“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:
PART 1: Preface and General Introduction
PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge
PART 3: Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics
PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy
PART 5: Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise
Its author is ROBERT HANNA:
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1
PREFACE AND GENERAL INTRODUCTION
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 2
COGNITION, CONTENT, AND THE A PRIORI: A STUDY IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF MIND AND KNOWLEDGE
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 3
DEEP FREEDOM AND REAL PERSONS: A STUDY IN METAPHYSICS
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A Note on References
1. Introduction: Freedom, Life, and Persons’ Lives
2. Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life
3. From Biology to Agency
4. Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism
5. Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity
5.1 The Internal Structure of Deep Freedom
5.2 From Frankfurt Back to Kierkegaard: How to Have a Live Option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, Without Alternative Possibilities
5.3 Psychological Freedom, Deep Freedom, and Principled Authenticity
6. Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are
6.1 From Deep Freedom to Real Persons
6.2 Real Persons
6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood
7. Minded Animalism II: From Parfit to Real Personal Identity
7.1 Parfit’s Theory: Six Basic Claims
7.2 Against and Beyond Parfit 1: Two Reasons, and The Minded Animalist Criterion of Personal Identity
7.3 Against and Beyond Parfit 2: Four More Reasons
In the fullness of time, the complete, downloadable text of each part of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION will also be made available on APP.
A NOTE ON REFERENCES
For convenience, throughout the five-part four book series, The Rational Human Condition—comprising 1. the Preface and General Introduction, 2. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, 3. Deep Freedom and Real Persons, 4. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, and 5. Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism—I refer to Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). I generally follow the standard English translations, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations:
BL “The Blomberg Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 5-246.
C Immanuel Kant: Correspondence, 1759-99. Trans. A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.
CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.
CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 139-271.
DiS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 365-372.
DSS “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 301-359.
EAT “The End of All Things.” Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 221-231.
GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43-108.
ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 373-416.
IUH “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim.” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Eduction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. 107-120.
JL “The Jäsche Logic.” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 519-640.
LE Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics. Trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.
MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
MM Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 365-603.
OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.
OT “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 7-18.
Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.
PP “Toward Perpetual Peace.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 317-351.
Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 57-215.
RTL “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 611-615.
VL “The Vienna Logic,” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 251-377.
WE “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 17-22.
THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 3
DEEP FREEDOM AND REAL PERSONS: A STUDY IN METAPHYSICS
CHAPTER 5 Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity
The choice itself is crucial for the content of the personality: through the choice the personality submerges itself in that which is being chosen, and when it does not choose, it withers away in atrophy…. That which is to be chosen has the deepest relation to the one who is choosing, and when the choice is about an issue of elementary importance to life, the individual must at the same time continue to live, and this is why the longer he puts off the choice, the more easily he comes to alter it, although he keeps on pondering and pondering and thereby believes that he is really keeping separate the two alternatives of the choice.
My conception of freedom of the will appears to be neutral with regard to the problem of determinism. It seems conceivable that it should be causally determined that a person is free to want what he wants to want. If this is conceivable, then it might be causally determined that a person enjoys free will…. On the other hand, it seems conceivable that it should come about by chance that a person is free to have the will he wants. If this is conceivable, then it might be a matter of chance that certain people enjoy freedom of the will and that certain others do not. Perhaps it is also conceivable, as a number of philosophers believe, for states of affairs to come about in a way other than by chance or as the outcome of a [deterministic] sequence of natural causes. If it is indeed conceivable for the relevant states of affairs to come about in some third way, then it is also possible that a person should in that third way come to enjoy freedom of the will.
As advertised, in this chapter I will directly connect Natural Libertarianism to the recent and contemporary Harry Frankfurt-initiated debate about The Principle of Alternative Possibilities and moral responsibility, and in so doing, finish unpacking the internal structure of our essential free agency capacities for deep freedom, deep (non-)moral responsibility, and principled authenticity. Along the way, I will also argue that we have good reasons for retaining some carefully qualified features of each of the false standard views of classical Compatibilism, classical Incompatibilism, Hard Determinism, Soft Determinism, and Classical Libertarianism, by incorporating those carefully-qualified features into a distinctively different successor doctrine, namely, Natural Libertarianism. My conclusion will be that Natural Libertarianism not only offers the best overall explanation of all the relevant empirical and a priori philosophical data about free agency, but also provides a cognitively, affectively, and practically liberating way of untying The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency. And that will complete the overall six-step argument for the truth of Natural Libertarianism that I previewed in section 1.3.
