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06/02/2014

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Thanks for this post, Kristin.

I agree that it is a challenge for the ZA that it does not seem in itself to offer "a specific, contrastive diagnosis of the freedom- and responsibliity-undermining feature of Ernie's story. I tried to get at this worry, perhaps in a merely preliminary and not fully adequate way, in my Analysis paper, "The Zygote Argument Remixed". Others, such as Patrick Todd and Neal Tognazzini, seem to resist the need for such a factor, and (I think) conceive of the "Zygote Argument" as not so much an argument, but an intuition-pump that helps us to see a perhaps otherwise underappreciated cost of compatibilism. Thought of this way, however, I think the "ZA" becomes less than what I might have seemed, and less that what might be necessary for the purposes of the incompatibilists. (But of course all of this is delicate.)

What I would like to encourage is a distinction between "Initial Design" Arguments and "Manipulation" Arguments. I think that the ZA is really an Initial Design Argument (if it is an argument at all), rather than a Manipulation Argument.

Sorry--the previous message should have included, "Thought of this way, however, I think the 'ZA' becomes less that what it might have seemed to be, and less than what might be necessary or at least desirable for the purposes of the incompatibilists."

Sorry for the typos!

Hi John, thanks for getting things rolling! I'm very sorry for the delayed response--I had to wait out some little glitches with typepad.

As for your distinction between “initial design” and “manipulation arguments”, I guess we prefer slightly different taxonomies. I see initial-design arguments as a special type of manipulation arguments. I hold this view because it is, at the very least, the *appearance* of manipulation that grabs our attention in cases like Ernie's. Also, whether the manipulation is genuine or merely apparent makes no difference to the logical structure of the resulting argument. That said, I agree that initial-design (manipulation) arguments are worth setting apart because they pose the most serious challenge to compossibilism.

And, right, there has been a strong current in the literature suggesting that proponents of the Zygote Argument need not—and should not—carry the argumentative burden of identifying the freedom-undermining feature of Ernie’s story. I agree with you that this way of casting the argument reduces the “argument” to something less than what it seemed to be. I am certainly trying to draw (more) attention to that fact.

My specific question here, though, is whether this modest way of developing the Zygote Argument is simply under-selling it--with the expectation that more will be added to the argument later, if this first battle for incompossibilism is won--or is this the *most* that the Zygote Argument can do? If the latter, then I think that your worry about a looming dialectic stalemate is spot on.

In response to your follow-up, John:

Right--the Zygote Argument is often sold as a defense of incompatibilism (in my sense of the word), but the Zygote Argument as presented above is *not* a defense of that view. I'm trying to sell that as an uncontroversial logical point. If I'm right, then something needs to be added to the current Zygote Argument to get a defense of incompatibilism. What could do the job in a satisfactory way?

I'm try to tread lightly here, but consider Randy's recent "Hard line, Soft Heart" post on the Zygote Argument. He seemed to suggest (in reply to a comment by Kip) that the Zygote Argument points in the direction of incompatibilism, not a "hard luck" impossibilism of the sort G. Strawson and Levy defend. Say, for the sake of argument, that incompossibilism is true. Do you think there is a way of developing the Zygote Argument so it tells us who has the correct explanation of Ernie's lack of freedom and responsibility--Randy or Kip? Or is that work best done by other arguments?

Hi Kristin (if I may; call me Al or Alan--though no one should confuse me with Mele in any case!).

I wonder just offhand if appeals to classic Calvinism would help at least on the initial design side. Calvinism's claim that the moral fates of all humans are subject to God's omnipotent soverignty by unconditional election of salvation and condemnation as God sees fit, and from eternity (if the past is eternal). Besides the oddity of assigning absolutist retributive moral worth to human actions (from God's perspective) despite being only seeming puppets, the picture makes clear that each human being lacks any control whatsoever over her/his acts no matter what is the mechanism of God's manipulation by design.

