multiple efforts’ view. 5

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1 Determinism is ‘the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future’ ( van Inwagen, Peter, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 3. There are more detailed definitions of determinism in the literature, but this one suffices for my purposes.

2 For overviews of the first two kinds of view, see Timothy O'Connor, ‘Agent-Causal Theories of Freedom’, in Kane, R., ed., The Oxford Handbook of Free Will 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 309–28 and Thomas Pink, ‘Freedom and Action without Causation: Noncausal Theories of Freedom and Purposive Agency’ in R. Kane, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Free Will 2nd ed., 349–65.

3 See Kane, Robert, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism’, Journal of Philosophy 96 (1999), 217–40, ‘Rethinking Free Will: New Perspectives on an Ancient Problem’, in R. Kane, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Free Will 2nd ed., 381–404, New Arguments in Debates on Libertarian Free Will: Responses to Contributors’, in Palmer, D., ed., Libertarian Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 179214 , and Mele, Alfred, Free Will and Luck (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

4 Mele, Alfred, Autonomous Agents (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

5 See Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 209. The details of ‘daring libertarianism’ appear in my presentation of what I call ‘daring soft libertarianism’ (see Free Will and Luck, ch. 5). A soft libertarian is open to compatibilism in a certain connection, asserting that ‘free action and moral responsibility [may be] compatible with determinism but … the falsity of determinism is required for … more desirable species of’ these things (95). A daring libertarian maintains that there are free actions of such a kind that it is at no time determined that the action will occur. A daring soft libertarian endorses both of these theses. Eventually, I make the obvious point that the softness – that is, the openness to compatibilism – can simply be subtracted from daring soft libertarianism (that is, without modifying anything else), yielding what I call ‘daring libertarianism’ (202–3).

6 Kane, Robert, ‘Three Freedoms, Free Will, and Self-Formation: A Reply to Levy and Other Critics’, in Trakakis, N. and Cohen, D., eds, Essays on Free Will and Moral Responsibility (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), 142.

7 Kane, ‘Three Freedoms’, 143. The brackets are present in the quoted text. On senses 2 and 3, also see Kane, Robert, The Significance of Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 77—78.

8 Kane, ‘Three Freedoms’, 143.

9 See Mele, Free Will and Luck, 6.

10 For complications introduced by Frankfurt-style cases and an associated notion of basically* free action, see Mele, Free Will and Luck, 115–17, 203–5. A comment on time t is in order here. Some actions take more time than others to perform. In the case of a nonmomentary action A performed at t in W, the possible worlds at issue have the same laws of nature as W and they have the same past as W up to a moment at which the agent's conduct first diverges from his A-ing. This initial divergence can happen at a moment at which the agent is A-ing in W or at the moment at which his A-ing begins in W (see Mele, Free Will and Luck, 15–16).

11 See Mele, Free Will and Luck, 8–9, 54–55, 114, 132–33.

12 See Mele, Free Will and Luck, ch. 5.

13 See Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, ‘Rethinking Free Will’, and ‘New Arguments’.

14 Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 233.

15 Mele, Free Will and Luck, 75–76.

16 See Kane ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’; also see Kane, , ‘On Free Will, Responsibility and Indeterminism: Responses to Clarke, Haji, and Mele’, Philosophical Explorations 2 (1999), 105–21, Responses to Bernard Berofsky, John Martin Fischer, and Galen Strawson’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 60 (2000), 157–67, Some Neglected Pathways in the Free Will Labyrinth,’ in Kane, R., ed., The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 406–37, and ‘Rethinking Free Will’. Readers who balk at the thought that an agent may try to choose to A (Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 231, 233–34, ‘Rethinking Free Will’, 391–92, ‘New Arguments’, 193–202, 208–9) may prefer to think in terms of an agent's trying to bring it about that he chooses to A.

17 See Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 231–40. The quotation is from page 233.

18 For the challenge, see Mele, Free Will and Luck, ch. 3.

19 Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 227.

20 Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 227.

21 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 207–8.

22 Ibid., 208.

23 Ibid., 208.

24 Alfred Mele, ‘Kane, Luck, and Control: Trying to Get by Without Too Much Effort’, in D. Palmer, ed. Libertarian Free Will, 43.

25 See Kane, ‘Rethinking Free Will’, 391–92; ‘New Arguments’, 193–202, 208–9.

26 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 197.

27 Ibid., 208.

28 Even if actual people never consciously represent the efforts at issue in this way, Kane can claim that they unconsciously do so.

29 Mele, Free Will and Luck, 73–74.

30 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 208; italics altered.

31 For a critical discussion of an objection to a version of LD, see Mele, Alfred, ‘Is What You Decide Ever up to You?’ in Haji, I. and Caouette, J., eds, Free Will and Moral Responsibility. (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013), 8495 .

32 The quotation is from Mele, Free Will and Luck, 66.

33 The assertion that Cathy is morally responsible for the fact that she shocked the gray kitten rather than the white kitten – that contrastive fact – should be distinguished from the assertion that Cathy is morally responsible for the fact that she shocked the gray kitten rather than for the fact that she shocked the white kitten.

34 Directly free actions are to be distinguished from, for example, free actions of Kane's type 2 that are deterministically caused by their proximal causes. On a typical libertarian view, all directly free actions are basically free.

35 See Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 197.

36 For discussion of the evidential issue, see Mele, Alfred, ‘Libertarianism and Human Agency’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 87 (2013), 7292 .

37 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 202.

38 Ibid., 185.

39 Ibid., 207.

40 Here, taking my lead from Kane, I do not treat ‘voluntary’ as entailing ‘basically free’.

41 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 207.

42 On DLV, an analogue of a basically free choice is possible in some Frankfurt-style cases. See note 10 for references.

43 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 207.

44 On prospective choices as goals, see Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 193–94.

45 A novice may suggest that Kane can dramatically improve his view by claiming that one collection of reasons or the other prevails before the choice is made. Imagine a scenario in which Bob's effort to choose to cheat has the result that at 200 milliseconds (ms) before t it is determined that he will choose at t to cheat. Imagine also that in another possible world with the same laws of nature and the same past up to t-200 ms, Bob's effort to choose to do the right thing has the result that at t-200 ms it is determined that he will choose at t to toss the coin straightaway. The problem of present luck has not disappeared; it has been moved back 200 ms.

46 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 202.

47 I am grateful to Helen Beebee for recommending that I consider this reply.

48 Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 227.

49 See McCann, Hugh, ‘Intrinsic IntentionalityTheory and Decision 20 (1986), 247–73 and Mele, Alfred, ‘Agency and Mental Action,’ Philosophical Perspectives 11 (1997), 231–49.

50 Kane, ‘New Arguments’, 207.

51 Also see Kane's table-shattering example: ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 227, ‘New Arguments’, 194, 200.

52 See Mele, Free Will and Luck, 111–34.

53 Ibid., 124–25.

54 See Mele, Free Will and Luck, 111–34.

55 It merits mention that, in a range of typical cases, in deciding to A an agent decides against some alternative course of action. For example, in deciding to cheat, Bob decides against tossing the coin at noon (for more on this, see Mele, ‘Is What You Decide Ever up to You?’ 93–94).

56 I am not suggesting that some other theory can accomplish this trick.

57 Kane, ‘Responsibility, Luck and Chance’, 233; quoted earlier.

58 This article was made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. Material from this article was presented at Dartmouth College, the University of Manchester, and the Royal Institute of Philosophy. I am grateful to my audiences and Mirja Perez de Calleja for feedback.

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