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Hi Kristin,

Your intriguing posts raise a lot of good questions. There are a few things I wanted to ask you about, but I thought begin with the following worry one might have. Your final question is: “Might it be that the lesson of the most famous ‘argument for incompatibilism’ is that we all have a freedom-undermining feature in our past, but deterministic laws pose no threat whatsoever to anyone’s free will?” The question suggests to me that there is an equivocation going on here. It’s been a long time since I’ve read PVI’s essay (so correct me if I am misremembering), but he never defends incompatibilism. He argues that free will (defined as the ability to do otherwise) is incompatible with determinism, and thus only defends incompossibilism. In fact, it seems to me incompatibilism, as you define, is not all that common. Most follow van Inwagen’s definition of incompatibilism and thus defend (or reject) incompossibilism. If this is right, then it seems to me unsurprising that there are so few arguments defending incompatibilism. In this way one might think that your worries don’t have traction of most of the proponents of the consequence argument.

I am curious what you would say to someone who gave this response?

Hey Kristin -

Again I agree with everything you write. I think Neil Levy does too, and Galen Strawson with his skeptic hat on. Not sure about Pereboom, Nadelhoffer, and other skeptics.

I've been saying for a while that the problem of free will is really the problem of constitutive luck. And that the best argument for compatibilism is an argument that shows that constitutive luck is incoherent and/or that free will somehow survives it (counter-arguments that get surprisingly fun and nuanced). There have been advances along these lines recently - mainly in Knobe and Nichols Free Will and the Bounds of the Self, and in Levy's articles/book on constitutive luck. But we're still at the beginning phases.

I think it would be a major step to get Pereboom to acknowledge that agent-causal libertarianism is incoherent and that his manipulation argument is essentially working in the same way as the Basic Argument.

What your posts have taught me, however, is how important it is to focus on the best-explanation principle. I've always thought that it was obvious (to skeptics) that determinism, per se, was not the threat to free will. Several philosophers have said as much over the years. But it seems like there are still quite a few compatibilists and incompatibilists who see determinism as the threat to overcome (or that can't be overcome). I agree with you that this is a big confusion that needs clarifying.


I’m thinking that the “Consequence Argument” may have two fundamental issues. First, the argument needs to use the word “predeterminism” instead of “determinism”, since there’s a big difference (to me) between the meanings of those two terms. In other words, the argument needs to eliminate the possibility that new emergent forces exerted by life are capable of affecting the path forward. Second, predeterminism is likely false (since life exerts new emergent forces that add together with other forces thereby helping to determine the path forward), thereby invalidating the revised first premise.

The fundamental that continues to elude mankind, is that life exerts new emergent forces that help to determine the path forward (i.e. determinism is true, while at the same time, predeterminism is false). I know, I know – I’m beating a dead horse, but honestly, I don’t think the horse is really dead.

Hi Chris, and thanks for that important question!

You’re right, as far as I know, about van Inwagen. He fairly consistently uses the term ‘incompatibilism’ to name a highly qualified incompossibilism, and says that the Consequence Argument is an argument for incompatibilism as he understands it. From what I have seen, it would be pretty hard to defend the charge that van Inwagen openly equivocates on the term ‘incompatibilism’—and I haven’t raised any such charge here. That said, van Inwagen harps on deterministic laws a lot for someone who thinks that such laws make no difference whatsoever to free will.

If you’re suggesting that I equivocated in my final question, please let me clarify: I meant for the scare quotes to express the idea that the Consequence Argument is commonly given the label “an argument for incompatibilism”, but people who use this label disagree about what it means.

You’re also right that philosophers typically repeat van Inwagen’s formal definitions of ‘compatibilism’ and ‘incompatibilism’ in their work. That of course, is no guarantee that philosophers don’t equivocate on these terms in the course of their arguments. Once you have an eye for the incompossibilism/incompatibilism distinction that I have drawn, equivocation on the term ‘incompatibilism’ is remarkably easy to find--just look for terms like “preclude”, “threat”, and “undermine”.

As for other philosophers who use ‘incompatibilism’ to pick out the explanatory thesis that I do? Here’s a sampling:

Michael McKenna: “As I understand it, incompatibilism is simply the thesis that, at any world at which determinism is true (and there exist non-godlike creatures like ourselves5), owing to determinism, there is no free will” (, p 432).