So maybe the ZA could be cast in a parallel position by a kind of negative argument that doesn't cite a particular means of the control over agents. Namely, just as it is not necessary to stipulate in Calvinism what the nature of God's control is, but that humans lack any control over their lives given God's control, the ZA (or some variant) might conditionally say that if it is true that Diana controls Ernie's actions completely, then Ernie doesn't, and it doesn't matter the particular way that is accomplished: determinism or (say) schmerterminism, or even Diana using metaphysically probabilistic (Humean?) causation and creating from all possible worlds only that one where such causation works as she wishes. Incompatibilism (as you define it) then would be the incompatibility of free will and conditionally lacking control over one's actions no matter the particular conditional means of how a particular lack of control obtains. (I sure hope that makes sense and is helpful.)

Anyway thanks for a really interesting post!

Hi Kristin: I agree with you and John that the Zygote argument, if successful, does not all by itself establish incompatibilism rather than just incompossibilism. At this point we have to consider what might best explain the intuition that Ernie is not morally responsible, and/or the sense that there are no relevant differences between Ernie and the ordinary human being. There are a number of candidates on the table. Setting aside the compossibilist ones, e.g., that Ernie is not responsible only because he is manipulated by another agent, I agree with what you’re suggesting, that Galen’s explanation is one option; i.e., that causal determination (of an agent with a remote past) rules out moral responsibility only because it precludes self-creation, while the option I favor is another, i.e., that causal determination by factors beyond one’s control, or as Carolina puts it, by factors beyond one’s causal reach, per se precludes moral responsibility because it rules out the sort of control that (basic desert) moral responsibility requires.

So at this point the incompatibilist needs to invoke an objection to the basic argument, and here my intuitions are similar to Randy’s. Suppose we’re created as agent-causal libertarian beings, with a set of strong self-interested motivations and set of equally strong altruistic motivations. It seems to me that so described we might well be morally responsible for choices between self-interested and a moral options, despite our not being self-creators in Galen’s sense – such choices could still be up to us. But dialectically, the upshot is, as you suggest, that more work needs to be done to establish the incompatibilist diagnosis of the Zygote argument as opposed to non-incompatibilist competitors.

Hi Alan, good of you to chime in. First names for sure!

(Actually, perhaps you'll recall that you kindly gave me comments on a paper on determinism a few years back? Still working on that, but thanks for the support!)

Your point about Calvinism, if I'm understanding it correctly, is roughly that there need not be any positive story about the particular mechanism by which free-will is undermined if we have (somehow) already settled that free will *is* being undermined. I think this actually is how many people are thinking about the Zygote Argument (ZA). I think your example might help me to illuminate why (if I'm following you, that is) this view is mistaken.

Here is my worry about the proposed parallel:
Yes, once we buy into the view that God (necessarily) exists and that God (somehow) fixes our "moral fates" as the Calvinists say, then we have a very rough positive account of why we are not free *and* why no one like us is free at any possible world (regardless of what else might be true at that world). Once we have that much of an explanation for the truth of impossibilism in hand, I agree that the technical details of how God does this "fixing" may not seem to matter much.

One might think, likewise, that if ZA shows that incompossibilism is true, then it hardly matters *why* incompossibilism is true. Even without the mechanism, we can be sure that we are not free *so long as the laws of nature are determinisitic*.

But consider: If deterministic laws are totally irrelevant to free will, then the deterministic/indeterministic universe distinction which underwrites incompossibilism is totally arbitrary. If the Basic Argument is sound, say, then incompossibilism is true but it is likewise true that free agents cannot coexist with sunshine or pancakes. Of course, it would be silly to endorse pancake/free-will incompossibilism--yet standard incompossibilism looks equally unreputable from the point of view of "hard luck" or "source" impossibilist. This is why I'm tempted to think that *merely* finding out that incompossibilism is true wouldn't be very interesting at all.

So, unlike your Calvinists, ZA delivers *nothing* in the realm of a positive explanation for the lack of free agents in this or any possible world. At least, that's how I see it.

Thanks for the suggestion--let me know if I took it in a different direction than you intended.

Hi Kristen -

I agree with everything you say! It's delightful to discover a new (to me) thinker in this field, with so many great ideas.