5.1 The Internal Structure of Deep Freedom
Many theories of free will—including Natural Libertarianism—hold that necessarily, I can freely choose or do X only if my choosing or doing X,
(i) lacks an antecedent nomologically sufficient cause, and
(ii) I myself am the causally sufficient ground, origin, or source of choosing or doing X.
The conjunction of these two necessary conditions is what Kant rather misleadingly calls “transcendental freedom,” and what Robert Kane more aptly calls “ultimate responsibility.”[iii] But as I see it, these two necessary conditions provide only part of a single necessary but individually insufficient condition—i.e., what I call the real causal spontaneity condition—for deep freedom, ultimate sourcehood, or up-to-me-ness. More precisely, according to Natural Libertarianism, the real causal spontaneity condition says that a necessary but individually insufficient condition of deep freedom and deep (non-)moral responsibility is that all my choosings and doings are:
causally efficacious in the physical world in a way that is fully consistent with, but also not entailed or otherwise necessitated by, the total set of deterministic or indeterministic causal natural laws, especially including the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially The Big Bang.
The satisfaction of this necessary condition (together with two further necessary conditions I will spell out below), in turn, ensure that a rational human agent or real human person comes to “enjoy” freedom of the will and deep (non-)moral responsibility in Frankfurt’s “third way,” i.e., a way that is equally distinct from those specified by Universal Natural Determinism and Universal Natural Indeterminism alike.
As I pointed out in chapter 3, according to Kant, transcendental freedom is how a human person can, “from itself” (von selbst) (CPR A533/B561), be the spontaneous mental cause of certain natural events or processes. If I am that human person, then insofar as I am transcendentally free, it follows that I am an ultimate source of my choices and intentional actions precisely because certain events or processes in physical nature are up to me—or to use Kant’s own phrase, in meiner Gewalt (literally: “in my control” or “in my power”; CPrR 5: 94-95). So otherwise put, as I also put it in chapter 3, Kant’s misleadingly-labeled transcendental freedom is in effect deep freedom of the will (aka ultimate sourcehood, up-to-me-ness), which in turn necessarily includes but also significantly exceeds the real causal spontaneity condition alone. More specifically, it significantly exceeds the real causal spontaneity condition by adding:
(i) a condition requiring what I have called “the capacity for self-commitment to a live option,” or the Kierkegaardian Either/Or, and also
(ii) an ownership condition.
This completes a description of the internal structure of deep freedom, which I will discuss and defend in more detail shortly.
According to Natural Libertarianism, however, even the complex core metaphysical fact of deep freedom (= real causal spontaneity + the capacity for self-commitment to a live option or Kierkegaardian Either/Or + ownership) does not exhaust the complete fact of free will, which as I have said is more properly characterized as free agency in order to accommodate the further fact of practical agency. More precisely put, the free agency of rational animals or real persons has not only a complex structure, but more specifically an hierarchical or ordered-and-levelled, structure. Even more precisely still, according to Natural Libertarianism, the capacity for free agency has three logically distinct ordered sub-levels within it:
(i) the capacity for veridical psychological freedom,
(ii) the capacity for deep freedom (aka ultimate sourcehood, up-to-me-ness), and
(iii) the capacity for principled authenticity.
