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Neil, I like your five case argument, and the prediction steps in it. (Although I'm not quite sure what you're trying to argue - perhaps arguing against the manipulation cases as good arguments for incompatibilism - which is confusing for reasons I explained earlier.)

Let me add: I've always felt, rightly or wrongly, that the ability-to-be-predicted, in principle, was something that is basically incompatible with free will. I realize (only now, after 10 years) that some (prominent) philosophers do not share this definition of free will. That is strange to me, and I think there is empirical data to support cross cultural views that most people think (A) free will exists and (B) is incompatible with determinism (see Nichols' most recent response to the Nahmias data). But I don't know how to prove these compatibilists wrong about the definition of free will. It seems that free will does not have a perfectly settled definition. And the features, which I thought were basic, like "can't predict what I will do" are not necessarily so.

All I can do is offer my own biographical account of how I came to think about free will: the whole point of free will was that we are not puppets, who can be predicted or manipulated. And, from the perspective of a puppet, it doesn't matter whether another agent pulls my strings, or whether the random winds of chance pull the strings - I'm equally a puppet in both cases. Thus, regardless of whether there is a scapegoat, like Diana, I simply am not the kind of agent where someone can predict, absolutely, what I will do. I am not that kind of agent, simply because there is no fact about what I will do, until I actually decide what I will do.

At least, that is what I always thought it meant to be have free will, among other things. I thought that was the *purpose* of free will. And, if free will doesn't achieve that, if it instead achieves some smaller victory, like simply giving us sophisticated control, or sophisticated rationality, then that victory is hollow, because we still end up being a kind of puppet - just a more complex kind, with complex strings.

I like to think that smart incompatibilists think the same way about free will. When these incompatibilists find manipulation arguments persuasive, they do so because of concerns about constitutive luck, and not because of misguided concerns about scapegoats. But it is difficult to prove to compatibilists that our conception of "free will" is actually correct, and that our concept is correct because it addresses a concern about constitutive luck that compatibilist free will does not, and cannot, address. To do that, future philosophers will have to do a lot more work to understand what constitutive luck is, when it makes sense (and when it doesn't), why it matters to free will, and how most people, most of the time actually use and think about the term "free will."

Kip, that's a nice set of really good comments from all sorts of angles on this. I agree that if we include all the factors that can influence our lives from even before they began--relative place of birth, particular parents, one egg on one occasion versus some 300 million available sperm, constant bombardment by quantum-produced radiation that might alter DNA or produce cancer, vicissitudes of social upbringing, random particular intellectual influences, etc. etc.--then indeed it must be the case that our lives at any given point are unpredictable. But as Neil argues, that's no good news for agency, whether Diana-sourced or a big helium-nucleus alpha-particle that starts melanoma or interferes with a particular neuron-firing. Luck is too large a factor to ignore except that we do so by some sort of ceteris paribus description of agency that begins to resemble more a caricature of free will than an apt account of how it might really work out in the complexities of real life.

But we can't do without some account of responsibility, which is what moves me more and more to pragmatic accounts that try to pay heed to real facts about human action but also recognize value-diversity about what counts as important in human agency. We will never arrive at one sharp consensus on all that. But maybe we can arrive at some set of reasonable standards that limit what legitimately counts as responsible human agency.

Hey, Neil.

First of all, a point that may be a little distracting. Why ought the audience of the zygote argument to be merely agnostic, but not committed compatibilist? Or what is committed compatibilist? I suppose that the zygote argument at least poses a difficult problem to compabilist (just like the Frankfurt-style cases pose a difficult problem to incompatibilists). If someone is so "committed" to appreciate this, with all due respect, why do philosophy? (Of course, to appreciate the force of the argument does not simply ammount to giving up compatibilism.)

As for your five-case argument, I read it differently than you suggest. Because it seems that case of prediction has more incompatibilist intuitive pull than case of determinism, the force of your argument cannot be different intuitive pulls which produces a stalement. It seems to me an direct attack on premise 2 of the zygote argument: no significant difference between case 1 and case 5. More specifically, the force of your arguments lies in that there is a morally relevant difference between case 1 and case 5. Most likely, the difference is whether the original state of affairs (which necessitates Ernie's doing the thing later) is brought about by another agent or merely by natural forces. However, it is pretty hard to take such a difference to be morally relevant to Ernie's responsibility. At least, it calls for an explanation. A possible explanation would be hard to swallow: we should (not just tend to) find the most blame-able thing and blame it. I wonder if there could be better explanation available to compatibilists.

If I were a compatibilist (maybe it is totally none of my business), I would, although unwillingly, consider claiming that Ernie is morally responsible in case 5, although we feel very sorry for him. Our theory surely sometimes requires us to bite the bullet and adjust the original judgment.