Kadri Vihvelin: “If it is conceptually or metaphysically impossible for us to have free will, then we lack free will regardless of whether determinism is true or false. And if that is so, then the incompatibilist cannot say the kind of things she has traditionally wanted to say: that the truth or falsity of determinism is relevant to the question of whether or not we have free will, that if determinism were true, then we would lack free will because determinism is true, and so on” (

Derk Pereboom: “contrary to what incompatibilists assume, [P.F. Strawson contends] the truth of determinism is irrelevant to questions of moral responsibility” (, p xvii),

Other examples abound. I’m not sure about you, but I think it is pretty interesting to find out that sometimes an a philosopher will label an argument as "an argument for incompatibilism” and it turns that this argument is *not* an argument for incompatibilism as they understand that view.

But perhaps you meant the Consequence Argument in particular—that at least most philosophers have been careful about this argument since van Inwagen’s terminology looms especially large in that dialectical context. Here’s some examples of recent comments (emphasis mine) about the Consequence Argument that suggest matters are not so clear as you suggest:

Kadri Vihvelin contends that van Inwagen “was clearly and explicitly a possibilist about free will; his claim was that determinism, if true, would *rob us* of the power to do otherwise we would otherwise have.” (, p. 157)

Alicia Finch: “the incompatibilist qua incompatibilist thinks that there is something about the very
nature of free action and something about *the very nature of determinism* such that the one *precludes* the other: given what free action is and given what determinism is,
it is impossible for anyone to act freely if determinism is true.” (, p. 152)

Joe Campbell: “According to this argument [the “third argument”], determinism is a *threat* to our free will” (Free Will, p. 50)

(However, as hopefully will come out in conversation, I would like to point out that Joe—with his “no past objection”--has done more than anyone else to upend the common misunderstanding that the Consequence Argument is *not* a defense of “my” incompatibilism.)

Perhaps proponents of the argument do better? I don't think so, but I dare not answer because this reply has gone on way too long. But your question is one that I’ve encountered a lot, and so I figure it's on a lot of people’s minds. It would be a great service to me to hear more from y'all about what I could say to adequately reply to such concerns.

Thanks, Kip!

Of course you’re right that I am not the first to make the general point that the Consequence Argument might be not be an argument for incompatibilism (as I understand it)—and let there be no doubt about that. But I’m glad you appreciate my unique angle!

I agree with you (and Levy and others) that the main—indeed, the *only* real obstacle to defending compossibilism is showing that is possible to overcome constitutive luck. Of course, I still have a ways to go to make my own case for that this month—but I’m trying!

(As for Derk Pereboom, the last time we spoke it sounded like he still wants to hold onto the view that deterministic laws pose some threat to free will.)

Thanks for the helpful reply Kristin. Two thoughts. First, many of the philosophers you quote do not seem to me to be clearly endorsing incompatibilism. Terms like ‘threat’, ‘preclude’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘because’ are not terms of art. I am assume that the distinction between incompatibilism and impossibilism is that on the former it is “in virtue of” determinism that there is no world where determinism obtains and agents are free. But the terms in the quote passage do not clearly support this reading. That said, many of the philosophers you quoted are probably reading this and so I would let them speak for themselves.

Second, suppose that you are right about two things. First suppose that the many instances of consequence argument at best establish impossibilism. Second, suppose that all advocates and critics of these arguments wrongly suppose the arguments establish incompatibilism. Do you think this has implications for the cogency of the consequence argument?

For what its worth I am an impossibilist and had defended consequence type-arguments but I would in my more careful more moments (which are rare indeed!) refrain from endorsing incompatibilism. Here’s why: I see no more reason that say free will is incompatible with determinism in virtue of deterministic laws than for saying that free will is incompatible with determinism in virtue of our lacking the power to do otherwise or in virtue of not being eternal beings or…. My suggestion is that most isolate determinism as “the” threat because the truth or falsity of determinism seems like a real possibility, whereas the power to change the past or being eternal seem farfetched.