The ordering is as follows. Veridical psychological freedom is a necessary but not sufficient condition of deep freedom. So (ii) requires (i), but also exceeds (i). Furthermore, deep freedom is a necessary but not sufficient condition of principled authenticity. So (iii) requires both (i) and (ii), but also exceeds both (i) and (ii). In this way, the three sub-levels of free agency are metaphysically nested like all the little Russian dolls inside the one big Russian doll; and correspondingly free agency is like the one big Russian doll—an inherently ordered, tri-leveled fact. Each of the nested sub-levels corresponds to a set of what I take to be basic authoritative rational intuitions[iv] about free will, all grounded on self-evident phenomenology, so that each sub-level is a genuine type of free will—each sub-level is, as it were, its own little Russian doll. But only the complete, tripartite, ordered, leveled structure corresponds to all our basic authoritative rational intuitions about free will, because only the complete, tripartite, ordered, leveled structure fully captures how the several types of free will are internally necessarily related to one another in the total complex metaphysical fact of free agency. This total complex metaphysical fact of free agency, in turn, yields deep (non-)moral responsibility.
Therefore, according to Natural Libertarianism, only a theory of free agency that both logically distinguishes and also metaphysically nests or orders the three distinct sub-levels will be able to provide a philosophically adequate theory of free agency, and deep (non-)moral responsibility. All or at least most other classical and contemporary theories of free agency, no matter how clever and sophisticated, tend to be merely “flat,” or one-leveled, as if only the psychological component on its own—standardly, also lacking the veridicality requirement—or only the deep freedom component on its own, or only the moral autonomy component on its own (+/- authenticity), could adequately account for free agency or deep (non-)moral responsibility.[v] Sometimes, of course, it is true that “less is more.” But especially where philosophical explanations are concerned, more often than not, on the contrary, it is true that less is less and more is more. Roll over and put away that razor, Ockham.
Back now to the condition of real causal spontaneity. What, more precisely, do I mean by this?[vi] By real causation, I mean a metaphysically robust modal relation[vii] between two singular spacetime events, e1 and e2, such that:
(i) e2 is not earlier than e1,
(ii) e1 nomologically sufficiently guarantees the existence and specific character of e2, and
(iii) e2 would not have existed if e1 had not existed.
Then e1 is a nomologically sufficient real cause and e2 is its effect. In turn, I will define real causal efficacy as follows:
A singular spacetime event e1 is really causally efficacious if and only if either
(i) e1 is itself a nomologically sufficient singular event cause of some spacetime event e2, or
(ii) e1 is a necessary proper part of e3, which itself is a nomologically sufficient singular event cause of e2.
This notion of real causal efficacy can then be smoothly extended to properties and physical substances:
A property P is really causally efficacious if and only if P is instantiated as an intrinsic relational, or immanent structural, property by events that are causally efficacious, and a physical substance S is causally efficacious if and only if S is constituted by causally efficacious events and properties.
And I define an event’s spontaneity this way—
An event e is spontaneous if and only if e is:
(i) causal-dynamically unprecedented, in the sense that e has never actually happened before,
(ii) causal-nomologically constrained-yet-also-underdetermined, in the sense that e is fully consistent with, but also not entailed or otherwise necessitated by, the total set of deterministic or indeterministic causal natural laws, especially including the Conservation Laws, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially The Big Bang,
(iii) creative, in the sense of being recursively constructive, or able to generate infinitely complex outputs from finite resources, and
(iv) self-guiding, in the sense of having an internally- or endogenously-driven teleology or purposiveness.
More generally, however, deep freedom (aka ultimate sourcehood, up-to-me-ness) includes three individually necessary, individually insufficient, and jointly sufficient conditions:
(i) real causal spontaneity, as defined immediately above,
(ii) the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, which is my ability to choose or do something X, as opposed to not choosing or doing X, and X would never actually happen if I were not to choose X, so that I can have an authentic choice in the Kierkegaardian sense of an Either/Or even if, in context, there are no alternative possibilities in the classical sense of branching futures and the future is temporarily not open, and
(iii) ownership, which is the fact that that my choices and doings belong to me and my life, as a self-identical real person, and do not belong to some other agent or agency.
