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Civil War American History: Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. A Metaphysics for Freedom Helen Steward Abstract A Metaphysics for Freedom outlines the case for the view that agency itself—and not merely the special, distinctively human variety of it—is incompatible with determinism. More A Metaphysics for Freedom outlines the case for the view that agency itself—and not merely the special, distinctively human variety of it—is incompatible with determinism. Bibliographic Information Print publication date: Authors Affiliations are at time of print publication.

Print Save Cite Email Share. Subscriber Login Email Address. Provided our choice is not wholly determined by prior factors, it is free and under our control simply in virtue of being ours. Non-causal views have failed to garner wide support among libertarians since, for many, self- determination seems to be an essentially causal notion cf. Most libertarians endorse an event-causal or agent-causal account of sourcehood. Imagine a would-be accomplice of an assassin believes that his dropping his cigarette is the signal for the assassin to shoot his intended victim and he desires to drop his cigarette and yet this belief and desire so unnerve him that he accidentally drops his cigarette.

While the event of dropping the cigarette is caused by a relevant desire and belief it does not seem to be self-determined and perhaps is not even an action [cf. To fully spell out this account, event-causal libertarians must specify which mental states and events are apt cf. Brand —which mental states and events are the springs of self-determined actions—and what nondeviance consists in cf.

We note that this has proven very difficult, enough so that some take the problem to spell doom for event-causal theories of action. See Stout for a brisk survey of discussions of this topic. While historically many have thought that nondeterministic causation is impossible Hobbes [], []; Hume [], [] , with the advent of quantum physics and, from a very different direction, an influential essay by G. Anscombe , it is now widely assumed that nondeterministic or probabilistic causation is possible. There are two importantly different ways to understand nondeterministic causation: Given that event-causal libertarians maintain that self-determined actions, and thus free actions, must be caused, they are committed to the probability of causation model of nondeterministic causation cf.

We note that Balaguer [] is skeptical of the above distinction, and it is thus unclear whether he should best be classified as a non-causal or event-causal libertarian though see Balaguer [] for evidence that it is best to treat him as a non-causalist. Agent-casual libertarians contend that the event-causal picture fails to capture self-determination, for it fails to accord the agent with a power to settle what she does. Pereboom offers a forceful statement of this worry:.

On an event-causal libertarian picture, the relevant causal conditions antecedent to the decision, i. In fact, because no occurrence of antecedent events settles whether the decision will occur, and only antecedent events are causally relevant, nothing settles whether the decision will occur. Pereboom , 32; cf. But what more must be added?

Agent-causal libertarians maintain that self-determination requires that the agent herself play a causal role over and above the causal role played by her reasons. But all agent-causal libertarians insist that exercises of the power of self-determination do not reduce to nondeterministic causation by apt mental states: Agent-causal libertarianism seems to capture an aspect of self-determination that neither the above compatibilists accounts nor event-causal libertarian accounts capture.

Some compatibilists even accept this and try to incorporate agent-causation into a compatibilist understanding of free will. See Markosian , ; Nelkin These accounts reduce the causal role of the self to states and events to which the agent is not identical even if he is identified with them. But how can self -determination of my actions wholly reduce to determination of my actions by things other than the self?

Richard Taylor nicely expresses this intuition: Despite its powerful intuitive pull for some, many have argued that agent-causal libertarianism is obscure or even incoherent. With respect to the first worry, it is widely assumed that the only or at least best way to understand reasons-explanation and motivational influence is within a causal account of reasons, where reasons cause our actions Davidson ; Mele For further discussion see the entry on incompatibilist nondeterministic theories of free will.

Acting For The Agency

Finally, we note that some recent philosophers have questioned the presumed difference between event- and agent-causation by arguing that all causation is object or substance causation. Most philosophers theorizing about free will take themselves to be attempting to analyze a near-universal power of mature human beings.

Israel highlights a number of such skeptics in the early modern period. In this section, we summarize the main lines of argument both for and against the reality of human freedom of will.

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There are both a priori and empirical arguments against free will See the entry on skepticism about moral responsibility. Several of these start with an argument that free will is incompatible with causal determinism, which we will not rehearse here. Instead, we focus on arguments that human beings lack free will, against the background assumption that freedom and causal determinism are incompatible. The most radical a priori argument is that free will is not merely contingently absent but is impossible.

In recent decades, this argument is most associated with Galen Strawson , ch. And so on, ad infinitum. Free choice requires an impossible infinite regress of choices to be the way one is in making choices. Freedom is principally a feature of our actions, and only derivatively of our characters from which such actions spring. The task of the theorist is to show how one is in rational, reflective control of the choices one makes, consistent with there being no freedom-negating conditions.