But let me also add that I have never clearly thought about this before and that seems to me a real contribution of your posts here. I just wanted to know if you were leading me down a path that has an ending I would not like ☺

Hi James,

I think you’re right to worry that the Consequence Argument uses an overly narrow conception of deterministic laws. Personally, I am not a proponent of strongly emergent properties (for causal-explanatory exclusion reasons, etc.), but I would share your worry about the Consequence Argument if I were. However, it does strike me as something of a technical complaint. That is, it seems that there will be some sort of laws that account for which properties emerge under what conditions and what sorts of causal influence they can/cannot have over the physical stuff from which they emerge. In that case, the problem you have with the Consequence Argument seems to be that it focuses only on the physical laws, and not the sum total of “natural laws” that are at work. It seems to me that something in the spirit of the Consequence Argument would survive even if we accept that there are strongly emergent properties. No?

As for the specific “predetermination” versus “determination” point, I think your worry is spot on whether or not we accept strongly emergent properties. van inwagen’s characterization of deterministic laws makes it seem that the laws *guarantee* that every deterministic universe that shares a timeslice will share all timeslices. However, even *van Inwagen* doesn’t think this is right, based on what he says about miracles. But if the future “determined” by the laws need not come to pass, then other debates (e.g., about the permissibility of "prepunishment") have been thrown off course because they use van Inwagen’s simplifying conception of determinism out of context.

That said, I have been working with a friend to develop a superior working definition of ‘determinism’, and it's really hard. I have come to appreciate that van Inwagen’s characterization is useful in many contexts, so long as we stay mindful of its limitations.

Two points that may be relevant to this discussion:
1. I can't remember if I've pointed it out on this blog, I always point out to my students that the informal presentation of the CA Kristin quotes above is incomplete and potentially misleading. PvI writes, "If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past." But one could leave out the antecedent without losing much (or perhaps one would then simply imply, "putting aside impossible forms of self-creation or eternal existence"). With the antecedent (and to make it about determinism per se), PvI needs to add something like "logical" or "necessary" in front of "consequences".

2. Regarding James and Kristin's interchange, it's worth noting that PvI seems to smuggle in some reductionism into his argument when he says that any potential laws of psychology do not get to count as laws of nature in the argument, seemingly recognizing that if they do, it's not obvious that we have no choice about the laws, in that the laws of psychology would have to account for what choices humans actually make. (Maybe Beebee and Mele discuss this issue in their Humean response to CA?)

Hi Chris,

About the path we’re heading down right now, *I* certainly don’t like where it is headed! I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts when we reach our “destination” at the end of the month.

As for your first point: Perhaps I should clarify. I wasn’t trying to say that the philosophers I mentioned endorse some form of incompatibilism (almost none of them do).I meant only that they *at least sometimes* use ‘incompatibilism’ to pick out a more narrow thesis than incompossibilism or incompossibilism*. And also that the Consequence Argument is often *not* characterized as a defense of mere incompossibilism.

And, I suppose, it is precisely because terms like “threat”, “preclude”, and “because” are not terms of art that I see little room to deny that, following the dictionary definitions of these terms, the quotes I provided describe incompatibilism as something more than mere incompossibilism. (Oh, and you said “impossibilism”, but I think you meant “incompossibilism” in your post, right?) Incompossibilism is a strictly negative thesis. An incompossibilist, qua being an incompossibilist, does not posit *any* substantive metaphysical relationship between laws and free will at all. So, whenever a person starts down the “in virtue of” or “owing to” road, they have gone beyond incompossibilism.

As for your second point: Nope, I don’t think removing ambiguity from the term ‘incompatibilism’ changes anything about the Consequence Argument. However, I hope I’ve shown that it can change what we consider to be the “best lesson” to take from the argument. When I was in school, I was told that the Consequence Argument defended the conclusion that deterministic laws undermine free will. Talking to friends, I know that it is still often taught that way. That’s not good. Noticing that the Consequence Argument would need to be supplemented with a best-explanation to get a specifically incompatibilist conclusion (as I characterize it) seems like something that we’ve missed because so many people have taken it for granted that there was nothing else that the argument might show.