It is a striking feature of the contemporary metaphysical debate surrounding the problem of free agency that it is exceptionally intuitionally polarized, in a way that goes beyond all-too-familiar intuitional polarization in philosophy, in that those who engage in the free agency debate tend to find the prima facie “deep freedom intuition” either extremely compelling, with no room for compromise, or else a complete sham and wide open to a “debunking strategy” or “error-theory.” This exceptional polarization of prima facie intuitions is revealing. Those who find it a complete sham and wide open to debunking and error-theorizing are, I think, reacting primarily to the further thought that the very idea of deep freedom automatically entails one or both of the two following theses:
(i) rational agents or persons are special, unworldly substances causally operating outside of spacetime, and in such a way that nothing occurring in the series of events in nature prior to their choices or acts is in any way causally relevant to them (classical agent causationism), and/or
(ii) a rational agent or person can always choose or act otherwise, in any possible set of circumstances, even if the entire causal history of the actual world prior to her choice or act were exactly replicated, and even if the alternative is completely irrelevant to the desires and beliefs of the agent, and this is a necessary condition of her causal and/or (deep) (non-)moral responsibility (The Principle of Alternative Possibilities, aka PAP).
But it is vividly clear to me that both classical agent causationism and PAP are false. So if either of them really were entailed by the very idea of deep freedom, then I too would find the deep freedom intuition a complete sham. But I don’t find the deep freedom intuition a complete sham—contrariwise. So classical agent causation and PAP really ain’t entailed by it. That’s logic.
In other words, according to Natural Libertarianism, deep freedom entails neither classical agent causationism nor PAP. Indeed, when I say that a choice or act is deeply free, I am also assuming that:
(i) many things that happened in physical nature prior to my choices or acts are not only causally relevant to my choices or acts, but also causal-nomological constrainers[viii] of them,
(ii) necessarily, all my choices and acts occur in actual spacetime and in the actual event-sequence, and
(iii) I can freely and deeply (morally or non-morally) responsibly choose or do X, or refrain from so choosing or so doing, without either my believing in, or there in fact being, in that context, any distinct possible alternative Y in the classical sense of indeterministic branching futures, so that the future is temporarily not open.
If (i) were not true, then all my choosings and doings would be alienated from my own earlier real personal life history in the physical natural world, and would thus fail to belong to me and me alone. So (i)’s falsity would violate not only the second condition on the spontaneity of deep freedom, but also the ownership condition.
In turn, if (ii) were not true, then none of my free choices and acts could be causally efficacious, unless they were non-standardly causally overdetermined. So (ii)’s falsity would also violate the real causal spontaneity condition on deep freedom.
And if (iii) were not true, then I could never freely and deeply (non-)morally responsibly choose or do things single-mindedly or when the chips are already down. So (iii)’s falsity would violate the capacity for self-commitment to a live option condition of deep freedom.
But it is perfectly consistent with (i) and (ii) that:
(iv) none of the causally relevant and causal-nomologically constraining prior natural physical things mentioned in (i) is either individually or collectively nomologically causally sufficient for either the existence or specific character of my choice or act, so the total set of such things not only constrains but also underdetermines my choice or act, and
(v) I myself, and not anything or anyone else, am the real causal spontaneous nomologically sufficient cause of my choice or act.
Therefore (i) and (ii) are both perfectly consistent with my being the efficacious natural cause of all my choosings or doings and my ownership of all those choices or acts.
Moreover, it is perfectly consistent with (iii) that:
(vi) I can choose or do X,
(vii) I might have not chosen or not done X by just failing or refusing to choose X (I will call these the null choice options),
(viii) X would never actually happen (or: would not have happened) if I were not to choose (or: if I had not chosen) X, and
(ix) conditions (vi) through (viii) can obtain even if, in context, I have no alternative possibilities in the classical sense of branching futures, and the future is temporarily not open.
Or in other words, if (vi), (vii), (viii), and (ix) are all true, then even if there are in fact no possible alternatives Y, in that context, to my choosing or doing X, or not choosing or doing X, it still is the case that both the existence and specific character of X are necessarily dependent on me, and X is still a live option for me. In other words, I can make X happen by choosing it, and X would never actually happen if I were not to choose it. This fact, yet again, is what I call “the capacity for self-commitment to a live option” or “the Kierkegaardian Either/Or.”
