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Kristin Mickelson
Interests: Metaphysics; Philosophy of Education
Recent Activity
The time has come to wrap up my month as featured author. It has been great to have a friendly forum to float a few ideas. While I had hoped to squeeze in a bit more than house cleaning, I am very happy with the rich lessons that I’m taking... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2014 at Flickers of Freedom
On almost all formulations of the Consequence Argument (CA), the argument uses both a “grounding principle” and a “transfer principle”. Much attention has been given to the latter, taken as a logical principle. But I want to continue talking about the natural-language CA, which I take to be an argument... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2014 at Flickers of Freedom
I hope all the fathers out there had a nice Father’s Day weekend! In this post, I would like to extend some of the reasoning from earlier posts and suggest that the Consequence Argument is like the Zygote Argument: in its extant forms, it is just a defense of a... Continue reading
Posted Jun 16, 2014 at Flickers of Freedom
In my first post on manipulation arguments, I argued that the Zygote Argument may be an argument for incompossibilism, but it’s not an argument for incompatibilism. From that conclusion, a new question arises: Could any manipulation argument provide a free-standing defense of incompatibilism? First off, a manipulation argument for incompatibilism... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2014 at Flickers of Freedom
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 []. 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?
Thanks for the warm welcome, Joshua. When it comes to discussions about free will, I say the more the merrier!
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 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*.
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 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.
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 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.
Here is a formal summary of what is, I think, the best “global” manipulation argument around, Alfred Mele’s Zygote Argument: Z1. Ernie is not morally responsible for anything he does. Z2. Concerning moral responsibility of the beings into whom the zygotes develop, there is no significant difference between the way... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2014 at Flickers of Freedom
To begin, I would like to thank Thomas for offering me a spot in this Featured Author series. His lineup has been amazing so far, which makes it a *bit* daunting to step up to the plate--but here goes! In order to set the stage for my upcoming posts, I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2014 at Flickers of Freedom