Also, you say “I see no more reason that say free will is incompatible with determinism in virtue of deterministic laws than for saying that free will is incompatible with determinism in virtue of our lacking the power to do otherwise or in virtue of not being eternal beings or….” In this, you seem to be referring to different, non-competing levels of explanation. Philosophers might agree that free will is incompossible with deterministic laws *because deterministic laws undermine free will*. But you can then ask for a more fine-grained explanation: Why do deterministic laws undermine free will? Leeway incompatibilist, for example, say determination undermines access to salient alternatives; source incompatibilists say determination prevents one from being the freedom-relevant source of his own actions. Maybe these views come to the same thing in terms of the metaphysics. I won’t get into that here. What matters is that a “source incompossibilist” will argue that incompatibilists of all stripes are wrong to think that deterministic laws make a freedom-relevant difference of any kind.

Since I would guess that most of the main proponents of the Consequence Argument are libertarians, I think they would be loath to accept that the lesson of the Consequence Argument is impossibilism. I have seen skeptics toy with using the Consequence Argument to further their efforts, but I don't think they've clearly seen how to frame the battle.

I wonder: Do people think that my characterization of the argument makes it any more plain what the dialectic is, and how impossibilists should go about stealing the argument away from their libertarian rivals?

You write:

"Does the Consequence Argument pinpoint deterministic laws as a threat to free will—at least for beings who, like us, cannot perform miracles, are not “agent causes”, are not causa sui, and have a remote past? It seems not: Source impossibilists argue that self-creation ex nihilo would be the only way to overcome freedom-undermining “constitutive luck”. However, the natural laws of a universe seem to have no bearing on whether someone can self-create ex nihilo."

I don't understand the explanation provided after the "it seems not" -- Why would the fact that source inpossibilists "argue" for a certain conclusion tell us anything about what the Consequence Argument takes to be a threat to freedom? Do you take "argue" to be a success term? Or would even the fact some people mistakenly argue as 'source impossibilists' do teach us a lesson about the Consequence Argument. And even if "argue" as used here is a success term I still don't see the connection between the "it seems not" clause and the commitment of the Consequence Argument. Such a point from source impossibilists might be thought to show that show that a commitment of the Consequence Argument [such as the candidate commitment you are discussing - viz, that determinism threatens freedom] is mistaken but that's different from showing it's not a commitment.

Perhaps I am missing something.

Hi Kristin,

I wasn’t referring to different levels of explanation. I was trying to point out that the consequence argument does *not* identify deterministic laws as threat to free will. After all, if we have the power to change the past, if I can now do something that causes the past to be different, then deterministic laws are not a threat to free will (understood as the ability to do otherwise). Thus the consequence argument no more identifies deterministic laws as the threat to free will as our lacking the power to change the past. There is more than one premise to any good consequence argument and thus there will be more than one threat to free will “identified.”

So does the consequence argument even suggest that deterministic laws best explain why determinisms is incompatible with free will? To this I shrug my shoulders. Depends on who wants the explanation and why. In one context and for one inquirer this might be the best explanation. For another it might another explanation. This strikes me as too contextual for incompossibilists to feel much pull to get involved, at least qua incompossibilists.

Hi Fritz:

You ask “Why would the fact that source impossibilists "argue" for a certain conclusion tell us anything about what the Consequence Argument takes to be a threat to freedom?”

When I pointed out what the source impossibilist would propose as the "deeper" explanation for the (assumed) soundness of the Consequence Argument, I was trying to draw attention to the fact that the *extant* Consequence Argument doesn’t tell us that the source impossibilist’s anti-incompatibilist proposal is *wrong*. I was hoping that this might make it easier to see that the extant Consequence Argument doesn't tell us *anything at all* about what poses a threat to free will. This is why I claim that the answer to the question you mention is: “Nope, the Consequence Argument *as it stands* does not pinpoint deterministic laws as a threat to free will." I hope that makes sense!

Hi Eddy,

Technical question in regards to your first point: One of the things that I have thought about with regard to the natural-language-ish version of the argument is that it is not technically given in a classically-based logic. In natural language, “if, then” claims conversationally imply that the truth of the antecedent is relevant to the truth of the conclusion—as some have tried to capture with relevance logics. With that in mind, do we really need to add anything to the natural-language version of the argument to make it about determinism per se?

On a related note, if we are reading the informal argument in terms of classical logic, would you agree that adding “logical” or “necessary” in front of “consequences” wouldn't be enough to make the argument about the *threat* of determinism per se?

