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Abstract: The past 25 years have witnessed a vigorous discussion of an argument directed against the compatibilist approach to free will and responsibility. This reasoning, variously called the “consequence argument,” the “incompatibility argument,” and the “unavoidability argument,” may be expressed informally as follows: If determinism is true then whatever happens is a consequence of past events and laws over which we have no control and which we are unable to prevent. But whatever is a consequence of what’s beyond our control is not itself under our control. Therefore, if determinism is true then nothing that happens is under our control, including our own actions and thoughts. Instead, everything we do and think, everything that happens to us and within us, is akin to the vibration of a piano string upon being struck, with the past as pianist, and could not be otherwise than it is. While a number of philosophers take this reasoning to crush the prospects of compatibilism, others challenge its assumption that unavoidability “transfers” from sufficient condition to necessary condition or from cause to effect. The ensuing debate has occasionally been vitriolic— Hume once remarked that the free will issue is “the most contentious question of metaphysics, the most contentious science”—yet undeniably fruitful in generating more detailed examinations of ability and practical freedom. Whether we incline towards compatibilism or 2 incompatibilism, this latter development is likely to be of lasting value. As a compatibilist, I believe that the consequence argument fails to prove incompatibilism, and here I will develop criticisms of it that, for the most part, are already in the existing literature. Although a short essay cannot provide the theoretical account of practical freedom needed to underpin and justify this compatibilist critique, it will clarify the tasks that lie ahead
Abstract: Peter van Inwagen has developed two highly influential strategies for establishing incompatibilism about causal determinism and moral responsibility. These have come to be known as ‘the Direct Argument’ and ‘the Indirect Argument,’ respectively. In recent years, the two arguments have attracted closely related criticisms. In each case, it is claimed, the argument does not provide a fully general defense of the incompatibilist’s conclusion. While the critics are right to notice these arguments’ limitations, they have not made it clear what the problem with the arguments is supposed to be. I suggest three possibilities, arguing that none proves to be well founded. I conclude that the scope of these arguments is fully adequate for their defenders’ purposes.
Abstract: In a book I once wrote about free will, I contended that the best and most important argument for the incompatibility of free will and determinism was “the Consequence Argument.” I gave the following brief sketch of the Consequence Argument as a prelude to several more careful and detailed statements of the argument: If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.[i] The reading that follows this one, Reading 41, “The Mystery of Metaphysical Freedom,” contains a statement of the Consequence Argument. The argument is contained in the paragraph (p. xxx) that starts, “As Carl Ginet has said . . . .” But, as you will see if you compare the “brief sketch” with that paragraph, “The Mystery of Metaphysical Freedom” presents the Consequence Argument in a disguise that is not easy to penetrate. Some teachers of philosophy who have used the first edition of Metaphysics: The Big Questions as a textbook have asked for a more straightforward statement of the Consequence Argument (since much of the recent discussion of the question of the compatibility of free will and determinism in the philosophical literature has taken the form of criticisms of the Consequence Argument that are rather hard to apply to the argument in the form in which it is presented in Reading 41). This essay is an attempt to meet this request