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Presentations

Biosemiotics
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Peter van Inwagen

Peter van Inwagen is an intellectual giant in two major fields of philosophy, the problem of free will and today's materialist analysis of metaphysics.

First we see how van Inwagen has changed the conversation from the "problem of free will and determinism" into an obscure distinction between compatibilism and his portmanteau concept incompatibilism, which confusingly combines hard determinists who deny free will and libertarians who endorse free will.

See below and our companion website the Metaphysicist for his influential contributions to metaphysics.

Incompatibilism
Van Inwagen made a significant reputation for himself by bucking the trend among philosophers in most of the twentieth century to accept compatibilism, the idea that free will is compatible with a strict causal determinism.

Indeed, van Inwagen has been given credit for rehabilitating the idea of incompatibilism in the last few decades. He explains that the old problem of whether we have free will or whether determinism is true is no longer being debated. In the first chapter of his landmark 1983 book, An Essay on Free Will, van Inwagen says:

1.2 It is difficult to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" in a way that will satisfy everyone. Once one might have said that the problem of free will and determinism — in those days one would have said 'liberty and necessity' — was the problem of discovering whether the human will is free or whether its productions are governed by strict causal necessity. But no one today would be allowed to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" like that, for this formulation presupposes the truth of a certain thesis about the conceptual relation of free will to determinism that many, perhaps most, present-day philosophers would reject: that free will and determinism are incompatible. Indeed many philosophers hold not only that free will is compatible with determinism but that free will entails determinism. I think it would be fair to say that almost all the philosophical writing on the problem of free will and determinism since the time of Hobbes that is any good, that is of any enduring philosophical interest, has been about this presupposition of the earlier debates about liberty and necessity. It is for this reason that nowadays one must accept as a fait accompli that the problem of finding out whether free will and determinism are compatible is a large part, perhaps the major part, of "the problem of free will and determinism".
(Essay on Free Will, p.1)
Van Inwagen Changes the Subject
Just as Peter. F. Strawson in 1962 changed the subject from the existence of free will, from the question of whether determinism or indeterminism is true, and just as Harry Frankfurt changed the debate to the question of the existence of alternative possibilities, so Peter van Inwagen made a major change, at least in the terminology, to the question of whether free will and determinism are compatible, indeed whether free will entails determinism, as he says above.

Van Inwagen replaces the Traditional Problem of "liberty and necessity," finding out whether determinism is true or false, and thus whether or not we have free will, with a new problem that he calls the Compatibility Problem.

I shall attempt to formulate the problem in a way that takes account of this fait accompli by dividing the problem into two problems, which I will call the Compatibility Problem and the Traditional Problem. The Traditional Problem is, of course, the problem of finding out whether we have free will or whether determinism is true. But the very existence of the Traditional Problem depends upon the correct solution to the Compatibility Problem: if free will and determinism are compatible, and, a fortiori, if free will entails determinism, then there is no Traditional Problem, any more than there is a problem about how my sentences can be composed of both English words and Roman letters.
(Essay on Free Will, p.2)

Despite the obvious over-reaching claim that the Traditional Problem would disappear, which was nonsense, van Inwagen's new framing proved immensely popular over the next few decades. And the new framing introduced a new jargon term that is in major use today, the position of "Incompatibilism." Earlier writers, Carl Ginet and Wilfred Sellars, for example, had said that free will is "incompatible" with determinism. But that was simply the original position of all libertarians, in opposition to both the determinists and the compatibilists (William James' "soft' determinists), who were following what Sellars called the traditional Hume-Mill solution, which "reconciled" free will with determinism.

Before van Inwagen then, incompatibilists were libertarians, opposing the idea that free will is compatible with determinism.

But after van Inwagen, the new emphasis on "incompatibilism" drew attention to the idea that that James' "hard" determinists were also incompatibilist in the sense of denying compatibilism.

Unfortunately for the clarity of the dialectic, this new category of incompatibilism is very confusing, because it now contains two opposing concepts, libertarian free will and hard determinism!

And like determinism versus indeterminism, compatibilism versus incompatibilism is a false and unhelpful dichotomy. J. J. C. Smart once claimed he had an exhaustive description of the possibilities, determinism or indeterminism, and that neither one neither allowed for free will. (Since Smart, dozens of others have repeated this standard logical argument against free will.)

Van Inwagen developed his own terminology for the two-part standard argument, dividing it into the Consequence Argument and the Mind Argument.

Van Inwagen defines determinism very simply. "Determinism is quite simply the thesis that the past determines a unique future." (Essay on Free Will, p.2)

He concludes that such a Determinism is not true, because we could not then be responsible for our actions, which would all be simply the consequences of events in the distant past that were not "up to us."

This approach, known as van Inwagen's Consequence Argument, is just a renaming of the perennial Determinism Objection in the standard argument against free will. The Consequence Argument has proved very popular in philosophy courses taught by professors with little knowledge of the history of the free will problem.

In recent decades, centuries-old debates about free will have been largely replaced by debates about moral responsibility. Since Peter Strawson, many philosophers have claimed to be agnostic on the traditional problem of free will and determinism and focus on whether the concept of moral responsibility itself exists. Some say that, like free will itself, moral responsibility is an illusion. Van Inwagen is not one of those. He hopes to establish moral responsibility based on a libertarian free will, in opposition to prevailing compatibilist views.
Van Inwagen also notes that quantum mechanics shows indeterminism to be "true." He is correct. But we still have a very powerful and "adequate" determinism. It is this adequate determinism that R. E. Hobart and others have recognized when he wrote that "Free Will Involves Determination and is Inconceivable Without It." Our will and actions are adequately determined, by our reasons, motives, feelings, etc., not in any way pre-determined from before we begin thinking, evaluating, and selecting one of the alternative possibilities in our thoughts. It is our thoughts and the open future that are undetermined.

Sadly, many philosophers mistake indeterminism to imply that nothing is causal and therefore that everything is completely random. This is the Randomness Objection in the standard argument.

Van Inwagen states his Consequence Argument as follows:
"If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us." (Essay on Free Will, 1983, p.16)
Exactly how this differs from the arguments of centuries of Libertarians is not clear, but van Inwagen is given a great deal of credit in the contemporary literature for this obvious argument. See for example, Carl Ginet's article "Might We Have No Choice?" in Freedom and Determinism, Ed. K. Lehrer, 1966.

We note that apparently Ginet also thought his argument was original. What has happened to philosophers today that they so ignore the history of philosophy?


Van Inwagen offers several concise observations leading up to his Consequence Argument, including concerns about the terminology used (which concerns arise largely because of his variations on the traditional problem terminology).
Determinism may now be defined: it is the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.