Hi Chris,

Sorry for the misunderstanding.

I agree that what qualifies as a “good” explanation is going to be context-sensitive. (Why did the house burn down? Because Joe was drunk. Because Joe’s wife left him. Because of the such-n-such chemical reaction that took place when Joe’s cigarette hit the couch. Which answer satisfies you will depend on what information you were after when you asked the question.)

I can see that in the context of the debate between compossibilists and incompossibilists (of all stripes), the dispute over the best fine-grained explanation for the truth of incompossibilism may not be so pressing. But I’m centrally interested in the next fight, the one between the incompossibilists themselves. In this narrow context, whether deterministic laws bear some freedom-undermining relationship to free will is precisely what we are asking about. Either incompatibilism is true or false—which is it?

I know quite a few people who think that the extant Consequence Argument, if sound, delivers the answer to that question. Even though we seem to care about the truth of incompatibilism to different degrees, it's nice to be able to agree that extant versions of the Consequence Argument do not pinpoint deterministic laws as a threat to free will.

I agree that relevant logics may be vital for coming to grips with the Consequence Argument (as you mention in your post to Eddy). But, on most relevant logics, the laws and the past of a deterministic world do not relevantly entail anything about my actions or abilities. Since the conclusion is about an entity not listed in the premises, the laws and the past do not relevantly entail propositions about my actions (unless we are including psychological laws).

In more formal versions of the CA there is an even greater reason to believe that determinism isn't playing a major role in the argument. Since lack of control is being transferred through entailment relations, and entailment is a relationship between semantical entities, most of the debate is cashed out entirely in semantic terms. Instead of worrying about forces in nature or what happened in the remote past, formal versions of the CA concentrates on statements describing those forces or statements describing the world at a time. Certainly, however, the threat to free will does not stem from these statements, but at best comes from those things that make those statements true. Nobody should think that the entities discussed in formal versions of the CA are the real threat to free will. Statements of laws of nature do not push agents around...even if the forces depicted in those statements do.

Recognizing that formal versions of the CA are not even directly about forces in nature or what happened in the past but instead are directly about statements describing them provides another reason to start thinking about relevant logics. While classical logic may be appropriate for semantical issues, there is a consensus in the truthmakers literature that classical logic does not preserve truthmaking. Instead, most people in the truthmakers literature assume that some form of relevant logic is the appropriate logic for truthmaking. Perhaps transfer principles employed in the CA fail precisely where the current truthmaking literature would predict.


Thanks for your reply. You said: “…the problem you (James Laird) have with the Consequence Argument seems to be that it focuses only on the physical laws, and not the sum total of “natural laws” that are at work.”

I’m thinking that laws are simply ideas in human minds. In other words, relationships exist and some of those relationships are consistent, which causes humans to develop a means (laws) to predict certain actions. That doesn’t mean the laws exist in some absolute sense and are the root source of the control. It simply means we’re using ideas to model what we expect to happen. Perhaps all of the laws humans have developed are associated with forces exerted by life across the spectrum of 3-D scale.

Charlie! So good to hear from you! Sorry I took a bit to respond—I was under the weather and had to call it an early day yesterday. Today is going to be a bit hectic, so I’m going to cut up my replies in bite-size pieces and send them out as time permits.

First, I have a question about the Consequence Argument (CA) and relevance (relevant) logics, since you know much more than I about these things. It seems to me that one might contend that there is sufficient meaning-connection between the premises and conclusion. The premises focus on deterministic laws, the remote past, and us. What is meant by “us”? Well, we are not gods or members of the Q continuum. We are human. We are beings who, if deterministic natural laws obtain, are *subject* to those laws; we are not miracle-workers and we cannot change the laws of nature. We live in a universe that is billions of years old; we have a remote past. We cannot change that we have a remote past, and we cannot change what happened in the remote past. With "us" and "our", all this stuff about us is packed into the premises of the argument.

Fleshing out the conditional conclusion of the natural-language CA, we seem to get: “the consequences of these things, i.e., *our being subject to* the deterministic laws which obtain and *our having* a remote past, (including our present acts) are not up to us.” Generalized, it seems like the conclusion of CA is: For anyone S, if S is subject to deterministic laws and has a remote past, S's actions are not up to S precisely *because* S is subject to the laws of nature and has a remote past.