More specifically, I agree with Neil Levy that, if free will does not exist, it does not fail to exist *because* determinism is true. It simply doesn't exist because we don't self-create in a way required by free will. I think this is why Levy tends to not call himself an incompatibilist (which always sounded strange to me, but I'm warming to the idea).

The trick is ascertaining exactly what free will means and what it looks like. I agree with your view (as I understand it) that the greatest "threat" to free will is constitutive luck. It's less clear to me, however, that free will has one specific consensus definition that cannot survive constitutive luck. I've always been attracted to that argument (e.g., the Basic Argument), but it's difficult to prove to critics that it relies on the one, correct definition of free will.

Hi Derk--good to hear from you.

I’m happy that you agree that anyone who wants to use ZA to defend incompatibilism owes us an objection to the Basic Argument. My reply to Alan illuminates more of my reasons for thinking this. So far, so good for me, then, eh?

Your proposed objection is interesting because, as far as I can tell, the only way to motivate a concern about deterministic laws is to show that free agents can exist, but only when the laws of nature are *not* deterministic. So, I’d say that you have the right general strategy for steering us back to incompatibilism.

One thing I don’t understand about these “agent causes” is why they can, in effect, perform miracles relative to the physical laws of nature in indeterministic universes, but they can’t perform miracles relative to *deterministic* laws of nature. van Inwagen carefully defines his thesis of determinism so that miracles cannot occur in any possible world at which determinism is true, so it is trivial to say that miracles cannot occur when determinism is true. But it is an open metaphysical question whether miracles are possible when the laws of nature are deterministic—and even van Inwagen thinks miracles may be possible. Whatever the agent causes are doing relative to the laws in indeterministic universes, why can’t they do that when the laws of nature are deterministic? Why, in other words, should we see agent causes as “libertarian beings”? Even if we grant agent causes are metaphysically possible, why should that push us towards *incompatibilism*?

So, I agree that if you’re right about the possibility of agent causes being free, then something must be wrong with the Basic Argument. I’m just not sure that your response to the Basic Argument can’t be made by someone who rejects incompatibilism. As such, the strategy of appealing to agent causes may not offer quite as much help to the incompatibilists as it initially seemed.

As you might expect, I’ll be talking about best-explanations when I get to your Four-case Argument in my next post, so I’ll push that off for now (if I’m allowed to do that).

Just one last thing: When you described Strawson’s view as “causal determination (of an agent with a remote past) rules out moral responsibility only because it precludes self-creation”, it seems like you are implying that his Basic Argument tells us that deterministic laws are relevant to free will. This description makes it seem that the Basic Argument is (among other things) a defense of source incompatibilism. But the rest of your post made it seem that you agree (as you have written elsewhere) that the Basic Argument is not a defense of any sort of incompatibilism. Could you clarify the “rules out” and “precludes” talk?

Hi Kip,

That's so kind of you to say! As you can tell, I've read several of your recent posts on this topic with great sympathy. I'm glad that you are taking part in this conversation.

As for the great significance of Neil's work on luck, I am in total agreement. I'm a recent convert, though. I have always been attracted to the Mind argument, but deterministic laws never seems like a threat. It was Mele's Zygote Argument that first shook my confidence in compossibilism. Now I'm just trying to figure out what lesson I should draw from ZA, and I see no reason to think that the lesson (for all that is said in ZA) is incompatibilism and not hard-luck impossibilism. Like you, I quite favor the latter. Hence my post.

As for the terminology, I am also with Neil (although we developed our views independently). I suppose that one could argue that we should just scrap the old terminology if it's causing so much trouble, but I think that would be hasty.

I think using 'incompatibilism' as I do, with 'compatibilism' to refer to the denial of the incompatibilist's positive explanatory thesis makes perfect sense. Incompatibilism is the view that deterministic laws pose a threat; compatibilists reject incompatibilism. The (in)compatibilism debate, then, is one over the purported threat posed by deterministic laws--isn't that what people generally take it to be? Why would we even be talking about mere incompossibilism if we hadn't bought into the idea that whether the laws are determinisitic or not matters?