Clarke , —76 argues that an effective reply may be made by indeterminists, and, in particular, by nondeterministic agent-causal theorists. For discussion of the ways that nature, nurture, and contingent circumstances shape our behavior and raise deep issues concerning the extent of our freedom and responsibility, see Levy and Russell , chs. A second family of arguments against free will contend that, in one way or another, nondeterministic theories of freedom entail either that agents lack control over their choices or that the choices cannot be adequately explained.

For statements of such arguments, see van Inwagen , ch. We note that some philosophers advance such arguments not as parts of a general case against free will, but merely as showing the inadequacy of specific accounts of free will [see, e. Such terms have been imported from other contexts and have come to function as quasi-technical, unanalyzed concepts in these debates, and it is perhaps more helpful to avoid such proxies and to conduct the debates directly in terms of the metaphysical notion of control and epistemic notion of explanation. Where the arguments question whether an undetermined agent can exercise appropriate control over the choice he makes, proponents of nondeterministic theories often reply that control is not exercised prior to, but at the time of the choice—in the very act of bringing it about see, e.

We now consider empirical arguments against human freedom. Some of these stem from the physical sciences while making assumptions concerning the way physical phenomena fix psychological phenomena and others from neuroscience and psychology. It used to be common for philosophers to argue that there is empirical reason to believe that the world in general is causally determined, and since human beings are parts of the world, they are too.

While quantum mechanics has proven spectacularly successful as a framework for making precise and accurate predictions of certain observable phenomena, its implications for the causal structure of reality is still not well understood, and there are competing indeterministic and deterministic interpretations.

See the entry on quantum mechanics for detailed discussion. But this idea, once common, is now being challenged empirically, even at the level of basic biology. Furthermore, the social, biological, and medical sciences, too, are rife with merely statistical generalizations. Plainly, the jury is out on all these inter-theoretic questions.

But that is just a way to say that current science does not decisively support the idea that everything we do is pre-determined by the past, and ultimately by the distant past, wholly out of our control. For discussion, see Balaguer , Koch , Roskies , Ellis Now some of the a priori no-free-will arguments above center on nondeterministic theories according to which there are objective antecedent probabilities associated with each possible choice outcome.

Why objective probabilities of this kind might present special problems beyond those posed by the absence of determinism has been insufficiently explored to date. But one philosopher who argues that there is reason to hold that our actions, if undetermined, are governed by objective probabilities and that this fact calls into question whether we act freely is Derk Pereboom , ch.

Pereboom notes that our best physical theories indicate that statistical laws govern isolated, small-scale physical events, and he infers from the thesis that human beings are wholly physically composed that such statistical laws will also govern all the physical components of human actions. Finally, Pereboom maintains that agent-causal libertarianism offers the correct analysis of free will.

The proposal that agent-caused free choices do not diverge from what the statistical laws predict for the physical components of our actions would run so sharply counter to what we would expect as to make it incredible. Others see support for free will skepticism from specific findings and theories in the human sciences. They point to evidence that we can be unconsciously influenced in the choices we make by a range of factors, including ones that are not motivationally relevant; that we can come to believe that we chose to initiate a behavior that in fact was artificially induced; that people subject to certain neurological disorders will sometimes engage in purposive behavior while sincerely believing that they are not directing them.

Finally, a great deal of attention has been given to the work of neuroscientist Benjamin Libet If one is a compatibilist, then a case for the reality of free will requires evidence for our being effective agents who for the most part are aware of what we do and why we are doing it. If one is an incompatibilist, then the case requires in addition evidence for causal indeterminism, occurring in the right locations in the process leading from deliberation to action.

Instead, incompatibilists usually give one of the following two bases for rational belief in freedom both of which can be given by compatibilists, too. First, philosophers have long claimed that we have introspective evidence of freedom in our experience of action, or perhaps of consciously attended or deliberated action. Augustine and Scotus, discussed earlier, are two examples among many. In recent years, philosophers have been more carefully scrutinizing the experience of agency and a debate has emerged concerning its contents, and in particular whether it supports an indeterministic theory of human free action.

For discussion, see Deery et al. Most philosophers hold that some beliefs have that status, on pain of our having no justified beliefs whatever. It is controversial, however, just which beliefs do because it is controversial which criteria a belief must satisfy to qualify for that privileged status. Our belief in free will seems to meet these criteria, but whether they are sufficient will be debated. Other philosophers defend a variation on this stance, maintaining instead that belief in the reality of moral responsibility is epistemically basic, and that since moral responsibility entails free will, or so it is claimed, we may infer the reality of free will see, e.

