In alternate possibilities) and defend it from several

In this paper, I discuss whether
the notion of free will is compatible with a deterministic universe. Specifically,
I will introduce the free will problem, reconstruct an incompatibilist
argument, reconstruct Harry Frankfurt’s challenge to the first premise of that
argument (the principle of alternate possibilities) and defend it from several
objections, then reconstruct Frankfurt’s own compatibilist notion of free will
and defend it.

               Though
there is no single strict definition, we may define free will as a person’s ability
to control his or her own actions so as to be accountable for them. The free
will problem asks whether we truly have free will, the answer to which is
important since free will is seen as a necessary condition for the idea of
moral responsibility.

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Determinism is the notion that the
state of the universe, together with the laws of nature, determine every future
state of the universe. Until recently, science seemed to wholly support that
our universe is deterministic. The idea of determinism and the possibility of its
clash with free will lead to claims for and against the compatibility of determinism
and free will. Those who believe that free will can exist in a deterministic
universe are known as compatibilists while others who believe that free will is
incompatible with a deterministic universe are known as incompatibilists. One
incompatibilist argument by Robert Kane is as follows:

1.     
If a person acts of his own free will, then he
could have done otherwise.

2.     
If one can do otherwise, then determinism is
false.

3.     
Therefore, if there is free will, then determinism
is false.

This argument depends on the idea
that free will requires alternate possibilities. This idea, or the first
premise of the argument, is the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP): a
person is morally responsible only if he could have done otherwise. If this argument
is sound, then free will and determinism cannot coexist. However, Harry
Frankfurt challenged the PAP in his paper, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral
Responsibility”, by presenting an example which goes as follows:

Jones decides to kill Smith for his
own reasons. Black wants Jones to kill Smith, so if Jones ever changes his mind
and decides not to kill Smith, Black would intervene to make it so that Jones
ends up killing Smith (the intervention may be via mind control, threats, etc.).
However, Jones killed Smith of his own volition, and Black did not show his involvement
in the matter. Thus, Jones is morally responsible for killing Smith although he
could not have done otherwise. We can formalize this as follows:

1.     
PAP says that a person is morally responsible
only if he could have done otherwise.

2.     
Jones decides to kill Smith, but cannot do
otherwise due to Black.

3.     
Our intuition says that Jones is morally
responsible, but cannot do otherwise

4.     
Therefore, PAP is false.

               Frankfurt
sees this scenario as a counterexample to the PAP. If it is, then free will is
not the same as the freedom to do otherwise, and the incompatibilist argument
above is unsound. It follows that if determinism threatens the notions of free
will and moral responsibility, it is not because it threatens the freedom to
choose otherwise.

               One may
argue that Frankfurt’s example does not disprove the PAP. If someone is defined
to be blameworthy for an action only if it was wrong for the person to do that
action, then in the example, Jones is not blameworthy by the following
argument:

1.     
It is wrong for Jones to kill Smith only if
Jones should have done something else.

2.     
Jones should have done something else only if he
could have.

3.     
Due to Black, Jones could not have done anything
else.

4.     
There is nothing else Jones should have done.

5.     
It was not wrong for Jones to kill Smith.

If this argument is sound and valid,
then the PAP is saved, along with the incompatibilist argument. However, I find
an issue with premise 2, which says that Jones should have done something else only
if he could have. In the example, Jones is already committed to killing Smith,
and knows nothing of Black’s involvement. Thus, Jones thinks he could do
something else when the reality is that he cannot. However, he is still morally
responsible for killing Smith, as the cause of Jones’ action is still Jones’
maliciousness. Then premise 2 should be changed to: ‘Jones should have done
something else only if he thought he could have’ in order to be true.
Accordingly, premise 3 must be changed to: ‘Due to Black, Jones did not think
he could have done anything else’ which is false since Jones does not know
Black is involved unless he decides not to kill Smith. Therefore, this argument
becomes unsound, and Frankfurt’s argument survives.

One may object another way by
saying that in the case that Jones decided not to kill Smith and Black
intervened, Jones had decided to perform one of two actions before an outside agent
forced him into doing the other. Therefore, there was a moment – a flicker of
freedom – in the example in which Jones could have done otherwise, and so the
PAP is not contradicted. Thus, because these flickers of freedom are not
possible in a deterministic world, if there is moral responsibility, then
determinism is false. This argument can be roughly organized as follows:

1.     
In the case that Jones is morally responsible
for killing Smith, there was a moment beforehand in which Jones could have
decided not to kill Smith, although Black would have forced Jones to kill Smith
afterwards.

2.     
If there was a moment when Jones could have done
otherwise, then determinism is false.

3.     
If there is free will and moral responsibility,
then determinism is false.

If this argument holds true, then
Frankfurt’s counterexample does not refute PAP, since PAP is the explanation
for why Jones is morally responsible in the example. While this argument seems
sound, I find it problematic with regards to the case where intuitively, Jones
is not morally responsible for killing Smith – that is, the case where Black
forces Jones to kill Smith. In this case, the flicker of freedom argument suggests
that because there was a moment in which Jones could have chosen otherwise, by
the PAP, Jones is morally responsible for his action. Intuitively, however,
Jones should not be morally responsible for killing Smith if he was coerced
into doing so. Therefore, the argument above is not consistent with our notion
of responsibility.