Granting me for the purposes of argument at least the intelligibility of the idea of the capacity for self-commitment to a live option or the Kierkegaardian Either/Or, now what I want to argue is that the dynamacist model of life that I developed in chapter 2, together with the biologically-based theory of practical agency that I developed in chapter 3, together with the Incompatibilistic Compatibilism that I developed in chapter 4, jointly provide an adequate explanation and metaphysical foundation for the real fact of deep freedom that also centrally includes the capacity for self-commitment to a live option or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, as embedded within the larger metaphysical framework of the agency-constituting capacity for principled authenticity.
Fully explicitly now, according to Natural Libertarianism, deep freedom is the conjunction of three individually necessary, individually insufficient, and jointly sufficient conditions. A rational animal or real person P’s choosing or doing X is deeply free if and only if:
(i) P is the far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing, organismic, finegrainedly normatively attuned, thermodynamic, causal-dynamically unprecedented, causal-nomologically constrained-yet-also-necessarily-underdetermined, creative, and self-guiding efficacious cause of choosing or doing X, or refraining from so choosing or so doing (i.e., the real causal spontaneity condition is satisfied),
(ii) P can choose or do something X, as opposed to not choosing or doing X, and X would never actually happen (or: would not have happened) if P were not to choose (or: had not chosen) X, so that P has a live option for self-commitment in the Kierkegaardian sense of an Either/Or, even if, in context, there are no alternative possibilities in the classical sense of indeterministic branching futures, and the future is temporarily not open (i.e., the capacity for self-commitment to a live option condition is satisfied), and
(iii) P’s choosings and doings belong to her and her life, as a self-identical real person, and do not belong to some other agent or agency (i.e., the ownership condition is satisfied).
If all this is correct, then the fundamental problem with other classical or contemporary theories of free will is that they have failed to recognize these two crucial points:
(i) free agency is freedom-in-life, and
(ii) the nature of deep freedom, the nature of rational (human) animality, and the nature of real (human) personhood, are all ultimately one and the same.
An extremely important and theoretically fruitful feature of Natural Libertarianism is the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, that is built into the larger fact of deep freedom. As I have noted above many times, if I have the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, then:
(i) I can choose or do X,
(ii) I can not-choose or not-do X by just failing or refusing to choose X (= the null choice options),
(iii) X would never actually happen (or: would not have happened) if I were not to choose (or: if I had not chosen) X, and
(iv) conditions (i) through (iii) can obtain even if, in context, I have no alternative possibilities in the classical sense of branching futures, and the future is temporarily not open.
The first and second clauses jointly express a metaphysically robustly or really possible actual-sequence option for the agent, i.e., “the live option.” The third clause expresses a metaphysically robust robust counterfactual causal condition. And the fourth clause says that my having the ability for self-commitment with respect to X entails that I can go-for-X, or not go-for-X, and necessarily X would not happen in the actual world without me and my choice to go-for-X, even if, in the actual world in that very context, I have no alternative possibilities and my context-sensitive future is not open. Or in other words, alternative possibilities in the classical sense of indeterministic branching, open futures are inherently irrelevant to deep freedom.
It is crucial to note, however, that this fourth clause does not claim that there are no such things as classical indeterministic alternative possibilities, in the sense of branching, open futures. On the contrary, there certainly could be classcal indeterministic alternative possibilities, in the sense of branching, open futures, as a matter of logical-conceptual, “weak metaphysical,” or analytic possibility, as a matter of non-logical, “strong metaphysical,” real, or synthetic possibility, or as a matter of nomological or physical possibility. And not only that, there really are classical indeterministic alternative possibilities, in the sense of branching, open futures, wherever there is some significant microphysical or macrophysical indeterminism in nature. None of these is ruled out by Natural Libertarianism. Indeed, quantum physics strongly indicates the existence of various kinds of indeterministic facts in nature—and I am accepting this as an empirical truth. It is just that such indeterministic facts are inherently irrelevant to free agency, except insofar as they factually break the classical metaphysical slave-chains of Universal Natural Determinism and thereby minimally entail the truth of non-determinism.