Have I failed to get the requisite meaning-connection here? Anyone who assumes something like this reading of the natural-language version of the argument is going to be suspicious of the suggestion that the truth of determinism is irrelevant to the conclusion that our acts are not up to us--this result will look like a “technical glitch” introduced by the classically-based logics standardly used to summarize the "real" argument.


Hi, James.

Ah, fair enough. If we're talking about adjustments to CA that might be required for CA to target anti-realists, have you looked at Hetherington's "So-far incompatibilism and the so-far consequence argument"?

Kristin, I think there are a great deal of technical problems caused by the CA's reliance upon classical logic but don't have space to spell them out here (although I do have a rough version of the worries written up if you are interested). There is one relatively quick problem though. If we are to relevantly derive things about our abilities we need to be mentioned in the premises of the argument.

Since we aren't mentioned in the laws or in the description of the initial conditions of the universe, these alone do not relevantly entail anything about our abilities. A plausible premise to add is that we are nothing over and above the particles that compose us, and those particles are mentioned in the laws and description of the initial conditions.

With that added premise, we can relevantly derive things about what we will do. For example, we can derive that I will type this response. Yet, unless what is meant by being nothing over and above those particles is interpreted in an implausible manner, the entailment will merely tell us what we will do not what we could have done.

Think Lumpel and Goliath cases. A statue may be composed of nothing more than a collection of atoms, but the modal properties of a statue are distinct from the modal properties of the atoms that compose it. It is a modal composition fallacy to read off the modal properties of an agent from the modal properties of the atoms that compose us...and the material constitution literature is full of examples about why doing so is problematic.

This is all way to quick to be convincing, but the main point to recognize is that if we ought to be discussing free will in terms of relevant logics than a complete description of the initial conditions conjoined with a statement of the laws of nature do not (on their own) relevantly entail anything about our capacities. An additional premise that brings us into the picture is required. While I think that counterexamples to transfer principles can be derived once we move away from wedding the CA to classical logic, the mere fact that moving to relevant logics will require adding a linking premise provides a new avenue of attack against the CA.

Respectfully, I have a very different perspective on the Consequence Argument. First, I think it can be formulated so that it is pretty clearly a valid argument; it is of course contentious as to whether it is sound.

Charles: have you seen the various pretty careful formulations of the CA in Howard Sobel's book, Puzzles for the Will? He's a darn good logician, and I think these are valid arguments. (Again, one can question whether they are sound.) I don't think we need any fancy kinds of alternative logics.

Further, the argument can be formulated in pretty simple, informal ways, such that it is clear that the argument is a compelling argument. I think that as the discussion gets more complex and technical, it is easy to lose track of the basic, intuitive points. Following Carl Ginet, in my book, The Metaphysics of Free Will (and other places), I seek to give a simple formulation: what I call the "Basic" formulation (or the Basic Argument"). I don't think this argument involves any kind of technical or logical mistake. One can resist a premise--but I don't see how one can resist the validity of the argument.

If one finds a glitsch with one particular formulation, it can be tempting to jettison the entire argument. But this would be a big mistake, because the argument can be reformulated using other ingredients. So, for example, even if one finds modal versions of the argument problematic, the argument can be recast without a modal principle at all. At least, this is what I would argue (see, for instance, Fischer and Ravizza, "Free Will and the Modal Principle", Phil. Studies.

John, I completely agree that the CA is classically valid. I think we learn in the truthmaker literature, however, that classical logic is wholly inappropriate for ontological issues like free will. I also think that the reason the argument is compelling is that we confuse the issue of what an agent is able to do, with what sentences must be true given the laws and the past. The escape to the semantic plane is deeply troubling in the free will literature. Unfortunately, explaining why I think this would take way too much space that it would probably be inappropriate to devote that much space on Kristin's thread. So, all I mean to be arguing here is that if someone (like Kristin) agrees that we ought to be thinking of the CA in terms of relevant logics there may be significantly greater problems with the CA than have so far been discussed in the literature. Why we ought to be thinking of the CA in terms of something like relevant logics I'll postpone until later.

