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Alexander of Aphrodisias
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Mental Causation
James Symposium
Rogers Albritton

Rogers Albritton was a philosopher of independent mind who was once chair of the philosophy department at Harvard, and later the chair at UCLA.

Out in California, he became the president of the American Philosophical Association's western division. His 1985 presidential address, "Freedom of Will and Freedom of Action," to the APA distinguished freedom of action (the freedom to do what we will) from freedom of the will itself.

"Where there's a will, there just isn't always a way," as he put it.

This was a clear and thoughtful distinction at a time when compatibilists - or "soft determinists" as they were known since William James, were identifying free will with the lack of external constraints.

This view of freedom as freedom of action originated with Thomas Hobbes and David Hume.
It was the foremost view in the age of Newtonian deterministic physics, and continued to grow stronger in modern times despite the discovery of real quantum mechanical indeterminism in the early twentieth century.

Albritton was particularly critical of Elizabeth Anscombe and her essay "Soft Determinism."

Most philosophers seem to think it quite easy to rob the will of some freedom. Thus Elizabeth Anscombe, in an essay called "Soft Determinism," appears to suppose that a man who can't walk because he is chained up has lost some freedom of will. He "has no 'freedom of will' to walk," she says, or, again; no "freedom of the will in respect of walking." "Everyone will allow," she says, "that 'A can walk, i.e. has freedom of the will in respect of walking' would be gainsaid by A's being chained up." And again, "External constraint is generally agreed to be incompatible with freedom", by which she seems to mean: incompatible with perfect freedom of will, because incompatible with freedom of will to do, or freedom of the will in respect of doing, whatever the constraint prevents.
Albritton made it very clear that we could will something even if it proved impossible to do.
But I do want to dispute, first, what Anscombe thinks "everyone will allow." I don't allow it. I don't see (do you?) that my freedom of will would be reduced at all if you chained me up. You would of course deprive me of considerable freedom of movement if you did that; you would thereby diminish my already unimpressive capacity to do what I will. But I don't see that my will would be any the less free. What about my "freedom of will to walk," you will ask (or perhaps you won't, but there the phrase is, in Anscombe's essay); what about my "freedom of the will in respect of walking"? I reply that I don't understand either of those phrases. They seem to me to mix up incoherently two different things: free will, an obscure idea which is the one I am after, on this expedition, and physical ability to walk, a relatively clear idea which has nothing to do with free will.

In the end, Albritton learned from Anscombe, and from John Earman, that there were limits on the "hard determinsm" that we should call predeterminism. But if the indeterminism was just randomness, he found it led to the standard argument against free will:

Fortunately, Elizabeth Anscombe has taught me, by her essay "Causality and Determination," that I needn't go in for Lapacean fantasies, and I gather that John Earman is intent on conveying the same reassurance. That's fine. But one wouldn't care to think one's freedom of will secured by the physical possibility in pure theory that one will stay in bed for the rest of one's life, with Russian explanations ready in case anyone asks, much less by the theoretical possibility that instead of doing one's duty one will suddenly deliquesce into a nasty liquid all over the rug. Are we or aren't we as approximately deterministic as alarm clocks, say? That seems an awful question.
Albritton could not see that the adequate determinism we share with alarm clocks can be augmented by some modest libertarianism, a bit of randomness that generates alternative possibilities for our thoughts and subsequent actions.
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