So what metaphysically matters for free agency is not metaphysical indeterminism. In order for there to be a fully intelligible, defensible, and true version of Libertarianism, i.e., a fully intelligible, defensible, and true Natural Libertarianism, all that is essentially required are:
(i) the truth of non-determinism—that is, the truth of the denial of Universal Natural Determinism—as, e.g., minimally entailed by various factual truths of quantum physics,
(ii) the truth of anti-mechanism, i.e., the reality of natural purposiveness or teleology, and
(iii) the real causal spontaneity of minded animals, including of course rational human animals.
Of course, the belief in the normative and metaphysical significance of branching, open futures and alternative possibilities matters quite a lot from the third-person standpoint of (neo)liberal democratic political theory and political libertarianism. According to liberalism (whether classical liberal or neoliberal) and also according to political libertarianism, in a world in which people are inherently self-interested and mutually antagonistic, and have collectively entered into some sort of social contract that legitimates a (maximal, moderate, or minimal) government authority, incorporating the power to coerce the people governed by that authority, in order to keep the peace and make the mutual pursuit of self-interest possible for everyone, then it is significantly better for people to have lots of different things available for them to choose, than for them to have fewer options. And correspondingly, according to (neo)liberals and political libertarians, excessively authoritarian, regressive political regimes that antecedently shut down or arbitrarily narrow the total class of socially-available alternatives are radically worse than those less authoritarian regimes that permanently sustain or progressively open up the total class of socially-available alternatives. These (neo)liberal and political libertarian truisms—usually accompanied by the mental imagery of a flag gently waving in the wind, the stirring strains of a national anthem, and rows upon rows of people with their right hands held over their hearts—no doubt provide a good sociocultural explanation for why some or another version of Classical Libertarianism has seemed to many 20th and 21st century Anglo-American philosophers of free will to be the only game in town.[ix]
As I mentioned in chapter 3, the notion of exercising the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or—whereby, at some time or another, I manifest or realize the capacity to exercise or not exercise any other ability that I might have—is closely related to the fundamental notion of “trying” in action-theory, and more precisely is identical to what Maiese and I have called “effortless trying.”[x] Effortless trying is pre-reflective and conscious, but non-self-consciously conscious, effective desiring, and therefore need not involve any kind of self-conscious or reflective effective desiring. In turn, effortless trying is presupposed by all self-conscious or reflective, effortful trying. So given my self-commitment to X, if X actually happens, then X happens because I either effortlessly (pre-reflectively) tried or effortfully (self-consciously or reflectively) tried to do X, and because my trying made X actually happen.
There are also some obvious similarities between the notion of self-commitment to a live option and the conception of freedom found in various versions of Existentialism. In particular, as I have stressed, the notion of a capacity for self-commitment to a live option is closely related to Kierkegaard’s profound doctrine of an Either/Or-driven self-choosing that pre-reflectively consciously characterizes every moment of a particular conscious, intentional, caring, rational animal’s or real person’s life, no matter what universal rational or natural laws or other external constraints there might be. The notion of the self-commitment option is also closely related to Sartre’s notion of a “radical choice” that is perfectly consistent with cases in which the chips are already down—when les jeux sont faits.[xi]
Sartre is sometimes interpreted as having proposed an extreme version of classical or non-classical agent causationist Classical Libertarianism—but I think that this is a serious misinterpretation of his view. In any case, and quite apart from vexed historical-interpretive questions, the basic shared Kierkegaardian and Sartrean existentialist idea here, as I understand it, is that what is essential to something’s being deeply free and deeply (non-)morally responsible, is that I be able to choose or do something, as opposed to not choosing or not doing that thing, such that the end or goal of my choice or act would never actually happen (or: would not have happened) were I not to choose it (or: had I not chosen it). And that it is therefore ultimately metaphysically irrelevant whether, in that context, I have any classical indeterministic branching alternatives, and thus metaphysically irrelevant whether the future is open for me right then and there.