I'll be doing a featured author on Flickers later in the year and one of the things I hope to address is how semantic assent has caused problems for the CA and why the smooth inferences that it appears to make when we think of the CA in terms of classical logic are wholly inappropriate. I'm currently near completion of a paper criticizing the CA, but the style of complaint is merely an extension of my worries in Truthmakers and the Direct Argument.

Thank you Kristin for asking me to post during your stint as a featured author, it has convinced me that I want to be more active on Flickers and has persuaded me to throw my hat into the ring as a featured author at Flickers. I hope I can do at least half as good as you are doing in stimulating interesting discussions.


About relevance logic and the natural-language CA: I was thinking that “subject to the laws of nature” would suffice to get us into the story in the right way. If we are *subject to* the laws, then the laws perfectly account for the diachronic evolution of the universe, including the interactions of all of our mental and physical parts—even if we do not accept a reductive materialist metaphysic for the mental.

In any case, it seems to me that the pithy natural-language version of the argument doesn’t rest upon in any substantive assumptions about the truth of reductive materialism and/or causal-closure principles; it just rests upon the assumption that we are subject to the laws of nature and that they (given the past) “determine” a unique future. But I'm happy to table this--we can talk about it later.

But this does bring us to John Fischer’s worry that it’s easy to lose the spirit of an argument in the details. Like him, I worry that a critique of CA that rests on the limits of classical logic looks like a critique of classical logic, not CA. But, like you, I think it’s important to use a logic that lets us get the spirit of CA right. After all, that's the only way we'll be able to evaluate the *best* version of the argument. I think we also agree that if the spirit of the argument is that deterministic laws undermine free will, then classical logical formulations may be valid, but they don’t capture the spirit of the argument—they deliver only what van Inwagen promises: ~◊(P-DET & P-FWT).

I wonder what people think: What is the “spirit” of CA? Has any version of the argument yet captured it?

@ John:

I don't have your _Metaphysics_ handy, but my (fallible) notes on it suggest that there you use 'incompatibilism' (at least sometimes) as I use it, but in your recent (2013) co-written defense of CA against begging-the-question charges, you seem to use 'incompatibilism' as van Inwagen does.

In the light your last comment, I'm just trying to assess whether you agree with my proposal that there is room to argue that CA is sound but deterministic laws pose no threat whatsoever to free will. Would you be willing to comment on what you take to be the specific conclusion of the versions of CA that you take to be valid--especially, is it explanatory or not?


Sorry--I was just finishing my last reply to you when your new comment came in. I'm glad you'll be leading a future discussion on this material.

I'm not as worried about classical logics as you are. It seems to me that we could get better (adequate?) truth-maker preservation if we were to extend the object language of classical logics to include an operator for "because", and get ourselves a better semantics (one that brings together insights from grounding and truthmaker literature--I'm thinking Kit Fine). I look forward to pressing you on the details when you come up to bat--I have so much to learn!

I haven't tried yet, but I now realize that I should try to get a version of CA up and running using classical logic + "because" to get the conclusion ~◊(P-DET --> (~P-FWT bc P-DET). If the metaphysical relations were being tracked by "because" claims in a formal statement of the argument, it seems that there would be a specific premise that would depend on a best-explanation argument (as I've suggested). Anyone looking to co-author a paper? ;)

I think it is SHOCKING that Kristin doesn't have a copy of The Metaphysics of Free Will handy. Doesn't everyone? (ha/ha)

I think that the conclusion of the CA is that causal determinism is incompatible with freedom to do otherwise. I don't try to get fancier than that. Insofar as there is typically a principle that expresses the "fixity" of the laws of nature that figures in a premise, then to that extent the laws of nature pose a "threat" to free will. The fixity of the past, and the fixity of the laws of nature, are ingredients in the CA, I would have thought.

Here's the principle (from Ginet) that I think is key: Our freedom is always the power to add to the given past, holding the laws of nature fixed. Given this "basic" principle of the fixity of the past and laws, one can generate a valid CA in a straightforward way. No need for a modal principle, non-standard logics, ruminations about truthmakers, deliverances from Kit Fine, and so forth. No doubt those are fun toys to play with, but, in my view, we don't need them to see the force of the CA. Now that's not to say that the CA is uncontroversially sound--I think there is room for legitimate disagreement here.

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