Let us now see what can be done about defining free will.
I use the term 'free will' out of respect for tradition.

When I say of a man that he "has free will" I mean that very often, if not always, when he has to choose between two or more mutually incompatible courses of action — such that he can, or is able to, or has it within his power to carry out.

It is in these senses that I shall understand 'free will' and 'determinism'. I shall argue that free will is incompatible with determinism. It will be convenient to call this thesis incompatibilism and to call the thesis that free will and determinism are compatible compatibilism.

I have no use for the terms 'soft determinism', 'hard determinism; and 'libertarianism'. I do not object to these terms on the ground that they are vague or ill-defined. They can be easily defined by means of the terms we shall use and are thus no worse in that respect than our terms.

Van Inwagen does not seem to mind that "incompatibilism" lumps together opposite schools - hard determinists and libertarians

Soft determinism is the conjunction of determinism and compatibilism; hard determinism is the conjunction of determinism and incompatibilism; libertarianism is the conjunction of incompatibilism and the thesis that we have free will.

I object to these terms because they lump together theses that should be discussed and analysed separately. They are therefore worse than useless and ought to be dropped from the working vocabulary of philosophers.

'Contra-causal freedom' might mean the sort of freedom, if freedom it would be, that someone would enjoy if his acts were uncaused. But that someone's acts are undetermined does not entail that they are uncaused.

Incompatibilism can hardly be said to be a popular thesis among present-day philosophers (the "analytic" ones, at any rate). Yet it has its adherents and has had more of them in the past. It is, however, surprisingly hard to find any arguments for it. That many philosophers have believed something controversial without giving any arguments for it is perhaps not surprising; what is surprising is that no arguments have been given when arguments are so easy to give.

Perhaps the explanation is simply that the arguments are so obvious that no one has thought them worth stating. If that is so, let us not be afraid of being obvious. Here is an argument that I think is obvious (I don't mean it's obviously right; I mean it's one that should occur pretty quickly to any philosopher who asked himself what arguments could be found to support incompatibilism):

we call this the Determinism Objection
If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.

I shall call this argument the Consequence Argument.

We call his Mind Argument the "Randomness Objection"
[What van Inwagen calls] The Mind argument proceeds by identifying indeterminism with chance and by arguing that an act that occurs by chance, if an event that occurs by chance can be called an act, cannot be under the control of its alleged agent and hence cannot have been performed freely. Proponents of [this argument] conclude, therefore, that free will is not only compatible with determinism but entails determinism. (p.16)
Note that van Inwagen's Mind argument adds the second horn of the dilemma of determinism. He named it the Mind Argument after the philosophical journal Mind where objections to chance were often published.

Thus van Inwagen's Consequence and Mind Arguments are the two parts of the standard argument against free will.

Although van Inwagen is famous for the first horn of the dilemma, the Determinism Objection to free will (also known as the Direct Argument), he has also contributed significantly to the second - and much more difficult to reconcile - Randomness Objection. (also known as the Indirect Argument).

Free Will Remains a Mystery for van Inwagen
Van Inwagen dramatized his understanding of the indeterministic brain events needed for agent causation by imagining God "replaying" a situation to create exactly the same circumstances and then arguing that decisions would reflect the indeterministic probabilities. Here he mistakenly assumes that possibilities translate directly into probabilities.

He also mistakenly assumes that random possibilities directly cause human actions.

Now let us suppose that God a thousand times caused the universe to revert to exactly the state it was in at t1 (and let us suppose that we are somehow suitably placed, metaphysically speaking, to observe the whole sequence of "replays"). What would have happened? What should we expect to observe? Well, again, we can't say what would have happened, but we can say what would probably have happened: sometimes Alice would have lied and sometimes she would have told the truth. As the number of "replays" increases, we observers shall — almost certainly — observe the ratio of the outcome "truth" to the outcome "lie" settling down to, converging on, some value. We may, for example, observe that, after a fairly large number of replays, Alice lies in thirty percent of the replays and tells the truth in seventy percent of them—and that the figures 'thirty percent' and 'seventy percent' become more and more accurate as the number of replays increases. But let us imagine the simplest case: we observe that Alice tells the truth in about half the replays and lies in about half the replays. If, after one hundred replays, Alice has told the truth fifty-three times and has lied forty-eight times, we'd begin strongly to suspect that the figures after a thousand replays would look something like this: Alice has told the truth four hundred and ninety-three times and has lied five hundred and eight times. Let us suppose that these are indeed the figures after a thousand [1001] replays. Is it not true that as we watch the number of replays increase we shall become convinced that what will happen in the next replay is a matter of chance.
Van Inwagen reveals that he clearly thinks that indeterminism directly results in actions. No wonder on his account that "free will remains a mystery!"

He repeated the argument more recently:

If God caused Marie's decision to be replayed a very large number of times, sometimes (in thirty percent of the replays, let us say) Marie would have agent-caused the crucial brain event and sometimes (in seventy percent of the replays, let us say) she would not have... I conclude that even if an episode of agent causation is among the causal antecedents of every voluntary human action, these episodes do nothing to undermine the prima facie impossibility of an undetermined free act.
("Van Inwagen on Free Will," in Freedom and Determinism, 2004, ed. Joseph Keim Campbell, et al., p.227)
Van Inwagen, Kane, and Compatibilism compared to the Cogito Model
Robert Kane has argued that randomnmess in the decision need not be there all the time, just enough to be able to say we are not completely determined. Even if just a small percentage of decisions are random, we could not be responsible for them.

We can make a quantitative comparison of the outcome of 1000 thought experiments (or "instant replays" by God as van Inwagen imagines) that shows how the indeterminism in the Cogito Model is limited to generating alternative possibilities for action.

Van Inwagen's results after 1000 experiments are approximately 500 times when Alice lies and 500 times when Alice tells the truth.

Robert Kane is well aware of the problem that chance reduces moral responsibility, especially in his sense of Ultimate Responsibility (UR).

In order to keep some randomness but add rationality, Kane says perhaps only some small percentage of decisions will be random, thus breaking the deterministic causal chain, but keeping most decisions predictable. Laura Ekstrom and others follow Kane with some indeterminism in the decision.

Let’s say randomness enters Kane’s decisions only ten percent of the time. The other ninety percent of the time, determinism is at work. In those cases, presumably Alice tells the truth. Then Alice’s 500 random lies in van Inwagen’s first example would become only 50.

But this in no way explains moral responsibility for those few cases.

