On almost all formulations of the Consequence Argument (CA), the argument uses both a “grounding principle” and a “transfer principle”. Much attention has been given to the latter, taken as a logical principle. But I want to continue talking about the natural-language CA, which I take to be an argument about the metaphysical relationship between (uninterrupted) causal determination and free action, and not some distinct argument about the validity of certain rules of inference. Looking at these two principles in metaphysical terms, determination provides the “transfer mechanism” (or, better) “preservation mechanism” and a timeslice of the universe at some time in the remote past provides the “ground”. Recent arguments (see Joe Campbell) seem to suggest that neither the ground nor the preservation mechanism is sufficient to undermine free will on its own. In reaction, the emerging standard line on CA seems to be that the remote past (the ground) and the deterministic laws (preservation mechanism) work together to undermine our free will (e.g. Shabo, Bailey). On this line, if CA is sound, the deterministic laws are menacing because they do not allow us to escape from some freedom-undermining ground in our pre-personal past.
Notably, CA’s ground-plus-preservation structure is also visible in the diagnostic version of Pereboom’s Four-Case Argument. Pereboom claims that the upshot of his manipulation stories is that “an agent cannot be responsible for decisions that are produced by a deterministic process that traces back to causal factors beyond her control—decisions that are alien-deterministic events” (2001: 126). Here, “alien” points to the ground; “deterministic process” points to the preservation mechanism. Pereboom claims that the causal source of the manipulation victim’s action is “alien” and “beyond his control” because it is the result of progamming originally implanted by neuroscientists--and our own "pre-programming" is no different. Now, isn't this just another way of saying that the manipulation victim suffers from freedom-undermining “constitutive luck”? If so, it seems that Pereboom’s argument concludes (like CA) that uninterrupted causal determination is menacing because it does not allow a person to overcome the freedom-undermining features of his pre-personal past, i.e. his problem with constitutive luck.
But the Basic Argument, too, rests upon a transfer principle...doesn’t it?
There are multiple ways to summarize the Basic Argument. On some, it seems that we have inherited our current lack of freedom from our past: We are not free now because we didn’t bring ourselves into the world ex nihilo at our first moment of existence. On this reading, it seems that (just as in CA and Pereboom’s manipulation argument) the ground of non-freedom doesn’t get the whole metaphysical job done. It seems that there must also be some diachronic preservation mechanism that prevents us from overcoming our problematic origin over time.
But let’s look at the metaphysical picture painted by the Basic Argument. The upshot of the argument appears to be that there is a necessary “starting-point condition” for free action:
“In order for one to be truly or ultimately responsible for how one is in such a way that one can be truly responsible for what one does, something impossible has to be true: there has to be, and cannot be, a starting point in the series of acts of bringing it about that one has a certain nature; a starting point that constitutes an act of ultimate self-origination.” (Galen Strawson 1998)
Necessarily, the starting-point condition cannot be satisfied, as it can only be satisfied by someone who self-creates ex nihilo. From the first moment I existed, I have been unable to self-create from nothing, since I’ve been something at every moment of time since then. Prior to my creation, there was nothing of me. But, as there was no self at any point prior to my creation, there was no self to do any creating. In sum, there’s no point in time in one's past, present, or future at which she could satisfy the starting-point condition, and the nature of the causal links in between one's states has nothing at all to do with this. We might say that the ground of non-freedom picked out by the Basic Argument is so sweeping that it does all the preserving of non-freedom that needs doing; an independent preservation mechanism is not required.
As has come up in earlier threads, the counterexample strategy usually used by incompossibilists to undercut the Basic Argument depends upon the intuition that indetermination "helps" certain agents act freely. The idea, it seems, is that indetermination introduces a freedom-relevant starting-point or ground of free action. But if this intuition is irrational (and there are arguments other than the Basic Argument to suggest that it is!), then the counterexample strategy fails. If the counterexample strategy fails, all substantive differences between the Consequence Argument, the Manipulation Argument, and the Basic Argument disapear. None is an argument for incompatibilism, but each pinpoints the same basic problem: the problem of constitutive luck. The purported "problem of determination" was born from a proposed solution to the problem of constitutive luck, and the problem disappears if the proposed solution fails.
As I see things, Determination has served philosophers as a neutral guide. She patiently holds our hands and leads us back to our beginnings and reveals to us the basic problem that we face: our shockinginly difficult problem with constitutive luck. We don’t like what Determination helps us to see, of course--but doesn't it seem that incompatibilists are just trying to shoot the messenger?