I love the meta-level strategy of contructing a counterflow intuition pump. I propose an additional object-level strategy. Let's construct a case 1 in which Diana is a "Parfitian ancestor" of Ernestine. I just coined this term (as far as I know) but you can probably guess its meaning. I.e., a person who fails to maintain personal identity into the future because of some weird aspect, such as fission, but none the less bears a very strong personal-identity-like relationship to a descendant, Ernestine. She sees her interests and Ernestine's as perfectly aligned, views Ernestine's memories as veridical information on Diana's experiences, and so on. And Ernestine views the situation similarly.

From there, we can gradually remove the psychological connectedness and continuity, until we morph the scenario into a standard zygote one.

For good measure, let's throw in a case 0 in which Diana IS Ernestine. She only changes her name.


*This* compatibilist finds it hard to get a whiff of a problem from the zygote argument. I don't get the intuition from the original case, but it may be that that's because my compatibilism is too dogmatic: incompatibilist responses have been worn away by theory. Still, if it turns out that people who have thought about matters less than I have find the case persuasive, that might give *me* a reason to lower my confidence in my compatibilism. I don't accept that because my compatibilism may be a tad dogmatic I can no longer engage in debates. That would have explosive implications given plausible claims about how perception can be suffused by theory. It may be that I can no longer play some roles in debates, but the skills and commitments I have acquired fit me to play other roles.

In fact, I wondered if I couldn't accuse *you* of what you accuse the committed compatibilist of. You see no difference between the mere prediction case and the original case. I predict that the folk would think there is a difference. This is another good reason to think we need to go beyond trading intuitions, into some kind of experimental work. That need not be full on x-phi. Frank Jackson has argued that sending a paper to referees is a kind of poll (n = 2); then once you publish a paper that's another kind of poll (I guess when Frank does that, he gets an n big enough to get significant result!)


One thing your response brings out to me is a potential loss in giving up doing this kind of philosophy. Though experiments are fun! I must say, I don't know what to think of your case at all, except that it is intriguing.

Kip, What your comment brings out nicely is that there are so many different things that "free will" can mean. I suspect that that's a real problem in the debate. Bruce has argued that we lack moral responsibility but have free will. I was initially quite unsympathetic to the proposal but now I am less so. Why not call the sophisticated powers of self-control we actually have free will? The only real reason is that many people have thought that there was a conceptual link between free will and moral responsibility, but that thesis (in turn) depends on a particular way of understanding free will that Bruce wants to reject. I think it is helpful to get much clearer about what we mean by terms, lest our debates become bogged down in disputes that are at bottom terminological. By hypothesis, my case 2 doesn't allow for K-style free will. What I'm after is something different: the power to control one's actions such that is possible that one might permissibly be treated better or worse (to some extent I want to leave open) just because one has exercised that power.


Thanks for your response. I feel that I need to clarify my words a little bit.

Your response is that you do not have the intuition that Ernie isn't responsible in Diana case. Accordingly, I would group you with what Todd call natural compatibilists rather than committed compatibilists. To my ear (of course, my ear is not native in English), however, committed compatibilism sounds like a different response, i.e., to argue that since compatibilism is so intuitive, and the zygote argument is a valid one, therefore, the premise of Ernie's non-responsibility in Diana case must be rejected (without providing any justification other than commitment to compatibilism), even though they do share the intuition of Ernie's non-responsibility. This is what I oppose because it seems too dogmatic to me. But if you don't have such an intuition when you heard of the case at first time without thinking about its implication on compatibilism, and this is what you mean by committed compatablist, my objection is not against someone like you, and my apology for the confusion.

As for your suggestion that I may also be too committed to something else, I don't think I am. Hopefully, after I clarfiy my objection, you would see me more as a natural incompatibilist than a committed incompatibilist.

But still, it seems implausible to me, and calls for further explanation and support, that the difference between case 1 and case 5 is a morally relevant one. As for the difference between case 2 and case 5, I need to ask what do you mean by mere prediction. Is the prediction possible due to the determinism or God's special power? If the former, then I repeat my concern about the difference between case 1 and case 5. If the latter, then I have to admit that I do not have enough knowledge and confidence in using notions such as "God's special power." Free will is already a pretty incredible concept, but this one appears to be even more incredible.


You write: "Why not call the sophisticated powers of self-control we actually have free will? The only real reason is that many people have thought that there was a conceptual link between free will and moral responsibility, but that thesis (in turn) depends on a particular way of understanding free will that Bruce wants to reject."

There is so much to say.

1. I agree with others (if memory serves: Smilansky, Kane, Van Inwagen, and others) who have observed that free will, like a genus term, can implicate many things, such as love, creativity, art, and autonomy, without implicating moral responsibility. You might imagine a person alone in the world, with no other living things, where questions about moral responsibility can hardly arise (putting aside obscure questions about our moral obligations to ourselves). In that case, we can still ask questions about free will - did the person exercise free will in making that particular painting, or writing that particular sonnet, etc.