One foreseeable objection to my view is that, even despite what I have already argued, the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, “must be” a special kind of classical alternative possibility, which would then implicitly reinstate The Principle of Alternative Possibilities, aka PAP. But this objection involves a strategically uncharitable and false interpretive presupposition—namely, that all agency-relevant optionality must be non-actual-sequence possibility, i.e., indeterminism. Dialectically, this is highly analogous to claiming that every non-physicalist position in the philosophy of biology “must be” a version of substance vitalism; and also highly analogous to claiming that every non-physicalist position in the philosophy of mind “must be” a form of substance dualism. The underlying bad philosophical picture that is built into both of these pairs of “must-be” or “obvious” options, is this: that the logical space of possible solutions to the problem of life and to the mind-body problem is exhausted by the simplistic binary architecture—
In the philosophy of free will, essentially the same underlying bad philosophical picture pre-establishes, without argument, that the logical space of solutions to the free will problem is exhausted by the equally simplistic binary architecture—
Nevertheless, just as fully intelligible and defensible non-physicalist, non-dualist positions are available in the philosophy of biology (e.g., dynamicism) and in the philosophy of mind (e.g., the essential embodiment theory), so too a tenable non-determinist, non-indeterminist position is available in the metaphysics of free will: Natural Libertarianism. So the non-determinism built into Natural Libertarianism does not entail PAP.
The classical notion of an alternative possibility is that, relative to some context, the past and the causal laws of nature can remain exactly the same, and then one could choose or do either X or Y, even if Y is completely irrelevant to the desires and beliefs of the agent. More precisely, as we saw above, the classical notion of alternative possibilities says this:
A person can always choose or act otherwise, even if the entire causal history of the actual world prior to her choice or act were exactly replicated, and even if the alternative is completely irrelevant to the desires and beliefs of the person, and this is a necessary condition of her causal and/or (deep) (non-)moral responsibility.
So according to the classical notion of alternative possibilities, the future is open in that it has definite branches (aka “open doors”), and in that context you could have chosen or acted either way, no matter what the past and laws of nature were, and no matter whether the alternative actually matters to you. Such alternatives might be metaphysically available as a matter of logical, analytic, or conceptual possibility (aka weak a priori metaphysical possibility), assuming that Fatalism is false; or they might be metaphysically available as a matter of nomological or physical possibility (aka weak a posteriori metaphysical possibility, i.e., logical possibility plus some factual “meaning postulates” about causal natural laws), assuming, in line with quantum mechanics, that some form of indeterminism is factually true about at least some parts of physical nature. But in either case they would be at most metaphysically non-robust possibilities. That is, they would not, in and of themselves, be what we can choose or do in the actual event-sequence.
But what is at issue in the capacity for self-commitment to a live option or Kierkegaardian Either/Or is only whether, in that context, the choice to pursue X will be made by you, so that X can come into existence in the actual sequence because of your trying, or whether X will fail to exist in the actual sequence for lack of your trying. According to Natural Libertarianism, then, only the actual sequence and the actual world really and truly matter to deep freedom of the will/deep (non-)moral responsibility and free agency. Thus it is only the set of metaphysically robust, non-logical, essentially non-conceptual, real or synthetic (aka strong metaphysical) possibilities in the actual sequence and in the actual world, i.e., the possibilities that are supplied by the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, that really and truly matter to deep freedom of the will/deep (non-)moral responsibility and free agency.
Now this ability for self-committing-to-a-live-option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, can obtain even if only X was ever possible in the actual world, due to the actual contextual presence of a special set of what I will call “causal-interventionist counterfactual conditions,” aka CICCs (pronounced like ‘kicks’). Given the existence of some CICCs, it is true that even if you were to try to choose or do something other than X—which of course you actually do not—then those CICCs would ensure that X happens, even though you did not freely choose or do X.
It is very important to see that the actual contextual presence of some CICCs is sharply different from the actual contextual presence of any special set of conditions under which the intentional agent’s particular choice or act is inherently naturally determined, whether distally or proximally, or else caused by a powerful intervener, say, a Cartesian evil demon or mad/malicious scientist. Otherwise put, the concept of CICCs is not the same as the concepts of either Universal Natural Determinism or “manipulation.” This is because the actual contextual presence of some CICCs is perfectly consistent with self-commitment to a live option and therefore also with deep freedom in the actual event-sequence, whereas Universal Natural Determinism and powerful manipulation are both fully inconsistent with self-commitment to a live option and deep freedom/deep (non-)moral responsibility in the actual sequence. The latter point about full inconsistency is shown by my arguments for local incompatibilism with respect to Natural Mechanism in section 4.5 above. In any case, once we have made this conceptual distinction between CICCs on the one hand, and Universal Natural Determinism/powerful manipulation on the other, then we should be able to see clearly that the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, is essentially unaffected by all of the (perhaps, all-too-familiar) contemporary “Frankfurt-style” counterarguments against PAP.