Compare the Information Philosophy Cogito model, which agrees with compatibilism/determinism except in cases where something genuinely new and valuable emerges as a consequence of randomness.

In our two-stage model, we have first “free” – random possibilities, then “will” – adequately determined evaluation of options and selection of the "best" option.

Alice’s random generation of alternative possibilities will include 50 percent of options that are truth-telling, and 50 percent lies.

Alice’s adequately determined will evaluates these possibilities based on her character, values, and current desires.

In the Cogito model, she will almost certainly tell the truth. So it predicts almost the same outcome as a compatibilist/determinist model.

The Cogito model is not identical, however, since it can generate new alternatives.

It is possible that among the genuinely new alternative possibilities generated, there will be some that determinism could not have produced.

It may be that Alice will find one of these options consistent with her character, values, desires, and the current situation she is in. One might include a pragmatic lie, to stay with van Inwagen’s example.

In a more positive example, it may include a creative new idea that information-preserving determinism could not produce.

Alice’s thinking might bring new information into the universe. And she can legitimately accept praise (or blame) for that new action or thought that originates with her.

To summarize the results:

  Van Inwagen Kane Cogito Compatiblism
Alice tells truth 500 950 1000* 1000
Alice lies 500 50 0* 0

* (Alice tells the truth unless a good reason emerges from her free deliberations in the Cogito Model, in which case, to stay with van Inwagen's actions, she might tell a pragmatic lie.)

We should also note the Moral Luck criticism of actions that have a random component in their source.

Alfred Mele would perhaps object that the alternative possibilities depend on luck, and that this compromises moral responsibility.

On the Cogito Model view, Mele is right with respect to moral responsibility. But Mele is wrong that luck compromises free will.

Free will and creativity may very well depend on fortuitous circumstances, having the new idea "coming to mind" at the right time, as Mele says.

The universe we live in includes chance and therefore luck, including moral luck, is very real, but not a valid objection to our libertarian free will model (or Mele's "modest libertarianism").


How to Think about the Problem of Free Will
Van Inwagen recently produced a very clear proposal for thinking about free will. It is a paper to appear in The Journal of Ethics entitled How to Think about the Problem of Free Will.

It starts with a very concise wording of the Standard Argument against Free Will that includes the Determinism, Randomness, and Responsibility Objections.

There are seemingly unanswerable arguments that (if they are indeed unanswerable) demonstrate that free will is incompatible with determinism.

And there are seemingly unanswerable arguments that (if indeed . . . ) demonstrate that free will is incompatible with indeterminism.

But if free will is incompatible both with determinism and indeterminism, the concept “free will” is incoherent, and the thing free will does not exist.

There are, moreover, seemingly unanswerable arguments that, if they are correct, demonstrate that the existence of moral responsibility entails the existence of free will, and, therefore, if free will does not exist, moral responsibility does not exist either. It is, however, evident that moral responsibility does exist.

Van Inwagen concludes:
It must, therefore, be that at least one of the following three things is true:
The seemingly unanswerable arguments for the incompatibility of free will and determinism are in fact answerable; these arguments are fallacious

The seemingly unanswerable arguments for the incompatibility of free will and indeterminism are in fact answerable; these arguments are fallacious.

we call this the Responsibility Objection

The seemingly unanswerable arguments for the conclusion that the existence of moral responsibility entails the existence of free will are in fact answerable; these arguments are fallacious.

The “problem of free will” is just this problem (this is my proposal): to find out which of these arguments is fallacious, and to enable us to identify the fallacy or fallacies on which they depend.
Van Inwagen recognizes that the philosophical discussions of free will are clouded by the use of vague terminology. He recommends some terms be avoided - ‘libertarianism’, ‘hard determinism’, and soft ‘determinism’ - and that terms be confined to ‘the free-will thesis’, ‘determinism’, ‘compatibilism’ and ‘incompatibilism.’ He says
There is a tendency among writers on free will to oppose ‘compatibilism’ and ‘libertarianism’; but the fundamental opposition is between compatibilism and incompatibilism.

Here is a major example (not entirely unconnected with my minor example). Philosophers who use the term 'libertarianism' apparently face an almost irresistible temptation to speak of 'libertarian free will.'

What is this libertarian free will they speak of? What does the phrase 'libertarian free will' mean?

Although van Inwagen says he has presented the free-will problem "in a form in which it is possible to think about it without being constantly led astray by bad terminology and confused ideas," he himself is apparently confused by the ambiguous term incompatibilism.

Incompatibilists are of two opposing types; libertarians who take incompatibilism plus the free will thesis to mean that determinism is not true, and determinists who deny the free will thesis because determinism is true.

So "libertarian free will" and "compatibilist free will" nicely distinguish between an indeterminist view of free will and the view that free will is compatible with determinism.

And it is impossible to define a libertarian with just one of van Inwagen's set of terms.

Van Inwagen makes his confusion clear:

Noun-phrases like ‘free will’ and ‘compatibilist free will’ and ‘libertarian free will’ are particularly difficult for me. I find it difficult to see what sort of thing such phrases are supposed to denote. In serious philosophy, I try never to use an abstract noun or noun-phrase unless it’s clear what ontological category the thing it purports to denote belongs to. For many abstract noun-phrases, it’s not at all clear what sort of thing they’re supposed to denote, and I therefore try to use such phrases only in introductory passages, passages in which the reader’s attention is being engaged and a little mush doesn’t matter.
Van Inwagen then looks closely at the noun phrase "free will" and asserts that it always means the same thing, that the agent is/was able to do otherwise.
‘free will’, ‘incompatibilist free will’, ‘compatibilist free will’ and ‘libertarian free will’ are four names for one and the same thing. If this thing is a property, they are four names for the property is on some occasions able to do otherwise. If this thing is a power or ability, they are four names for the power or ability to do otherwise than what one in fact does.

All compatibilists I know of believe in free will. Many incompatibilists (just exactly the libertarians: that’s how ‘libertarian’ is defined) believe in free will. And it’s one and the same thing they believe in.

This seems to be word jugglery. Libertarians and compatibilists are using the same noun phrase, but they are denoting two different models for free will, two different ways that free will might operate. Free will is not just the words in a set of propositions to be adjudicated true or false by analytic language philosophers.

John Locke explicitly warned us of the potential confusion in such noun phrases, and carefully distinguished the freedom in "free" from the determined "will." Van Inwagen's problem stems in part from taking this phrase to be a single entity.