But one can be a compatibilist in the above sense, as Neil exemplifies, without thinking that free will and determinsitic laws are compossible. So, it seems like we should also have a convenient term for the view that possibly, a free agent lives in a deterministic universe. I think 'compossibilism' works great. Historically, most compatibilists have tried to refute incompatibilism by defending compossibilism, but G. Strawson and Neil show us that there are other ways to go here.

At the end of the day, I certainly don't think that what we call the views matter. But I think it matters a great deal that we recognize that differences between these *views*.

Oh, and Kip: I see Neil's defense of hard-luck impossibilism so interesting in part because, as I see it, his arguments indicate that there is no hope of replying to the Basic Argument by finding some more modest take on free will than than the "ultimate" sort invoked in that argument.
I still foster some hope that there's something wrong with Neil's arguments--or I'll end up a "disappointed compatibilist" too--but I think that he makes a darn good case.


Hi Kristin,

Thank you for the interesting post and for inviting me to participate in the discussion.

I think that to understand the role of the manipulation arguments in free will debate it is very important to understand properly the meaning of ‘incompatibilism’ and the role of arguments in philosophical debates in general. For instance, if Kadri Vihvelin is right that incompatibilism, as she formally characterizes it, is the conjunction of possibilism and incompossibilism (page 6 of her 2013 book), and if she is right that in general arguments are not necessary for possibility claims (page 8 of her book) and finally if the manipulation or initial design arguments show the incompossibility of moral responsibility and determinism only, then they are indeed arguments for the incompatibility of moral responsibility and determinism. Isn't that right?

I believe that you would reject this argument (which is not, just to clarify, Vihvelin’s argument) by rejecting Vihvelin’s formal characterization of incompatibilism, which you do in your paper “Explanation-based Taxonomy of Free Will Views”. I hope there will be some debate about that strategy here. But I am also curious to see which premise in this argument philosophers who agree with you that the manipulation arguments are not arguments for incompatibilism would reject.

Hi Damir. Glad you could join us.

I wish I had Vihvelin's book in front of me (my copy was recalled awhile ago, and now I'm waiting to get it back).

But I think I can say "yes," if we were to assume possibilism is true, then a defense of incompossibilism would provide a very solid *foundation* for a defense of incompatibilism. One would still have to, tedious as it is, provide a best-explanation argument to establish that it is because deterministic laws do *something* to undermine free will that no free agents exist in universes with deterministic laws. But, surely, assuming possibilism, that would be a pretty easy case to make. At that point, Alan's earlier point about Calvinism would kick in: whether deterministic laws undermine free will by eliminating actual-sequence alternatives, undermining sourcehood, etc. would seem to be busy work for the clean-up crew.

On a related note, that is also why the conjunction of possibilism and incompossibilism does not *itself* amount to the view that deterministic laws undermine free will--and why Vihvelin's formal definition of incompatibilism (the former) fails to reflect her informal characterization of incompatibilism (the latter). My grander critique of Vihvelin's taxonomy of free-will views, if anyone is interested, can be found over at philpapers [http://philpapers.org/rec/MICACO-6].

Since I don't have Vihvelin's book, would you mind summarizing why she thinks there is no need to defend possibilism--despite pretty good *arguments* against it?

I'm not sure what is meant above by "free agents". Does it mean agents with freedom to do otherwise? Then it is at least plausible (although not ineluctable) that there can't be free agents if the laws of nature are deterministic. But if "free agents" are simply agents who act freely (or have the capacity of act freely), and if this doesn't require freedom to do otherwise, then why exactly can't one have free agents (so construed) if the laws of nature are deterministic?

I suppose that a lot will hang on one's conception of laws of nature. Do the "push" (as in Ekstrom)? I'm not sure that metaphor is apt, even in a deterministic context.


Kristin, thanks for your reply.

Vihvelin in fact thinks that possibilism needs a defense, but not an argument. In other words, she thinks that the possibilist must show that the impossibilist’s arguments fail, but does not have to provide a counterargument. She thinks that the possibilist must only “describe cases of persons who have or act with free will with enough detail to make it plausible that these cases describe something that is really possible” (page 8). She thinks so because she holds that conceivability is “the best evidence that we can have of possibility”. (page 10)

Thus, someone who accepts Vihvelin’s definition of incompatibilism of free will and determinism and her understanding of the role of arguments in philosophical debates could say that ZA is an argument for incompatibilism, but not a proof of incompatibilism, because that would require refutation of arguments for impossibilism.

