In Defense for Classic Compatibilism. Essay on Free Will

15 June, 2018

Our series “Philosophy of Mind” has released a new book! It’s devoted to the problem of free will. Its author, Ph.D. Vadim Vasiliev, argues that determinism or predestination of events is not a threat to free will.

You can order this book here

In this book I try to defend classical compatibilism, according to which (1) free will and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism, and (2) free will is based on freedom of action as a necessary condition of moral responsibility. 

I start with a critical evaluation of incompatibilism. Then I show why classical compatibilism is the best option among other forms of compatibilism. I criticize libertarian incompatibilism by explicating contradictions in radical libertarianism with its idea of ultimate responsibility, and by pointing at the uselessness of a mitigated one. Mitigated libertarianism might appeal to the principle of alternative possibilities, but this principle is compatible with determinism. It might also appeal to the feeling of freedom, but, in fact, this feeling presupposes a belief in determinism. 

Another version of incompatibilism tends to deny free will and moral responsibility, but arguments for this position — first of all, Pereboom’s Manipulation Argument — miss the point. I show, in particular, that in the crucial first Case of Pereboom’s Four-Cases Argument a person should be held responsible, in contrast to what he claims (I do this without a kind of reverse argumentation, made popular by M. McKenna). I admit, however, that a person under manipulation bears less responsibility than in ordinary situations. 

In explaining this phenomenon I refer to the epistemic criterion of moral responsibility: the very notion of manipulation presupposes a lack of knowledge on the side of a victim of manipulation. That’s why the responsibility decreases. I try to undermine incompatibilism also by demonstrating that in the famous Van Inwagen’s Direct and Consequence Arguments against compatibilism the author essentially begs the question. 

But my chief argument on this topic proceeds by stressing the fact that blaming and other moral attitudes toward other people, in a sense implying moral responsibility, are derived by redirection from our inner reactions, like feelings of guilt. feelings are connected with our moral sense, that is, a mental device, produced by evolution for leading us to altruistic behavior. If feeling of guilt is simply a feeling of dissatisfaction of moral sense, then in the end incompatibilits are to believe that determinism is incompatible with existence of moral sense. This, however, seems certainly wrong. As for advantages of the classical compatibilism, so non-classical compatibilism had arisen as a consequence of a belief that the classical one was flawed due to the problems with the notion of freedom of action. Critics claimed that any talk about freedom of action made sense only when such a freedom was connected with the real possibility of a person to act otherwise. I show, however, that we have a right to consider the freedom of action independently of such a possibility. 

I also argue against classical Austin’s counterexamples to interpretation of freedom of action as possibility to act otherwise in case we desire and choose otherwise, and against a thesis that idea of freedom of action as a necessary condition of moral responsibility could be destroyed by Frankfurt-like cases, at least when we talk about full moral responsibility. The importance of freedom of action is explained by the fact of its connection to person’s being a cause of an action through her desires. I try to prove that “qualitative” desires could be causally relevant for our actions even if (1) they were not identical with physical processes in the brain, and (2) the physical were causally closed: it is possible to demonstrate that a belief in such a closure originates in our basic cognitive attitudes and is common to us all. I call “ultracompatibilism” a conception, according to which the freedom of action and free will itself (I treat free will as a freedom of action supplemented by a rational choice) are compatible with the causal closure of the physical, and I explain a possibility of this with the help of “local interactionism”, in which desires are treated as conditions of realizing of a physical causation. In such a case the classical compatibilism might be combined with some libertarian intuitions.

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