A large portion of Western philosophical work on free will has been written within an overarching theological framework, according to which God is the ultimate source, sustainer, and end of all else. Some of these thinkers draw the conclusion that God must be a sufficient, wholly determining cause for everything that happens; all of them suppose that every creaturely act necessarily depends on the explanatorily prior, cooperative activity of God. It is also commonly presumed by philosophical theists that human beings are free and responsible on pain of attributing evil in the world to God alone, and so impugning His perfect goodness.

Hence, those who believe that God is omni-determining typically are compatibilists with respect to freedom and in this case theological determinism. Edwards [] is a good example. These positions turn on subtle distinctions, which have recently been explored by Freddoso , Kvanvig and McCann , Grant , and Judisch A standard argument for the incompatibility of free will and causal determinism has a close theological analogue.

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. Since God cannot get things wrong, his believing that something will be so entails that it will be so. An excellent discussion of these arguments in tandem and attempts to point to relevant disanalogies between causal determinism and infallible foreknowledge may be found in the introduction to Fischer See also the entry on foreknowledge and free will.

Another issue concerns how knowledge of God, the ultimate Good, would impact human freedom. Many philosophical theologians, especially the medieval Aristotelians, were drawn to the idea that human beings cannot but will that which they take to be an unqualified good. As noted above, Duns Scotus is an exception to this consensus, as were Ockham and Suarez subsequently, but their dissent is limited.

Following Pascal, Murray , argues that a good God would choose to make His existence and character less than certain for human beings, for the sake of preserving their freedom. He will do so, the argument goes, at least for a period of time in which human beings participate in their own character formation.

Free Will (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

See also the other essays in Howard-Snyder and Moser If it is true that God withholds our ability to be certain of his existence for the sake of our freedom, then it is natural to conclude that humans will lack freedom in heaven. And it is anyways common to traditional Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologies to maintain that humans cannot sin in heaven.

Even so, traditional Christian theology at least maintains that human persons in heaven are free. What sort of freedom is in view here, and how does it relate to mundane freedom? Two good recent discussions of these questions are Pawl and Timpe and Tamburro Finally, there is the question of the freedom of God himself. Perfect goodness is an essential, not acquired, attribute of God. God cannot lie or be in any way immoral in His dealings with His creatures appearances notwithstanding. Did we not contemplate immediately above that human freedom would be curtailed by our having an unmistakable awareness of what is in fact the Good?

And yet is it not passing strange to suppose that God should be less than perfectly free? One suggested solution to this puzzle takes as its point of departure the distinction noted in section 2. For human beings or any created persons who owe their existence to factors outside themselves, the only way their acts of will could find their ultimate origin in themselves is for such acts not to be determined by their character and circumstances. For if all my willings were wholly determined, then if we were to trace my causal history back far enough, we would ultimately arrive at external factors that gave rise to me, with my particular genetic dispositions.

My motives at the time would not be the ultimate source of my willings, only the most proximate ones. As is generally the case, things are different on this point in the case of God. As Anselm observed, even if God's character absolutely precludes His performing certain actions in certain contexts, this will not imply that some external factor is in any way a partial origin of His willings and refrainings from willing.

Indeed, this would not be so even if he were determined by character to will everything which He wills. Well, then, might God have willed otherwise in any respect? The majority view in the history of philosophical theology is that He indeed could have. He might have chosen not to create anything at all. And given that He did create, He might have created any number of alternatives to what we observe. But there have been noteworthy thinkers who argued the contrary position, along with others who clearly felt the pull of the contrary position even while resisting it.

The most famous such thinker is Leibniz [] , who argued that God, being both perfectly good and perfectly powerful, cannot fail to will the best possible world. Leibniz insisted that this is consistent with saying that God is able to will otherwise, although his defense of this last claim is notoriously difficult to make out satisfactorily.

A Metaphysics for Freedom

One way this could be is if there is no well-ordering of worlds: Another way this could be is if there is no upper limit on goodness of worlds: If such is the case, one might argue, it is reasonable for God to arbitrarily choose which world to create from among those worlds exceeding some threshold value of overall goodness. However, William Rowe has countered that the thesis that there is no upper limit on goodness of worlds has a very different consequence: It seems we can now imagine a morally better Creator: For critical replies to Rowe, see Almeida , ch.

The reason is that there is no plausible account of how an absolutely perfect God might have a resistible motivation—one consideration among other, competing considerations—for creating something rather than nothing. It obviously cannot have to do with any sort of utility, for example. Perfect goodness will naturally communicate itself outwardly; God who is perfect goodness will naturally create, generating a dependent reality that imperfectly reflects that goodness. Wainwright discusses a somewhat similar line of thought in the Puritan thinker Jonathan Edwards.