However, this could be true only if ZA is an argument for incompossibilism of free will and determinism only. Now, can we say this about ZA? Is it an argument just for the incompossibility of free will and determinism or is it rather an impossibilist argument in disguise? I am inclined to think that the former is the case. But, it seems to me that you (and maybe Derk) are inclined to disagree with that or at least leave it open that the latter might be the case.

So, I think it is important to clarify whether the problem with ZA is just that it is an argument for incompossibilism or that it is not just an argument for incompossibilism of free will and determinism.

Hi John, thanks for the question.

In my reply to Damir, I was writing in the context of defining the major free-will views, such as incompatibilism and incompossibilism. In that context, I think it is appropriate to follow the standard practice of not defining 'free will'.

We want our named free-will views to be about free will and natural laws, whatever the right views of these things turns out to be. (I'll ignore here the minor complication that there may be more than one "right" view of free will.) Say some philosopher likes to defend the compossibility of our having free will and the obtaining of deterministic laws, but it turns out that free action requires access to (what you have aptly called) actual-sequence alternatives. If it also turns out that the right metaphysical view of laws tells us that there can be no access to actual-sequence alternatives when the laws are deterministic, then the person has to give up on compossibilism because of what he has learned about what free will the laws of nature; the content of the view compossiblism, though, doesn't change.

Also, I think that in the broader context of manipulation arguments, the question "what is free will?" is what we're trying to answer. Have the compossibilists offered sufficient conditions for free will, even if taken all together? To me, manipulation arguments like ZA suggest "no". But what more--if anything--is there? That's the tough question that manipulation arguments are supposed to help us figure out, right?

In my earlier reply to Derk, the question about the metaphysics of natural laws was more front and center. Set aside whether or not there are agent causes. Even assuming a realist theory of laws (governing, dispositional, some mix, etc.), there is room to argue (as I have elsewhere) that the diachronic evolution of a deterministic universe need not always be due to *just* the physical laws and facts of the past. In slogan form: deterministic laws hold in a closed system/universe, but do not hold the system closed.

For those who don't like divine intervention, consider a naturalistic example of "opening the universe system". Say we live in a multiverse and our deterministic universe collides with another universe (maybe one with indeterministic laws!), which "opens" our universe system and leaves on it what is sometimes called a "cosmic bruise" [EG: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/08/110809-other-universes-multiverse-big-bang-space-science-microwave/]. This bruise, of course, would not have been "determined" by the facts of the past and determinsitic laws of nature of the bruised universe, yet no laws would be "broken" in the bruising event.

All of this is, of course, inconsistent with van Inwagen's characterization of determinism, which can't really handle multiverse theory. If right, though, it shows that van Iwagen's thesis of determinism could be false even when the laws of nature are deterministic--and even he seems to think that is right (1983: 14-15). If we are working with a thesis of determinism that makes deterministic laws look more like naturalized fatalism than it should, perhaps that gives an undue advantage to incomaptibilists?

Damir: Thanks for the summation.

What you say seems right: even if we grant the dialectical/methodological assumption that possibilism must be defended from attack but not positively argued for, it remains entirely unclear whether ZA is a defense of incompatibilism or not.

Seems that people are generally on board with the idea that the Zygote Argument is not, in its extant form, an independent argument for incompatibilism. That being so, I'll keep up the search for a genuine argument for incompatibilism in a new post tomorrow.

In the meantime, I look forward to any follow-up on what has been discussed so far!

Kristin, it's great to have you here as Featured Author! It may be irrelevant to anything you're doing in this first post, but you've inspired me to look more closely at this version of the ZA, and I'm wondering why Mele writes premise 2 as he does. I would have thought that it should focus on Ernie's actions compared to the actions of deterministic agents, not on the way their zygotes came to exist. It's not obvious to me why the *way zygotes come to exist* should be relevant to "the moral responsibility of the beings into whom the zygotes develop".