In Latin and all the romance languages, as well as the Germanic languages - in short, all the major philosophical languages (excepting the Greek of Aristotle, before the Stoics created the problem we have today and Chrysippus invented compatibilism) - the concept of free will is presented as a complex of two simple ideas - free and will.

liberum arbitrium, libre arbitre (French), libera volontà or libero arbitrio (Italian), livre arbítrio (Portuguese), va gratuit (Romanian), libre voluntad (Spanish)

Willensfreiheit (German), fri vilje (Danish), vrije wil (Dutch), fri vilja (Swedish)

ελεύθερη βούληση (Greek), свободную волю (Russian), स्वतंत्र इच्छा (Hindi).

Even some non-Indo-European languages combine two elementary concepts - vapaasta tahdosta (Finnish).

Polish - woli - is an exception to the rule.

The reason Aristotle did not conflate freedom with will, according to his fourth-century commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias, was because for Aristotle the problem was always framed in terms of responsibility, whether our actions are "up to us" (in Aristotle's Greek ἐφ ἡμῖν), whether the causes behind our actions, including Aristotelian accidents (συμβεβεκός), come from within us (ἐν ἡμῖν).

Coming back to van Inwagen, he then asks what it is that libertarians, including himself, really want. For one thing, he wishes that free will could be compatible with determinism. "It would be so simple," he says. But reason has convinced him it is incompatible.

Will van Inwagen be satisfied to learn that free will is compatible with the adequate determinism that we really have in the world? And that the microscopic indeterminism that we have need not be the direct cause of our actions?

Let us turn from what libertarians want to have to what they want to be true. Do libertarians want libertarianism to be true? Well, libertarianism is the conjunction of the free-will thesis and incompatibilism. To want libertarianism to be true, therefore, would be to want both the free-will thesis and incompatibilism to be true. I will stipulate, as the lawyers say, that libertarians want the free-will thesis to be true. (And who wouldn’t? Even hard determinists, or most of them, seem to regard the fact — they think it’s a fact — that we do not have free will as a matter for regret.)

But do libertarians want incompatibilism to be true? Perhaps some do. I can say only that I don’t want incompatibilism to be true. Just as hard determinists regard the non-existence of free will as a matter for regret, I regard the fact — I think it’s a fact — that free will is incompatible with determinism as a matter for regret. But reason has convinced me that free will is incompatible with determinism, and I have to accept the deliverances of reason, however unpalatable they may be. I should think that any philosopher in his or her right mind would want compatibilism to be true. It would make everything so simple. But we can’t always have what we want and things are not always simple.

Sadly, incompatibilist libertarians have been right about indeterministic freedom, but wrong about the Will, which must be adequately determined.

And compatibilists have been right about the adequately determined Will, and wrong about indeterminist Freedom, which is never the direct cause of human actions.

See the Cogito model for more details.

Van Inwagen then congratulates himself for having reintroduced the standard argument for the incompatibilism of free will and determinism. As our history of the free will problem shows, this argument has been around since Epicurus.
The Consequence Argument is my name for the standard argument (various more-or-less equivalent versions of the argument have been formulated by C. D. Broad, R. M. Chisholm, David Wiggins, Carl Ginet, James Lamb, and myself) for the incompatibility. It is beyond the scope of this paper seriously to discuss the Consequence Argument. I will, however, make a sociological point. Before the Consequence Argument was well known (Broad had formulated an excellent version of it in the 1930s, but no one was listening), almost all philosophers who had a view on the matter were compatibilists. It’s probably still true that most philosophers are compatibilists. But it’s also true that the majority of philosophers who have a specialist’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the free-will problem are incompatibilists. And this change is due entirely to the power, the power to convince, the power to move the intellect, of the Consequence Argument. If, therefore, the Consequence Argument is fallacious (in some loose sense; it certainly contains no logical fallacy), the fallacy it embodies is no trivial one. Before the Consequence Argument was well known, most philosophers thought that incompatibilists (such incompatibilists as there were) were the victims of a logical “howler” that could be exposed in a paragraph or two.
[Eddy Nahmias, in a post called Counting Heads on the Garden of Forking Paths blog, has surveyed philosophers and finds the ratio of compatibilists to incompatibilists (2:1) to be about the same in the general and specialist populations.]
Van Inwagen concludes:
The problem of free will, I believe, confronts us philosophers with a great mystery. Under it our genius is rebuked. But confronting a mystery is no excuse for being in a muddle. In accusing others of muddle, I do not mean to imply that that they are muddled because they do not believe what I do about free will. I do not mean to imply that they are muddled because they are compatibilists.
Describing the problem of free will as whether compatibilism or incompatibilism is true - a redescription that van Inwagen takes most of the credit for - is likely a major contribution to the philosophical muddle we find ourselves in.
The Metaphysics of Material Composition
Van Inwagen's 1990 book Material Beings defined some of the major terms for metaphysical discourse and debates in the past twenty-five years. His textbook Metaphysics, in its fourth edition, is one of the best selling philosophy texts, as is his anthology collection Metaphysics, The Big Questions, now in its second edition.

Van Inwagen asks in what circumstances material objects could be the parts of a larger whole objects. When do simple objects combine as composite objects?

What van Inwagen calls his Special Composition Question is

Suppose one had certain (nonoverlapping) objects, the xs , at ones disposal; what would one have to do - what could one do - to get the xs to compose something?

His more General Composition Question is "what is composition?" Is there some composition function f ?

A composition function f would immediately provide us with an answer to the General Composition Question, an answer of the form

xs compose y if and only if y has f (the xs).

Van Inwagen examines four possible ways in which the most simple objects could compose something. FIrst, when the simples are arranged to be in contact with one another, like a stack of alphabet blocks. Second, when the simples have been fastened together, with nuts and bolts, for example, or tinkertoys pressed together to form a house. Third, when the simple objects cohere because they are glued together, like the mortar in a brick house. Finally, when the simples mix together as a fusion with no discernible boundary, like wine and water.

In the four cases of bonding together by contact, fastening, cohesion, or fusion, van Inwagen cites examples where bonding simple parts does not compose a new complex object, so he considers two more extreme possibilities. One of these is similar to Peter Unger's "Problem of the Many." Van Inwagen calls this "mereological universalism. The other is to deny there is any way for simples to compose anything other than themselves, which he calls "mereological nihilism.

Van Inwagen questions Unger's early nihilistic claims about objects. Van Inwagen says Unger's logical conclusion should have been that there are many possible objects wherever there is a collection of simple ones, a case of mereological universalism." Van Inwagen goes on to define a much stronger form of mereological nihilism than that in the early Unger work. He says

It is impossible for one to bring it about that something is such that the xs compose it, because necessarily (if the xs are two or more), nothing is such that the xs compose it...