2. For the same reason, I don't agree that concerns about moral responsibility must be the *only* reason to reject a watered-down compatibilist definition of free will. In my view, the simplest and best (however weak) argument for rejecting a compatibilist definition of free will is that people, historically and now, to a large (but mixed) extent simply do not think of "free will" as being that watered down, and do not use the term that way. On the contrary, whether due to ignorance, religion, cognitive biases, or concerns about constitutive luck, people tend to think of free will as pointing out an almost magical power that we simply do not have. I don't have big heaps of survey data proving this last point (that people define "free will" the way I think they do), but I would certainly love to see such surveys, and suspect that they are necessary to make progress in the debate. Until then, I can only observe that this is how I think, and thought, about "free will," and it is how I think Darwin, and Einstein, and Spinoza, and Darrow, and (now) Dawkins, and others, think about free will.

Only now do I realize that a lot of brilliant and distinguished people, like Nahmias, use the term in a very different way. It's certainly not easy to prove them wrong, and I'm not entirely sure that they are wrong, or that the definition of "free will" is clear and settled enough to do the work that we want it to do. This, I think, was Richard Double's point all along.


I want to question the distinction between natural and committed compatiibilists. Actually, I think I want to reject it (in general, we ought to be reluctant to use the word "natural" in philosophy: "natural" is a word for selling yoghurt, not for doing metaphysics. At least, that's nearly true). The human phenotype is a product of all kinds of developmental processes, from genes to memes. Even leaving that aside, there need be no difference phenomenologically or functionally between the person who acquired her compatibilism via reflection and argument and the person who was initially disposed toward compatibilism. All that said, you are identifying two different kinds of cases: In one, someone may have the intuition that Ernie is responsible and not be moved by the argument, in the other, someone may have the intuition (or the theory) that compatibilism is true and therefore conclude that Ernie is responsible regardless of how the case strikes her. I fit case one but I don't know to what extent my history plays a role in generating the intuition.

I mean mere prediction to be something naturalistically respectable (call it Laplacean prediction). As a matter of fact, I suspect determinism is false. Whether Laplacean prediction is in principle impossible remains an open question, though.


I certainly don't mean to insist that moral responsibility concerns are the only respectable grounds for thinking that compatibilist control is not enough control (of course, I wouldn't talk about compatibilist control here: I would talk about the kind of sophisticated control we actually have amply vindicated by cognitive science). There are other issues that people worry about: meaning in life, love, respect, and so on. I am much more sanguine about these questions. But I must confess that I have thought little about some of them - such as the relationship between love and meaning, and free will. My main reason for being optimistic is Derk is optimistic, and Derk is (a) smarter than me and (b) has thought about them.


Sorry to enter the manipulation argument discussion so late. I'm not sure that my first post sent over the weekend with the same message was received.

At any rate Dan Haas and I have already collected data on a lot of the types of cases that you are interested in (in this thread and a previous post). This includes cases that vary on the following dimensions, with most of the combinations:

Diana's effective intention/no effective intention
Mode of creation: goddess Diana versus IVF clinic Diana (like you mentioned)
Bumbling Diana (only 5% chance she succeeds in bringing it about that Ernie A-s, given she is scatter-brained about her work)

Dan and I hypothesized that the effective intention of Diana (and manipulators in manipulation arguments in general) and possibly her intentionally creating Ernie so that he A-s plays a role in producing intuitions that Ernie is not A-ing freely or morally responsible for A-ing.

This hypothesis, along with your claim in the previous post that the "availability of another salient and potentially responsible agent" is relevant to intuitions are both supported by the data. Among the results (Note that we are still running cases and statistics and writing up a draft):
Ernie is less likely to be judged as A-ing freely if Diana effectively intends for Ernie to A.
Participants are more likely to judge that it is appropriate to hold Diana morally responsible and to blame/praise her for E if Diana effectively intends for Ernie to A.
Judgments about cases in which Diana has effective intention but her creation of Ernie’s zygote is “fluky” do not differ from other conditions.

I also have a related project (non x-phi) in which I criticize the zygote argument via a denial of premise 2 (the no difference premise). I defend the claim that a manipulator's effective intention that another agent A-s and his intentionally bringing it about that the agent A-s affects whether the agent acts freely and is morally responsible for A-ing -- with a defense of a plausible related principle and without appeal to x-phi data. Regarding premise one of the zygote argument, I argue for the weaker position that Ernie is at least less morally responsible than his otherwise twin in a deterministic universe, Bernie. Hence I leave it open whether he deserves some blame or praise for A-ing.

I would be happy to send you either the cases and results or the non x-phi paper if you are interested. The non x-phi draft is further along than the x-phi draft is at this point.

Thanks Robyn. I am interested in both papers. Send them to me as soon as you are ready. You will find my email by clicking on the link on my name in the sidebar.

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