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07/05/2015

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Eddy,

Also, I touch on Perry's "Compatibilist Options" in the following: "My Way and Life's Highway: Replies to Steward, Smilansky, and Perry," Journal of Ethics Vol. 12, No. 2 (2008): 167-89.

You might find it of interest.

Hi Helen--

Humean or not, relative to some present time t, the past and the laws seem to pair up rigidly in some sense under something like determinism. My take on Lewis is that he was trying to tip his hat to that.

Yet, we do claim to have abilities to do things (in the most encompassing sense of "do"). What must we mean by that?

The simplest word to express this is "can", as in "I can do A." Now I'm going to be a hard-liner and use "can" only to mean ability--not opportunity--even though I endorse the need for opportunity to be fully free with respect to doing A. But this is why I said what I did above--"can" in this sense only delivers the analytical goods of asserted necessary conditions for the capability of doing A--it cannot deliver other goods, like relevant opportunities should they matter to the full exercise of freedom. And as an assertion of as yet unexercised freedom--how could it deliver the sufficiency of an act A before the fact? Even a "can" claim must yield to some epistemic humility about what the world allows given our staunchest confidence in a power. I think this realization in part was driving Lewis' claims.

This is what is behind the claim that "I am able to do A such that, if I did it, a law would be broken". (i) it bases a claim on ability that does not require its actual exercise, and that is how it in fact is most used--it is claim to yet-unused power. (ii) it acknowledges compatibility with a deterministic basis for ability "can" claims in light of the use-context of (i). So (iii) to explain "can" with respect to (i) and (ii) we need counterfactual grounds of explanation that preserve them: to analyze how we might have used the actual unused powers we claim to have in our actual world under determinism, we need to refer to a world with that same kind of power in which we do use that power as an alternative to our lack of use of it here, and under determinism, a law here disallowing that action would have to be broken there to allow it.

So what is this power or ability we "can" have? To my mind the best candidate Lewis was advocating for was the basic ability to act in very familiar ways we associate with physical freedom, but under conditions that assume determinism to hold in the actual and relevant counterfactual worlds. So there is no assertion here of dual-ability to act freely simpliciter, just one that is counterfactually dispositional in character as understood compatibly with determinism.

The response to the CA is thus neither to undermine the relevance of the past nor the laws as entailing what happens in any deterministic world--it is to offer an alternative account of "can" on the basis of (i)-(iii) that simply and completely side-steps its argumentative force. It offers an account of "can" that the CA doesn't and cannot deal with (where "cannot" isn't an inside joke--it's a reflection of two these two completely different senses of "can", Lewis' dispositional power-sense as opposed to some logical sense of "can" in the CA involving indistinct powers of falsifying propositions or states of affairs).

If I'm off-base here, well I apologize for the inadvertent red herring. But I don't think Lewis was challenging "can" with respect to either the past or laws premises of the CA. He was offering an entirely different account.

Eddy,
Looking for Perry's "Compatibilist Options" online, I found instead his "Wretched Subterfuge" lecture here: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/10098313/2010d.pdf

-Which has a section titled "Options for the Compatibilist". Perry rocks the house, as usual.

Perry's "Compatibilist Options" was pupblished prior to the "Wretched Subterfuge" paper, in a volume of INPC proceedings edited by our very own Joe Campbell (et. al.). Fwiw, I reply to the line Perry takes in this and other papers in my JOET piece referred to above.

Rock on!

By my reckoning, this is my last day as featured author on the blog. I thought I’d end just by returning to my original point, and trying to see where it now stands, in the light of all the extremely interesting comments that have been posted – both directly, as a response to the original worry – and also indirectly, in the various follow-ups, digressions and diversions that have proved to be necessary in order to get clearer about various things.

So: I started with a worry – that it might be problematic to define determinism in terms of entailment. My worry, in particular, was that if you believe that the laws are, as it were, compiled post facto, being the set of empirically adequate generalisations that achieves the best combination of simplicity and strength, given the whole history of the world in its entirety, there is nothing whatever for anyone to worry about so far as free will is concerned, because laws thus conceived are simply not such as to constrain the future. So if we just say that determinism is the doctrine that laws plus past entail the future, we don’t yet have a threatening doctrine. Laws and past can perfectly well entail future (on this Hume-Lewis regularity conception of law), without there being anything worrying at stake. And I suggested that what would be needed to turn determinism into something to worry about would be some thesis which connects the past to the future *metaphysically* - as it were – which claims that the past necessitates the future.
John replied at that point that since the entailment definition will suffice to deliver the Consequence Argument, it surely delivers a worry about free will (at least prima facie). I suppose my reply would now be that the entailment definition only delivers a worry about free will via the Consequence Argument given a principle concerning the Fixity of the Laws which I think the Humean need not accept. If what’s meant by the Fixity of the Laws is that no one has any choice about what the laws are, then I think that’s false under the version of Humeanism I have in mind. One can make a contribution to what the laws are with everything one does and in that sense ‘has a choice’ about what the laws are. One can’t, of course, normally exercise that choice in such a way as to determine what the laws will be – because one isn’t the only person or thing making such a contribution. But still, one can affect what the laws will be – just as one can affect (though one can’t necessarily determine) where the centre of gravity of a room might be by moving within it. And importantly, the laws just won’t be the sorts of thing that place any limitations whatever on one’s action.

Having re-read Lewis’s ‘Are we Free to Break the Laws’, I reckon this isn’t his official response (although I remain unsure whether the response I’ve suggested on behalf of the Humean above might somehow relate to what is specifically said in AWFTBTL). I think it’s interesting that it isn’t – Alan’s speculations above about why this might be may be correct. But even if it isn’t Lewis’s official response, doesn’t it remain the case that the response is available (to Lewis, and also to other compatibilists?). And if it is, then the question remains what should be done in order to sharpen up the Consequence Argument to disallow the response.

My original suggestion was to replace the entailment definition of determinism. And I still think I agree with myself! There would be different ways to go with this – one might postulate metaphysically necessitating laws; or one might perhaps dispense with laws altogether, and just formulate determinism as the thesis that the determinate, actual past necessitates a determinate future. One would have to respond to Joe’s worry that we have no idea what we mean by ‘metaphysical necessitation’ – that it’s an unclear idea. But unclear ideas can still exercise powerful influences on us. I think determinism may precisely be a very unclear idea which nevertheless we are inclined to think we understand very well.
Thanks, everyone, for fantastic discussion – I’ve really appreciated everyone’s comments.

Thanks, Helen, for your thoughtful blogging this month. I enjoyed it and learned a lot.

Yes, this is philosophical progress: one starts with a view, it is called into question, and in the end one comes to the belief that one agrees with oneself! Who says we can't make progress in philosophy?

Thank you Helen for a very stimulating post this month--when the comments go to three pages you know you've sparked a lot of interest!

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