Here is a precise statement of Nihilism

(y the xs compose y) if and only if
there is only one of the xs.
An examination of this statement reveals that Nihilism has an interesting and unique logical property. We said in Section 4 that no answer to the Special Composition Question entailed an answer to the General Composition Question. This is not quite true. There is one exception. Nihilism entails an answer to the General Composition Question:
The xs compose y if and only if
each of the xs is y.
{Left to Right: The xs compose y. Hence, the xs compose something. Hence, by Nihilism, for some z, the xs are the things identical with z. Hence, the things identical with z compose y. Hence, z is a part of y. But Nihilism entails that y has no proper parts. Hence, y is identical with z. Hence, each of the things identical with z is y. Hence, each of the xs is y.
Right to Left: Each of the xs is y. Hence, each of the xs is a part of y and every part of y overlaps one of the xs. And no two of the xs overlap, there being only one of them. Hence, the xs compose y.)

Note that the tablewise arrangement is information, the Aristotelian "form," the "final cause" or telos of the carpenter who made the table. But van Inwagen's materialism denies such immaterial forms. He says (p.142), "Immaterial concrete objects, if such there be, fall outside the scope of this book"
Van Inwagen then moderates his extreme nihilism in two ways. One is to soften the way of talking about it. While he denies that composite objects like tables exist, he suggest a paraphrase that allows one to think one is correct when one says "there is a table in the room." His circumlocution is to say, "there are simples 'arranged tablewise' in the room."

A second moderation of his extreme mereological nihilism is to argue for the existence of animals, especially thinking animals, following René Descartes's famous proof of his existence - Cogito, ergo sum.

(y the xs compose y) if and only if
the activity of the xs constitutes a life.

Why should I think that I exist? Why should who think that who exists? To raise the question whether one exists is to presuppose that one exists; even an omnipotent deceiver could not deceive one about one's own existence, owing to the fact that one would have to be there in order to be deceived...

Presumably Descartes meant by saying 'Cogito, ergo sum' that he was in some sense directly aware of a thinking being, a being about whose existence he could not be mistaken, and that this being would have to be himself, since, for any being distinct from himself, he could be mistaken about that distinct being's existence...

Information philosophy explains the ontological status of those ideas.
Even if one does exist, the most one is aware of at any given moment is a succession of ideas; one is not aware of a thinking being, of a being composed of the members of some large collection of ideas of which the ideas one currently perceives are but a few.

In van Inwagen's purely material world immaterial ideas simply can not exist
Now, I find this all perfectly unintelligible. To mention just one difficulty among many, I do not understand what it means to say that I am composed of ideas. Whatever things compose me, they are all of them material—or, at any rate, are no further from being material than quarks and electrons are...

"You have offered paraphrases of sentences about artifacts into sentences that refer only to simples. Why do you suppose that the same thing can't be done in respect of sentences about you and other thinkers? Why couldn't we introduce a variable polyadic predicate—say, 'the ys are arranged intellectually'—and paraphrase talk apparently about thinkers into talk that refers only to simples?"

I have no knock-down response to this challenge. What I am going to say will perhaps be thought to beg the question, but it is the best I can do...

Unlike passive contact, fastening, cohesion, or fusion of material objects, organisms are composite objects that communicate interactive and vital information between their proper parts, from the cellular to the mental levels and back again.
But if I exist because the activity of certain simples constitutes a life, then it would be wholly implausible to suppose that I exist and that no other organisms do. If I exist, then you do too, and so all other human beings. That is to say, if in one case in which simples are arranged "anthroponomically" they compose an object, then in all cases in which simples are arranged anthroponomically they compose an object...

Let us now turn to the metaphysics of artifacts...

Artisans do create immaterial forms in their artifacts. Rearranging things is only possible if new information about the arrangement enters the universe, despite the second law
There are, therefore, no tables and chairs, and there are no other artifacts...Artisans do not create; not, at least, in the sense of causing things to exist. They rearrange objects in space and cause bonding relations to begin to hold or to cease to hold (as in the case of the sculptor who chips away at a block of marble) between objects...

Here we see the limits of analytic language philosophy. Existence is not a question about sentences, not a predicate, as Kant said.
Now, if there are no artifacts, then there are no philosophical problems about artifacts. Or, at least, those philosophical problems that we should have said were "about artifacts" are real problems only to the extent that the sentences that are used to state them can be translated into sentences that can be clearly seen to imply the existence of no physical objects but simples and organisms. And I know of no traditional problem about artifacts that can survive that sort of translation. This is particularly true of problems of identity and persistence through mereological change.

Peter Unger and van Inwagen now agree that they both exist, which is somewhat helpful for their future contributions to metaphysical debates. Unfortunately, none of their books and articles exist, nor do these Information Philosopher web pages on their work that you are reading now.

Fortunately, van Inwagen "paraphrases" his extreme mereological nihilist position as accepting that "simples arranged van Inwagen wise" do exist, so we hope you will continue reading these simples arranged pagewise about him and other great thinkers.

The Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts
Van Inwagen is right to criticize the "metaphysical" puzzles created by "arbitrary" proper parts of an animate or inanimate object, such as the 1,001 cats on the mat imagined by Peter Geach. Geach imagined the removal (detaching) of one of 1,000 hairs of the cat Tibbles, thereby creating 1,001 cats, the original Tibbles and 1,000 others, each with a different hair removed.

Other metaphysicians imagine a Tibbles who has lost just a tail, making it more parallel to the ancient problem of Dion and Theon posed by Chrysippus,.
Tibbles the cat is a modern version of the Stoic puzzle of PuzzlesDion and Theon. Theon is the part of Dion left if we imagine Dion has lost a foot. Van Inwagen's example imagines Descartes as losing a leg. Neither of these imagined beings are "integral parts" of the whole nor are the surgically removed parts vital. They are arbitrary objects imagined for the express purpose of creating puzzles.

For Teachers
For Scholars
Excerpt from Essay on Free Will
1.1 There is no single philosophical problem that is "the problem of free will". There are rather a great many philosophical problems about free will.' In this book I shall solve one of these problems and worry another at great length.

The problem I solve is the problem of "fatalism" or "future contingencies". This problem will be dealt with in Chapter II, which is a more or less self-contained essay. That chapter might have been left out of the book with almost no impairment of the argument of the remainder. It is included because it does, after all, bear on the question whether we have free will. And perhaps the fact that what it says is right will go some way toward making up for its irrelevance to the other parts of the book.

The problem of future contingencies is an old and honourable philosophical problem, but it is not one of the great central problems of philosophy. The main topic of this book is one of the great central problems: the problem of free will and determinism.

