Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Metaphysics: Free Will Pt.2

Robert Kane, one of the leading contemporary philosophers on free will, advocates for what is known as “libertarian freedom”, which holds the position that free will exists and determinism is false.

Kane’s argument states that “alternative possibilities (or the agent’s power to do otherwise)” are a necessary condition for the ability to act freely, but that alone is not enough. His argument is based around what he refers to as “ultimate responsibility” (UR)

“UR: An agent is ultimately responsible for some (event or state) E’s occurring only if (R) the agent is personally responsible for E’s occurring in a sense which entails that something the agent voluntarily (or willingly) did or omitted either was, or causally contributed to, E’s occurrence and made a difference to whether or not E occurred; and (U) for every X and Y (where X and Y represent occurrences of events and/or states) if the agent is personally responsible for X and if Y is an arche (sufficient condition, cause or motive) for X, then the agent must also be personally responsible for Y.”

Or in more simple phrasing:
“an agent must be responsible for anything that is a sufficient reason (condition, cause or motive) for the action’s occurring.”

Kane also talks about what he refers to as “self-forming actions” or SFAs. SFAs being those moments of indecision during which people experience conflicting wills. If a person has had the opportunity to make a character-forming decision (SFA), he is responsible for the actions that are a result of his character.

But Robert Kane doesn’t seem to take in to account WHY someone makes the choice that they do, for him, merely having the ability to do otherwise is enough for free will to exist, but can we really say that they had the ability to choose otherwise? Sure on the surface, if we were to decide between two options, such as choosing between cake or ice cream, it would seem clear that we have the ability to choose either, but if every factor, no matter how minute is taken into account, from the temperature in the room to the chemicals in our brain, to the very nature of the choice that we are given with that all contribute to the circumstances of the situation, do we really have the ability to choose otherwise? Sure we may have full motor function, we might be capable of picking up the ice cream instead of the cake, but there is more to a choice than merely physical limitations. If the agent in question dislikes ice cream but loves cake and hasn’t eaten in quite a while, they may have the physical ability to pick up the ice cream and ingest it but they don’t truly have the ability to choose the ice cream. Why we do something contributes just as much if not more to our ability to do something than our physical capability. If there is no reason to choose the ice cream and several reasons to choose the cake, then the agent in question will choose the cake. If there is a reason to choose the ice cream and that reason is more important to the agent than the pleasure gained from eating the cake, then they will choose the ice cream. If there is no reason to choose either, then the agent will attempt to choose randomly, but by choosing randomly the choice is not theirs, it is also still directly caused by the agents actions. For example If they decide to spin a bottle and whichever it is most closely pointing too will be chosen, the outcome will be a direct result of several factors such as how hard the bottle is spun, how much it weighs, where in relation to the bottle the two choices are placed.

To say that one has the ability to choose otherwise is absurd as there are countless factors influencing the choice and if the situation were to be recreated with all the factors exactly the same, then the outcome will be exactly the same. How then can we say one has the ability to choose otherwise if the other choice is never made, And how can we say that the agent is responsible for the choice when there are so many other factors influencing the outcome that are independent of the agents consciousness?

I retain my personal stance that free will cannot possibly exist, but much like with solipsism, does it really matter? Realism is far more convenient. If there is only one possible outcome but we can’t know what that outcome will be, then we still must act as though we are in control of determining that outcome ourselves. Even if the universe is deterministic, we have no way of knowing what that determined plan is, thus it doesn’t really have any bearing on how we act.


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