Perhaps it makes no difference to the argument, but I've always rewritten premise 2 to say something like: "Concerning [free will and] moral responsibility for their actions, there is no relevant [or principled] difference between Ernie and Bernie [his 'twin' in a deterministic universe]."

Hi Kristin,

In answer to the questions at the end of your reply to me:

On your definition of incompatibilism, “no one (subject to the laws of nature) has free will because deterministic laws obtain,” could someone be a self-creator in Galen’s sense if all of her states and actions are causally determined in this way? So first, thinking about Joe Campbell’s arguments, we might ask whether an agent whose every state is causally determined by a previous state could be a self-creator if that agent has no beginning in time. Maybe – imagine that this agent’s history features appropriate self-creating states at certain intervals, going back in time to infinity. But – inspired by Carolina’s reply to Joe -- given causal determination, an agent whose existence has a beginning in time prior which there was a past can’t be a self-creator, and it seems to me that such an agent can’t be a self-creator because all of her states are causally determined by her remote past. So here the basic argument would seem to yield a case for incompatibilism, given your definition (and Galen's suppositions about the connection between free will and self-creation). There will also be certain kinds of indeterministic histories that rule out self-creation, but this does not preclude deterministic histories, given a remote past, also explaining the impossibility of self-creation.

Hi Eddy,

Thanks for the welcome and good point--quite relevant, too.

As best I can tell, Mele means for Premise 2 of this version of the argument (he calls it "ZAM") to express the general no-difference claim that you gave *and* draw special attention to his view that the "major challenge" facing those who want to reply to his argument is pointing to some freedom-relevant difference in the creation of the zygotes (Mele 2008: 279). Given that Diana's activity begins and ends with the moment of Ernie's creation, if there's no difference in creation of the zygotes then it seems unlikely that there is any difference at all (although some have argued otherwise: http://philpapers.org/rec/BARFCA-4]). In short, I *think* the premise is just poorly worded--but someone please correct me if I am wrong!

But, as for the generic "no-difference" version of Premise 2, I'm not a fan. I know that these pithy little summaries are not meant to perfectly reflect the logical structure of the argument, only their most salient parts. As such, I'm not sure how picky to be about this. It seems to me, though, that all extant global manipulation arguments (e.g. zygote argument and the four-case argument) have this modus ponens structure:

The Generalization Manipulation Argument (GMA):
G1. Victim Premise: Due to some feature of the (apparent) manipulation scenario, the (apparent) manipulation victim S does not freely perform action A.
G2. Generalization Premise: If S is not free or responsible for performing A, then the no one (like us) living in a normal deterministic universe performs a free action.
G3. Conclusion: No one (like us) living in a deterministic universe ever performs a free action.

The second premise here (G2) can be supported by a negative, "no difference" defense, along with some basic principle about treating like cases alike. This negative defense is all that Mele offers, and so it is all that he mentions for premise 2 in his own summary of the zygote argument. But one might, in addition, offer a positive defense by pinpointing the specific freedom-undermining feature that is common to both scenarios. (Now, developing this positive defense of G2 invites some problems...which I'll try to address in a later post.)

I guess people may favor the idea that no positive identification of the freedom-undermining feature of Ernie's case is needed because it is so clear that an instance of G2 can be defended with a negative defense alone, as Mele gives. And fair enough--why stick your neck out farther than you must to make your case that the argument is sound? But one of the simple worries I'm trying to bring out is that no argument with this logical structure can deliver *on its own* anything more than incompossibilism. Low risk, low reward.

Derk: thanks for your reply and for playing along with my preferred terminology.

I guess we really do disagree about how to understand the implications of the Basic Argument. (I thought, the last time I looked through _Living Without Free Will_ that I agree with what you say about BA there.)

You ask “whether an agent whose every state is causally determined by a previous state could be a self-creator if that agent has no beginning in time”, and answer “maybe.” I say the answer is “nope”...and so does Strawson:

In order for an agent to act freely, Stawson explains, “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” (http://www.naturalism.org/strawson.htm; my emphasis).

