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David Chaffee
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Mark B., Thanks for your response. My first concern may boil down to whether or not the compatibilism question and the compatibilism debate are synonyms. Metaphysically possible answers to the what-is-the-nature-of-our-will question seem to be what is fed into the compatibilism question. So, if the question itself is metaphysically irrelevant, the refinement of metaphysically possible answers in the process of debate could perhaps still be metaphysically relevant in your framework. Of course, I may be reading too much into this, but I wanted you to know that I didn’t think you were trying to throw out the compatibilism question. Your paper did a very good job of pointing out your position that the compatibilism question is nonetheless valuable. I perhaps took my second concern too far. I should have stopped by saying if your argument in the present paper is meant as a device to promote more attention to libertarianism, then my opinion would be that a new species of libertarianism that isn’t vulnerable to the old criticisms would be an even better device. More than anything, this indicates that I am very interested to read your new formulation. If a decision feels torn, and we feel we’ve made a decision without resolving the tie in the weight of reasons, it seems one could only argue that we feel L-free. Godspeed to the empiricists, and I wish you well! Dave
Mark, Almost without exception, the introduction to a book on free will speaks of the problem’s universal appeal to people. I am one such person, well outside the field, who can attest to that; and I am very appreciative of the opportunity to interact with the professionals at this forum. If you are not altogether exhausted from the discussion thus far, I would sure be interested in your thoughts. I think your argument, as an argument, is sound. As has been noted, the what-kinds-of-freedom-do-we-have question may not be appropriately considered as a reduction or a more fundamental question, but I think those are minor distinctions and your argument doesn’t hinge upon it. But, I did experience a couple of concerns that, if valid, would be more problematic. First Concern However valid the argument is semantically, I wonder if there isn’t some sense of reality that escapes it. The compatibility debate, while it does contain a lot of definitional wrangling, also promotes or refutes a variety of metaphysically possible answers to the what-is-the-nature-of-our-will question. I believe there is a feedback mechanism in the debate for compatibilism or incompatibilism, such that our conceptions of the metaphysically possible are refined. So, I am concerned that throwing out the compatibility debate would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. We may not find the water particularly interesting, but if the baby is going to come clean, it seems like we’ve got to run the wretched little guy a bath. As a venue to define and refine the metaphysically possible, I would say the compatibility debate contains, as an essential element, metaphysically relevant discussion. I do agree, of course, that we’re not going to define our way into metaphysical knowledge. Second Concern I also wonder at the argument as a device to motivate consideration of libertarianism and empirical exploration. Ideally, the motivation for libertarianism would be a new species of it that is not vulnerable to the old, and in my view valid, criticisms. In the libertarian accounts with which I am familiar, the torn decisions seem analogous to a pencil balanced on its point. And there seem to be four choices. We can knock it over with strict determinism; we can flip a coin; we can say the pencil decided; or we can say one can’t really balance a pencil on its point. Even when we face a torn decision, and are motivated to think either choice is better than doing nothing, we need a mechanism for that choice, undetermined as it may be at the moment of choice. If we can only reduce it to “the pencil decided”, then it seems like an argument for a soul. Deciding to flip a coin seems equally problematic. If I refrain, via a coin flip, from throwing a rock at a neighborhood kid who is retrieving his ball from the flower garden, is my morality to be held in high regard? Just to be a bit of a contrarian, I would argue that conceptual analysis needs to be done to separate the notions of freedom and control (even independently of the free will problem). How ever cleverly these concepts get shaved in a philosophical work, there seems to be a fundamental prohibition at separating the two, as with wave-particle duality. I very much liked your discussion of rationality and the subconscious in your 2004 NOÛS paper and I would make the bonus comment that however torn a decision feels to our awareness, the “vote” of a few billion neurons would seem unlikely to arrive at a tie. Similarly, the best motivation for empirical exploration is the description of an experiment which would produce evidence on the nature of our wills. Even an experiment that would reduce some of the meanings we attach to concepts used in the debate would be helpful. These concerns aside, I am interested in libertarianism and in empirically-based advancements. I look forward to reading more from you. Regards, Dave