1.2 It is difficult to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" in a way that will satisfy everyone. Once one might have said that the problem of free will and determinism — in those days one would have said 'liberty and necessity' — was the problem of discovering whether the human will is free or whether its productions are governed by strict causal necessity. But no one today would be allowed to formulate "the problem of free will and determinism" like that, for this formulation presupposes the truth of a certain thesis about the conceptual relation of free will to determinism that many, perhaps most, present-day philosophers would reject: that free will and determinism are incompatible. Indeed many philosophers hold not only that free will is compatible with determinism but that free will entails determinism. I think it would be fair to say that almost all the philosophical writing on the problem of free will and determinism since the time of Hobbes that is any good, that is of any enduring philosophical interest, has been about this presupposition of the earlier debates about liberty and necessity. It is for this reason that nowadays one must accept as a fait accompli that the problem of finding out whether free will and determinism are compatible is a large part, perhaps the major part, of "the problem of free will and determinism".

I shall attempt to formulate the problem in a way that takes account of this fait accompli by dividing the problem into two problems, which I will call the Compatibility Problem and the Traditional Problem. The Traditional Problem is, of course, the problem of finding out whether we have free will or whether determinism is true. But the very existence of the Traditional Problem depends upon the correct solution to the Compatibility Problem: if free will and determinism are compatible, and, a fortiori, if free will entails determinism, then there is no Traditional Problem, any more than there is a problem about how my sentences can be composed of both English words and Roman letters.

One of the main theses of this book is that the correct solution of the Compatibility Problem does not imply the nonexistence of the Traditional Problem; therefore my division of the problem of free will and determinism into two is no idle exercise. But before I say more about this division of the problem and about the ways in which I shall use it to organize this book, I shall explain what I mean by free will and determinism in sufficient detail to forestall certain possible misunderstandings.

1.3 In Chapter III, I shall formulate the thesis of determinism with as much precision as I am able to give it. Our present purposes will be served by a short, preliminary account of what is meant by determinism. Determinism is quite simply the thesis that the past determines a unique future. But let us see what that might mean.

Presumably, at any given moment there are many "possible futures", many ways in which the world might go on, Or at least this is true if we understand 'possible' in a sufficiently liberal way: there are certainly many "picturable" or "conceivable" or "consistently describable" futures. But many of the futures that are possible in this sense are impossible in another: they are physically impossible. For example, though I can picture to myself what it would be like for there to be a total eclipse of the sun this afternoon, though I can say without contradicting myself that a total eclipse of the sun will be visible this afternoon, there is an obvious sense in which this future I might imagine or describe is physically impossible. To say this is not to say that it is contrary to the laws of nature — if we may allow ourselves this piece of terminology — that there should be an eclipse this afternoon, for the laws of nature do not by themselves dictate when particular events like eclipses shall occur.' To say that a "possible future" containing an imminent eclipse is physically impossible is rather to say that given the past, the actual past, and the laws of nature, no eclipse will occur; that the past and the laws of nature together rule out any possibility of an eclipse this afternoon. Those who, like me, do not object to talk of "possible worlds" may think of the matter this way: while there are presumably possible worlds in which the laws of nature are the actual laws and in which there is an eclipse this afternoon, there is no possible world in which (i) the laws of nature are the actual laws, (ii) the past is the actual past, and (iii) there will be an eclipse this afternoon.

This example shows that there is a clear sense in which certain "imaginable", "conceivable", or "consistently describable" futures are physically impossible. Determinism may now be defined: it is the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.' There must, of course, be at least one physically possible future; if there is more than one, if at some instant there are two or more ways in which the world could go on, then indeterminism is true.

Determinism in this sense must be carefully distinguished from what we might call the Principle of Universal Causation, that is, from the thesis that every event (or fact, change, or state of affairs) has a cause. It is far from obvious what the logical relations that hold between these two theses are. I doubt, for example, whether the Principle of Universal Causation entails determinism. In order to deduce the latter from the former, we should need at least three premisses:

(1) if an event (or fact, change, state of affairs, or what have you) has a cause, then its cause is always itself an event (or what have you) and never a substance or continuant, such as a man;

(2) if an event (or what have you) A was the cause of an event B, then it follows, given that A happened and given the laws of nature, that A "causally necessitated" B, that B could not have failed to happen;

(3) every chain of causes that has no earliest member is such that, for every time t, some event in that chain happens earlier than t.

It is easy to see why each of these premisses is necessary for the deduction of determinism from the Principle of Universal Causation.

Suppose that the Principle of Universal Causation is true and suppose that premiss (1) is false. Suppose, that is, that the doctrine of immanent or agent causation is true." Suppose, to be more specific, that a certain change occurs in an agent, Tom, and Tom himself is the cause of this change, and no earlier state of affairs necessitated this change. Then the thesis of determinism is false. But our description of this case is internally consistent, for it does not entail that any event is without a cause. In particular, the change in Tom has a cause: Tom himself. The cause of this change, it is true, has no cause, but this does not entail the falsity of the Principle of Universal Causation, since its cause is not an event or change but a man, that is, a continuant.'

Suppose that the Principle of Universal Causation is true and suppose that premiss (1) is true and suppose that premiss (2) is false. That is, suppose that every event is caused by some earlier event or events but that these earlier causes do not necessitate, but merely produce, their effects. (That this supposition is consistent with our concept of causation—that is to say, with the concept of causation, for every concept is the concept it is and is not some other concept—has been argued by Professor Anscombe in her inaugural lecture.' I shall present and defend similar arguments in Chapter IV.) I think it is easy to see that, if these suppositions are correct, then, while every event has a prior cause, the past nevertheless does not determine a unique future.

Suppose that the Principle of Universal Causation is true and suppose that both premiss (1) and premiss (2) are true and suppose that premiss (3) is false. Then every event is caused by an earlier event that necessitates it; nevertheless, determinism might be false, for as Lukasiewicz pointed out, there might be a pair of times, t1 and t2, such that (i) a certain event A happens at t2, (ii) A is the final member of an infinite chain of causes, and (iii) every member of this chain occurs later than t1.' In that case, we could consistently suppose that the past (up to and including ti) and the laws of nature do not together determine whether A shall or shall not happen at t2, and do not, therefore, determine a unique future.

It follows that to deduce determinism from the Principle of Universal Causation we must assume (1), (2), and (3) as premisses. I doubt whether all three of these propositions are true. I am particularly doubtful about (2).' Therefore, I doubt whether universal causation entails determinism.