Alexander Pruss , however, raises substantial grounds for doubt concerning this line of thought. Major Historical Contributions 1. The Nature of Free Will 2. Do We Have Free Will? While it is intelligible to ask whether a man willed to do what he did, it is incoherent to ask whether a man willed to will what he did: While keeping this controversy about the nature of moral responsibility firmly in mind see the entry on moral responsibility for a more detailed discussion of these issues , we think it is fair to say that the most commonly assumed understanding of moral responsibility in the historical and contemporary discussion of the problem of free will is moral responsibility as accountability in something like the following sense: As we saw above, classical compatibilists Hobbes [], []; Locke []; Hume [], []; Edwards []; Moore ; Schlick ; Ayer sought to analyze the freedom to do otherwise in terms of a simple conditional analysis of ability: One might be tempted to think that there is an easy fix along the following lines: Sourcehood Accounts Some have tried to avoid these lingering problems for compatibilists by arguing that the freedom to do otherwise is not required for free will or moral responsibility.

Here is a representative Frankfurt-style case: Pereboom offers a forceful statement of this worry: Theological Wrinkles A large portion of Western philosophical work on free will has been written within an overarching theological framework, according to which God is the ultimate source, sustainer, and end of all else. Bibliography Adams, Robert, Oxford University Press, 51— Brigham Young University Press.

Causality and Determination , New York: Bramhall, John, [] Cambridge University Press, 1— James Stacey Taylor, New York: Selected Essays , London: Free Will and Consciousness: Keith Lehrer, New York: Open Court, Clarke, Randolph, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will , Oxford: Routledge and Kagan Press. Meditations on First Philosophy , in Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings , eds.

Cambridge University Press, 73— Principles of Philosophy , in Descartes: Cambridge University Press, — Human Ends and Human Actions: An Exploration in St. Thomas's Treatment , Milwaukee: University of California Press. An Historical and Philosophical Introduction , London: Duns Scotus, John, Catholic University of America Press. Lectura I 39 , tr. Vos Jaczn et al. Edwards, Jonathan, []. Freedom of Will , ed. Paul Ramsey, New Haven: Ekstrom, Laura Waddell, How Can Physics Underlie the Mind? Fischer, John Martin, New Essays on Moral Psychology , ed.

Ferdinand Schoeman, New York: Cambridge University Press, 81—; reprinted in Fischer 63— Citations refer to reprinted edition. The Metaphysics of Free Will: An Essay on Control , Oxford: Essays on Moral Responsibility , New York: Fischer, John Martin and Mark Ravizza, A Theory of Moral Responsibility , Cambridge: Fischer, John Martin and Neal Tognazzini, Stuttgarter Hegel-Kongress , eds.

Franklin, Christopher Evan, a. Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism , ed. Cornell University Press, 74— But if we have to imagine more complex organisms, any increase in complexity requires fantastically complex algorithms with more and more complex adjustments; then, Steward argues, it makes better sense to adopt an explanatory framework that employs the concept of agency. Because determinists like Honderich, Pinker and Dennett claim that theirs is the only properly scientific perspective, Steward goes on the offensive, examining this claim before rejecting it. She argues that it is mere speculation to say that a complete set of physical laws could even in theory predict all of the future.

There is no scientific reason to either make or to accept that claim; to do so is rather a matter of faith. Steward further argues that physical laws do not dictate, they merely constrain.

Higher level, that is to say, more complex, entities for example, animals or humans , can cause events and processes to happen in the realm of lower level entities for example, chemicals and electric currents in brains. When a dog chases a fly, or when Joe moves in with his girlfriend, the complex agent controlling the action causes a vast sequence of events at the level of particles and electric fields, first in the brain, then in the rest of the physical world.

Reductionist determinists claim that everything can be described at the level of particles and fields, but again that is mere assertion. Rather, current theoretical understanding requires the use of all the various different types and levels of explanation.

Thus, in biology, organisms are treated as hierarchically organised, with the hierarchy ascending from cells, to tissues, to organs, to systems visual, digestive, etc , and finally to agents — that is, to the whole organism. The higher levels are not reducible to the lower levels, and there is scope for top-down causation — that is to say, for agency. Steward is refreshingly secular in her metaphysics. In the past, talk of irreducible complexity was often a prologue to the introduction of religious notions of spirits or other supernatural entities. By contrast, Steward emphasises the affinity between her view of lower and higher levels and the different sciences: The entities and explanations found in the other sciences do not all reduce to physics.

Steward also emphasises the view that biological evolution has produced agency, and free choice is a survival adaptation. In , Steven Pinker dismissed the libertarian point of view as irrelevant because, he claimed, it does not produce a research programme. Prior to reading this book, I had long thought that language is a crucial factor in human freedom. Language enables us to describe future courses of action and outcomes, and so to choose between them.

I now see things somewhat differently. I now see that the freedom that language confers especially on us is a highly developed form of a widespread capacity for free action that we share with many other species.