(Under Contract) Naturally Free Action, Oxford University Press.
In this book, I develop a new compatibilist theory of free action. The account that emerges shows how the concept of free action refers in an externalist way, and thus how free actions might be a natural kind. Additionally, the account explains the role of conscious agency in free action and addresses the issue of how people can be morally responsible for actions done out of implicit bias.
(With Eddy Nahmias )
We use recent interventionist theories of causation to develop a compatibilist account of causal sourcehood, which provides a response to Manipulation Arguments for the incompatibility of free will and determinism. Our account explains the difference between manipulation and determinism, against the claim of Manipulation Arguments that there is no relevant difference. Interventionism allows us to see that causal determinism does not mean that variables outside of the agent causally explain her actions better than variables within the agent, whereas the causal source of a manipulated agent’s actions instead lies outside of the agent in the intentions of the manipulator. As a result, determined agents can have free will and be morally responsible in a way that manipulated agents cannot, contrary to what Manipulation Arguments conclude. In this way, our account demonstrates not only how Manipulation Arguments fail but also how compatibilism can be strengthened by means of a plausible account of causal sourcehood.
Libertarians claim that our experience of free choice is indeterministic. They think that when we choose, our choice feels open in a way that would require indeterminism for the experience to be accurate. This claim then functions as a step in an argument in favour of libertarianism, the view that freedom requires indeterminism and we are free. Since, all else being equal, we should take experience at face value, libertarians argue, we should endorse libertarianism. Compatibilists, who think that freedom is consistent with determinism, respond to this argument in a number of ways, none of which is adequate. This paper defends a stronger compatibilist response. Compatibilists should concede, at least for argument’s sake, that our experience of freedom is in a sense libertarian. Yet they should also insist that our experience is in another sense compatibilist. Thus, even if libertarian descriptions of experience are phenomenologically apt, there is still a sense in which the experience might be veridical, assuming determinism. This response undermines a central motivation for libertarianism, since it removes any presumption in favour of libertarianism based on experience.
Recent empirical evidence indicates that (1) people tend to believe that they possess indeterminist free will, and (2) people’s experience of choosing and deciding is that they possess such freedom. Some also maintain that (3) people’s belief in indeterminist free will has its source in their experience of choosing and deciding. Yet there seem to be good reasons to resist endorsing (3). Despite this, I maintain that belief in indeterminist free will really does have its source in experience. I explain how this is so by appeal to the phenomenon of prospection, which is the mental simulation of future possibilities for the purpose of guiding action. Crucially, prospection can be experienced. And because of the way in which prospection models choice, it is easy for agents to experience and to believe that their choice is indeterministic. Yet this belief is not justified; the experience of prospection, and hence of free will as being indeterminist, is actually consistent with determinism.
In our paper, “The Free-Will Intuitions Scale and the Question of Natural Compatibilism” (this issue), we seek to advance empirical debates about free will by measuring the relevant folk intuitions using the scale methodology of psychology, as a supplement to standard experimental methods. Stephen Morris (this issue) raises a number of concerns about our paper. Here, we respond to Morris’s concerns.
[NOTE: Morris’s paper is available here.]
Standard methods in experimental philosophy have sought to measure folk intuitions using experiments, but certain limitations are inherent in experimental methods. Accordingly, we have designed the Free-Will Intuitions Scale to empirically measure folk intuitions relevant to free-will debates using a different method. This method reveals what folk intuitions are like prior to participants’ being put in forced-choice experiments. Our results suggest that a central debate in the experimental philosophy of free will—the ‘natural’ compatibilism debate—is mistaken in assuming that folk intuitions are exclusively either compatibilist or incompatibilist. They also identify a number of important new issues in the empirical study of free-will intuitions.
Many philosophers think not only that we are free to act otherwise than we do, but also that we experience being free in this way. Terry Horgan argues that such experience is compatibilist: it is accurate even if determinism is true. According to Horgan, when people judge their experience as incompatibilist, they misinterpret it. While Horgan’s position is attractive, it incurs significant theoretical costs. I sketch an alternative way to be a compatibilist about experiences of free agency that avoids these costs. In brief, I assume that experiences of freedom have a sort of phenomenal content that is inaccurate if determinism is true, just as many incompatibilists claim. Still, I argue that these experiences also have another sort of phenomenal content that is normally accurate, even assuming determinism.
Incompatibilists often claim that we experience our agency as incompatible with determinism, while compatibilists challenge this claim. We report a series of experiments that focus on whether the experience of having an ability to do otherwise is taken to be at odds with determinism. We found that participants in our studies described their experience as incompatibilist whether the decision was (i) present-focused or retrospective, (ii) imagined or actual, (iii) morally salient or morally neutral. The only case in which participants did not give incompatibilist judgments was when the question was explicitly about whether one’s ignorance of the future was compatible with determinism. This lends empirical support to claims made by incompatibilists about the experience of agency, while also showing that compatibilist accounts of ability are inadequate to the reported phenomenology. Our results also inform recent debates about the presuppositions of deliberation.
I focus on token, deterministic causal claims as they feature in causal explanations. Adequately handling absences is difficult for most causal theories, including theories of causal explanation. Yet so is adequately handling cases of late preemption. The best account of absence-causal claims as they appear in causal explanations is Jonathan Schaffer’s quaternary, contrastive account. Yet Schaffer’s account can’t handle preemption. The account that best handles late preemption is James Woodward’s interventionist account. Yet Woodward’s account is inadequate when it comes to absences. I propose an account that handles both absences and preemption by transposing Schaffer’s account into an interventionist framework.
(2013) The Philosophy of Free Will: Essential Readings from the Contemporary Debates, Oxford University Press.
(Co-edited with Paul Russell)
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