I am uncertain what to say about the question whether determinism entails universal causation. Could there be, e.g., an explosion that was not caused by any earlier events but which was none the less inevitable, given the past and the laws of nature? I think that anyone who answers immediately "Of course not!" reveals that a certain picture, or definition, or theory of causation has a very firm grip on him (which is not to say that he is wrong). But any real discussion of this question would lead us needlessly, for we need not answer it, into a discussion of causation, something I shall avoid whenever it is possible.

Having distinguished determinism from the Principle of Universal Causation, let us return to our examination of determinism. Our definition of determinism presupposes some understanding of the notion of a law of nature. I should like to define 'law of nature' in its turn, but I do not know how. I will mention, however, some constraints on an adequate definition of this concept and some necessary conditions for its application. These remarks, though they will not constitute a definition of 'law of nature', will at least show how my use of this term differs from that of some other writers. I should require any definition of 'law of nature' to have the following three consequences:

(i) the phrase 'is a law of nature' is a real predicate: it is typically and properly used in ascribing a certain property to certain objects (unlike, say, 'exists', according to Kant, or 'is good', according to R. M. Hare);

(ii) the objects that have this property are sentences or propositions (non-linguistic entities expressed by sentences) or whatever it is that are the bearers of truth-value: anything that is a law is also either true or false;

(iii) whether a proposition or sentence is a law is independent of what scientists or others happen to believe or happen to have discovered: a proposition, if it is a law, is unchangeably and objectively so, just as, according to the prevailing view of mathematics, a proposition, if it is a theorem, is unchangeably and objectively so, whatever mathematicians or others happen to believe or happen to have proved.

Philosophers have on occasion proposed necessary conditions for a proposition's being a law of nature. A law, for example, is supposed to be true, to be contingent, to entail the existence of no particular (contingent) individual and to "support its counter-factuals" or "warrant inference to subjunctive conditionals". But even if these conditions are individually necessary for lawhood, they are certainly not jointly sufficient.9 Consider, for example, the proposition that all men who are deprived of vitamin C develop scurvy. This proposition is presumably both true and contingent. Moreover, we may suppose that it "supports its counter-factuals": every man, past, present, or future, is such that if he were deprived of vitamin C, he would develop scurvy.` But it hardly follows that this general proposition is a law of nature, for the fact that it supports its counter-factuals might depend on quite accidental circumstances. Suppose, for example, that there is such a thing as "vitamin X", which could be used as an effective replacement for vitamin C; but suppose that all the vitamin X there is is locked in a vault on Mars. If that is true, then while our proposition does in fact support its counter-factual instances, its supporting them depends upon the accidental circumstance that the sole supply of vitamin X is inaccessible to human beings. Or, again, we may imagine that all men are such that they would develop scurvy if they were deprived of vitamin C, but that if an accident involving certain radioactive materials had happened at a certain time and place, some of the witnesses would have had descendants whose bodies were capable of synthesizing vitamin C and who would therefore not develop scurvy under any conditions of diet. It seems to me to be obvious that our concept of a law of nature entails that the possession of lawhood by a proposition cannot depend on such accidental occurrences as these. Therefore, these examples show that the conditions we have been examining are not jointly sufficient for lawhood. I know of none that are—except, of course, sets of conditions that are trivially sufficient, such as sets involving the requirement that a law be a physically necessary proposition—and neither, I think, does anyone else. Nevertheless, 'law of nature' seems to be an intelligible concept and one we can't get along without if we wish to give a complete description of the world. Let me give a simple example of this that is quite independent of any problems about determinism.

I have recently read an article on the possibility of inter-sidereal travel in which the authors divide the unpleasant necessities of this sort of travel into two categories: those imposed upon the travellers by the ignorance of the designer of their vehicle, and those imposed upon the travellers by the laws of nature. This is an important distinction. Spaceships and other artefacts are doubtless never perfect. But certain disadvantages of intersidereal travel are not going to be removed by technological advance as the corresponding disadvantages of inter-continental travel were removed. Inter-continental travel, now a matter of hours, was once a matter of months or years. But intersidereal travel, if it should ever come to pass, will always be a matter of years or centuries. No technological advance could ever change this unfortunate fact, for it is a consequence of the laws of nature.

Now I have just said something about the way things are; what I have said is as much a part of a complete description of the world as are the most ordinary factual statements of the geographer or the historian. And I think it is plain that what I have said I could not have said without employing the concept of a law of nature, or, at least, without employing some essentially equivalent concept like the concept of physical necessity. Therefore the notion of a law of nature makes sense, even if no one knows how to explain it to one who has not yet acquired it. (How you and I did acquire it is a question for the epistemologist or the historian of science; I am content to point out that we have it.) And, therefore, my definition of determinism, though it may rest on an undefined concept, at least rests on an undefined concept we have. Let us now see what can be done about defining free will.

1.4 I use the term 'free will' out of respect for tradition. My use of the term is not meant to imply that I think there is such a "faculty" as "the will". When I say of a man that he "has free will" I mean that very often, if not always, when he has to choose between two or more mutually incompatible courses of action—that is, courses of action that it is impossible for him to carry out more than one of—each of these courses of action is such that he can, or is able to, or has it within his power to carry it out. A man has free will if he is often in positions like these: he must now speak or now be silent, and he can now speak and can now remain silent; he must attempt to rescue a drowning child or else go for help, and he is able to attempt to rescue the child and able to go for help; he must now resign his chairmanship or else lie to the members, and he has it within his power to resign and he has it within his power to lie.

'Free will', then, is to be defined in terms of 'can'. But how is 'can' to be defined? I am afraid I do not know how to define 'can', any more than I know how to define 'law of nature'. Nevertheless, I think that the concept expressed by 'can' in the examples given in the preceding paragraph—the concept of the power or ability of an agent to act—is as clear as any philosophically interesting concept is likely to be. In fact, I doubt very much whether there are any simpler or better understood concepts in terms of which this concept might be explained. There are, however, concepts with which the concept of human power or ability might be confused, either because they really are similar to the concept of power, or because they are sometimes expressed by similar words. Perhaps what I say in the sequel will be clearer if I explicitly distinguish the concept of power or ability from those concepts with which it might be improperly conflated.

(i) The concept of the power or ability of an agent to act is not the concept of moral or legal permissibility. I might say to a hard-hearted landlord, "You can't simply turn them out into the street", knowing full well that, in the sense of 'can' that is our present concern, he very well can. The popular retort, "Oh, can't I? Just you watch!" is, I should think, usually a play on these two senses of 'can', though sometimes it may be an expression of a genuine confusion between them. And in some few cases, cases typified by the use of words like 'I can't go through with it', it may be that no one, either agent or spectator, can say with any confidence whether can is being used to express the idea of power or the idea of permissibility.