Yet another objection to Frankfurt’s
example can be made by calling the two outcomes in the example two different
actions. Specifically, one may assert that if there are differences in the causes
of two actions, then that justifies calling the two actions different. By this
condition, Jones killing Smith by his own volition and Jones being coerced to
kill Smith are caused by Jones’ volition and Black respectively, and are thus
different actions. Therefore, they are two alternate possibilities, and the PAP
is saved. The argument, a revised form of Frankfurt’s argument, is outlined as
follows:

1.     
PAP says that a person is morally responsible only
if he could do otherwise

2.     
Jones decides to kill Smith; otherwise, Black
forces Jones to kill Smith by some method.

3.     
However, Jones making Black coerce him into killing
Smith is a different action from killing Smith by his own volition.

4.     
Thus, by the PAP, Jones is morally responsible
for killing Smith.

If this argument holds, then
Frankfurt’s counterexample does not refute the PAP, since the example just
becomes a positive example for the PAP. However, I believe this argument is flawed
for a reason similar to why I found the previous objection flawed. That is, I
do not think the argument seem to hold for the case in which Jones initially
decides not to kill Smith. If Jones decides not to kill Smith and is coerced
into killing Smith, then he made that choice over deciding to kill Smith. Thus,
he could have done otherwise and by the PAP, is accountable for making the
choice he did. This goes against our intuition; If Jones had to be forced into
killing Smith, then Jones should not be held accountable.

While there may be other objections
still, let us now suppose that Frankfurt was successful in showing that the
principle of alternate possibilities is false. Then we need to develop an
understanding of free will that does not involve the ability of a person to do
otherwise. For this regard, Frankfurt presents a new notion of free will in his
paper, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person”. In this paper he first
indicates that moral responsibility requires not that a person has control over
his actions, but instead requires expression of one’s inner desires. He
illustrates this with the following cases:

A man is addicted to heroin, but he
hates his addiction. He tries desperately to overcome his addiction, but
ultimately fails. This man is an unwilling addict. On the other hand, another
man is addicted to heroin, but could not be happier with the fact that he is
addicted. If the addiction were to ever fade, this man would seek to renew it.
This man is a willing addict. Frankfurt seeks a notion of free will such that
the unwilling addict is not morally responsible while the willing addict is
morally responsible.

 In order to do so, Frankfurt takes steps to
identify the nature of free will. He distinguishes freedom of action from
freedom of will, saying that freedom of action is the freedom to do what one
wants to do while freedom of will is the freedom to want what one wants to
want. He then introduces some new terms to describe his notion of free will
more specifically. A first order desire is a desire to perform some action,
like eat an apple. A will is a first order desire that causes one to act upon
that desire. A second order desire is a desire for a particular desire (Ex. desiring
the desire to write papers). A second order volition is a desire that a
particular desire be one’s will (Ex. desiring that the desire to write papers
will bring me to write papers). Frankfurt suggests that second order volition constitutes
free will, while second order desire does not. To distinguish these second
order desires more clearly, Frankfurt uses the following example:

Suppose a doctor that works with
heroin addicts feels like he would be able to better help his patients if he
knew what it felt like to want heroin. Thus, he desires a first order desire.
However, the doctor does not want to actually use heroin. He simply wants to know
what it feels like to want heroin. Then what the doctor has is a second order
desire. This is not what Frankfurt denotes as free will. If the doctor desired
to desire and thereafter use heroin, then he would have a second order
volition. In Frankfurt’s words, “it is in securing the conformity of his will
to his second order volitions, then, that a person exercises freedom of will.”
It is these second order volitions, then, that constitutes free will.

This notion of free will seems to
successfully distinguish between the willing and unwilling addict. The unwilling
addict has a second order desire – the desire to not want heroin. Thus, he does
not exercise free will, and is not morally responsible. On the other hand, the
willing addict has a second order volition – the desire to want and use heroin –
and so exercises free will. Thus he is morally responsible. The same notion can
be used to explain the outcomes for the earlier Jones scenario. When Jones
decides to kill Smith of his own volition, he is acting upon second order
volition, and is thus morally responsible. When Jones is coerced by Black (say,
by mind control) into killing Smith, he wants to not want to kill Smith – a second
order desire, and is thus not morally responsible.

Furthermore, Frankfurt claims that this
conception of free will is perfectly compatible with determinism. According to
him, it is plausible to say that it was causally determined that a person is
free to want what he wants to want. Thereby, it is plausible to say that is was
causally determined for a person to have free will. Therefore, if Frankfurt’s analysis
of free will is accurate, then compatibilism is true.

One might argue against Frankfurt’s
analysis and say that the cases with the willing and unwilling addicts can be
explained by a notion of free will that requires some degree of control over
one’s actions. In the case of the willing addict, it may be conceivable to say
that the addict must have some control over whether he tries to get over his
addiction. If he does not even try using the little control he has, then he is
morally responsible for being addicted. If this is true, then a fundamentally
different conception of free will can be used to distinguish the willing and unwilling
addict cases, and therefore Frankfurt’s notion of free will is inaccurate.

To that I say this. A failed or
doomed to fail attempt to perform an action should be distinguished as a desire
to will rather than an action. This is because an attempt to do something
demonstrates a want for an action to be performed. Since the action is not
performed, the attempt can be identified as a want for the desire for the
action to be performed to become a will – a second order volition. By this
logic, Frankfurt’s conception of free will is conserved in the previous
paragraph.