In the next section, I will elaborate, and then argue explicitly for, that last claim—namely, that the capacity for self-commitment to a live option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, is essentially unaffected by all of the contemporary Frankfurt-style counterarguments against PAP. If successful, this argument will demonstrate that Frankfurt-style counterarguments against PAP are smoothly consistent with local incompatibilism with respect to Natural Mechanism, and to that extent, they are also sharply inconsistent with classical Compatibilism. The philosophical moral of this story is that you do not have to be a classical compatibilist in order to accept Frankfurt-style counterarguments against PAP. You can consistently accept Frankfurt-style counterarguments against PAP and still be a thoroughly non-classical kind of incompatibilist. That is, you can still be an “incompatibilistic compatibilist” and a Natural Libertarian. It is, therefore, a big mistake to think that the acceptance of Frankfurt-style counterarguments against PAP somehow rationally forces classical Compatibilism/Soft Determinism on us, even if, as a matter of sheer philosophico-sociological fact, almost all of the contemporary defenders of Frankfurt-style counterexamples to PAP are also defenders of classical Compatibilism/Soft Determinism. Obviously, however, the philosophical majority-crowd can be wrong—even if the personal, social, and ideological pressures of professional academic life sometimes make this obvious point very hard to remember.
[v] See, e.g., the various free will theories surveyed in Kane, A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. Kane very usefully ends the book with a survey of five aspects or types of freedom of the will: (i) self-realization, (ii) reflective self-control, (iii) self-perfection,
(iv) self-determination, and (v) self-formation. All five of these aspects or types of freedom are accounted-for within the ordered, three-leveled metaphysical structure postulated by Natural Libertarianism.
[vii] More specifically, my claim is that real causation is a relation of non-logical, “strong metaphysical,” synthetic a priori necessitation, indexed to the egocentrically-centered actual world, that obtains only under special ceteris paribus contextual conditions, fully consistent with all deterministic or indeterministic general causal laws of nature, especially including the Conservation Laws, together with all settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang, but not necessarily entailed or otherwise necessitated by that base, e.g., in cases in which the cause is really causally spontaneous, hence naturally purposive or teleological, hence non-deterministic but also non-indeterministic. Obviously, I cannot adequately develop and defend this theory here, only state it and indicate its explanatory advantages over other approaches. But the crucial point for the present purposes is that this approach to causation gets significantly between (i) classical modal theories of causation grounded on hypothetical logical-conceptual, “weak metaphysical,” or analytic necessity, on the one hand, which are characteristically too strong, and (ii) non-modal theories, on the other, which are characteristically too weak. The standard dichotomy between (i)-type logico-conceptual-analysis-grounded theories, following on from Logical Empiricism, and (ii)-type scientific-naturalism-grounded theories, following on from post-Empiricist Quineanism or neo-Quineanism, presuppose modal monism on both sides of the dichotomy. But I want to reject modal monism, in favor of a contemporary Kantian version of modal dualism—see, e.g., Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, ch. 4—and, correspondingly, claim that the standard modal/non-modal dichotomy in the theory of causation is a false one that can be overcome by the sort of theory I’m proposing.
[viii] As well as being causal-nomological underdeterminers of them, as per the second condition on spontaneity.
[ix] See, e.g., Pettit, A Theory of Freedom.
[x] See B. O’Shaughnessy, “Trying (as the Mental ‘Pineal Gland’), ” in A. Mele (ed.), The Philosophy of Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1997), pp. 53-74; and Hanna and Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action, chs. 3-5 and section 8.3.
[xi] See Sartre, Being and Nothingness, part 4.
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