As such, for any point in time t at which someone exists, we can ask: “Is t the starting point that constitutes an act of ultimate self-origination?” and the answer in each case must be “no.” The answer will be “no” irrespective of whether someone is living in a universe with deterministic laws or indeterministic laws. The answer will be “no” irrespective of whether the someone in question is an eternal being, a being with an infinite past, a being with no “remote past,” or whether the being lives in a universe which has no past at all (prior to t). Since the natural laws which govern the evolution of someone S’s universe—whether deterministic or indeterministic—in no way account for the fact that S is not a causa sui at any arbitrary time t at which S exists, it cannot be that S lacks free will at t *in virtue of the laws of nature*. According to the Basic Argument, there is simply no “work” left to be done by the natural laws when it comes to undermining free will.

This is why the Basic Argument “holds good whether determinism is true or false; the issue of determinism is irrelevant” (http://philpapers.org/rec/STRTBO, p.441). This is also why, I say, the Basic Argument is an argument *against* incompatibilism (as I characterize it). The Basic Argument doesn't leave any room for the laws to "hurt" or "help" when it comes to self-creation in the sense that is necessary for free will.

(Yes, you might argue--as most have--that some less ultimate sort of self-creation (a type that deterministic laws might undermine) is necessary for free action, but (1) that doesn't show that the Basic Argument defends incompatibilism, and (2) Levy's recent work makes that strategy much more difficult.)

fwiw, I think an agent in a determnistic world can be a "self-creator", because I see no strong reason to interpret this notion, as it relates to moral responsibility, as requiring indeterminism. You can be a self-creator, in the sense relevant to moral responsibility, in the same sense as a boy could have "started" a fire, even in a causally deterministic world. To be a self-creator is not to act ex nihilo, but to act from certain "designated elements"--elements are are one's own in some deep sense. And this is compatible with causal determinism.

btw, when you quote Galen Strawson, it is as if you are quoting the pope. Is he speaking EX CATHEDRA in respect to the Basic Argument? (Just giving you a hard time [but not a hard incompatibilist time])...

Ha! Touché. Yes, it crossed my mind that citing Strawson in that way would give rise to the "pope" impression. Actually, I'm quite critical of many things Strawson says about his own argument--as will come out later--so I ought to have been more circumspect.

What I hoped to convey was that Strawson says some things about his argument that help to illuminate why those who think that there is some sort of deterministically-based transfer principle underwriting the argument are misguided. I *did* offer my own follow-up to explain why I think Strawson is, at least here, right about about his argument. I'm holding back, though, because I want to push off a full-blown discussion of the Basic Argument until the end of the month...

And you are right, of course, that there are certain sorts of self-creation that are *clearly* not at odds with deterministic laws. Some libertarians would argue that those sorts of self-creation are not the freedom- and responsibility-underpinning sorts of self-creation. As I see it, the Basic Argument tells us that whether we look at agents who have self-created in some compossibilism-friendly way or self-created in some incompatiblist-friendly way, none of these agents have self-created *enough* for freedom and responsibility. And, as I said, I think Levy has increased the burden on those who would contend that the the notion of self-creation in the Basic Argument is simply too demanding. However, regardless of who has the "right" notion of self-creation, I stick by my claim that the Basic Argument is not a defense of *incompatibilism*.

Ok, I don't worry about what the Pope says anyway.

I think that demanding self-creation in an indeterministic sense is asking too much--it is a lamenatable, but curable, product of metaphysical megalomania. The recommmended cure: my paper, "Playing the cards that are dealt you."

Hi Kristin, Great post, inspiring a great discussion. By all means, you should certainly read John's "Playing the Cards that are Dealt You" (I recommend the revised version in his DEEP CONTROL, where you will find a superb collection of essays on this topic); and if you follow Doc Fischer's prescription, you will indeed be cured of metaphysical megalomania. Unfortunately, however, the cure has a terrible side effect: metaphysical myopia. So by all means read John's paper, it's wonderful; but don't take the cure: we can't afford to lose any moral responsibility skeptics, we're already on the endangered list.

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