(ii) The concept of the power or ability of an agent to act is not the concept of physical possibility, nor is power or ability entailed by physical possibility. This can be shown by a simple example. Suppose I have been locked in a certain room and suppose that the lock on the door of that room is a device whose behaviour is physically undetermined; it may come unlocked and it may not: there is a future consistent with both the actual past and the laws of nature in which an internal mechanism unlocks the lock and another such future in which it doesn't. Then it is physically possible that I shall leave the room. But it does not follow that in any relevant sense I can leave the room.

(iii) The concept of the power or ability of an agent to act is not the concept of epistemic possibility. Consider the sentence, 'Castro could have arranged for Kennedy's assassination'. Clearly there are at least two things that someone who spoke these words might mean by them. He might mean, 'For all we know, Castro did arrange for Kennedy's assassination', or he might mean, 'Castro had it within his power to arrange for Kennedy's assassination'. These senses are obviously quite different and the first is of no particular interest to us.

(iv) The concept of the power or ability of an agent to act is not the concept of causal power or capacity. We say that penicillin has the power to kill certain bacteria, that a hydrogen bomb is capable of destroying a large city, and that a certain computer can perform a thousand calculations per second. (These are statements about capacities that may be unrealized. The vocabulary of our talk about the realization of causal capacities and the vocabulary of agency similarly overlap: we talk about the action of hydrochloric acid on zinc and the action of an automatic pistol.) But this sort of talk is really very different from talk of the power of an agent to act, despite their common origin in the technical terminology of medieval Aristotelianism. Perhaps the best way to appreciate this difference is to examine some ascriptions of causal capacity to human agents and to contrast them with ascriptions of ability to human agents. We ascribe a capacity, rather than an ability, to an agent when we say he:

can digest meat (being an omnivore);

has absolute pitch;

has normal colour vision;

can understand French.

We ascribe an ability, rather than a capacity, to an agent when we say he:
can cook meat;

can sing correctly;

can name the colours;

can speak French.

Despite their superficial similarity, there is all the difference in the world between the sort of property that the predicates in the first list ascribe to an agent and the sort of property that those in the second list ascribe to an agent. Consider, for example, the last item in each list. For a man to have the capacity to understand French is for him to be such that if he were placed in certain circumstances, which wouldn't be very hard to delimit, and if he were to hear French spoken, then, willy-nilly, he would understand what was being said. But if a man can speak French, it certainly does not follow that there are any circumstances in which he would, willy-nilly, speak French. The concept of a causal power or capacity would seem to be the concept of an invariable disposition to react to certain determinate changes in the environment in certain determinate ways, whereas the concept of an agent's power to act would seem not to be the concept of a power that is dispositional or reactive, but rather the concept of a power to originate changes in the environment."

Three points need to be made about what I have said about capacities and abilities.

First, it does not pretend to be an analysis of the distinction between capacities and abilities. It is, rather, an argument by example for the existence of this distinction. I do not know how to give a general account of it. (The reader may have noticed that I rarely attempt to give any general account or analysis of a concept, being content, in problematical cases, to try to show that we have a concept answering to a certain description and to try to distinguish it from other, similar concepts. In general, I am suspicious of philosophers' "analyses" of concepts, which seem to me to be only rarely correct and almost always tendentious. In the course of this book, I shall frequently appeal to our understanding of various unanalysed concepts — such as the concept of an agent's power to act — in order to convince the reader that one of my premisses is true. But note that if I were to offer a philosophical analysis of these concepts, I should have to appeal to our pre-analytical understanding of them as part of my argument for the correctness of my analysis. The appeal to intuition must turn up at some level of discourse. I prefer making "nonce" appeals to intuition at specific points in the argument to making the very abstract and general appeals to intuition that are inevitable when one is defending a philosophical analysis. This rationale for my procedure is, of course, self-serving, since I almost never know of any plausible analysis of the concepts I employ. I should add that my definitions of terms — such as 'determinism' — are not supposed to be analyses of concepts but explanations of my own technical terminology.)

Secondly, I do not mean to imply that this distinction is, at least in any very straightforward way, supported by ordinary usage. There is certainly nothing wrong with saying that someone is able to understand French, and probably nothing wrong with saying that a certain king lacks the capacity to rule.

Thirdly, I have been making a conceptual distinction. No ontological conclusions should be drawn from the existence of this distinction. Nothing I have said entails that the abilities of agents are not in some sense "reducible to" or do not "supervene upon" the causal capacities of the agents—or of some parts of agents, such as organs, cells, or atoms—and their environment. Here are two analogous cases that may make this point clearer: the concept of a number is not the concept of a set, but that does not mean that statements about numbers cannot be reduced to statements about sets or that there are numbers in addition to sets; the concept of a mental event is not the concept of a physical event, but that does not mean that statements about mental events cannot be reduced to statements about physical events or that there are mental events in addition to physical events.

I repeat: the purpose of this discussion of abilities and capacities, unlike the purposes of the discussions of most other philosophers who have made this distinction, has been conceptual and not ontological. My only purpose has been to state as clearly as I can what concept it is I shall be using 'can' and `able' and 'power' to express. It is this sense, of course, that these words bear in the above definition of free will. And it is free will as defined in the present section that I shall argue is incompatible with determinism as defined in the previous section.

(v) The concept of the power or ability of an agent to act is not the same as the concept of a skill or an accomplishment. In the preceding discussion of abilities and causal capacities, I used the predicate 'can speak French' as an example of a predicate that expresses the power of an agent to act. I did this because 'can speak French' stands in instructive opposition to the capacity-predicate 'can understand French'. But there is more to be said about 'can speak French'. Suppose that Jean-Paul, a valiant member of the Resistance, has been captured by the Germans and bound and gagged. Can he speak French? Well, to be able to speak French is to be able to speak, and. he can't speak because he is gagged: so he can't speak French. On the other hand, if the German commander ordered all prisoners who could speak French brought before him, he would be unlikely to look approvingly on the action of the subordinate who produced only the ungagged French-speaking prisoners ("For the others, Herr Oberst, cannot speak simpliciter, and, a fortiori, cannot speak French").

Clearly there is a distinction to be made between a skill, accomplishment, or general ability, on the one hand, and, on the other, the power to exercise it on a given occasion. This is true despite the fact that the same words might be used in both kinds of situation (`can speak French'; 'can move her left arm'; 'can play the flute'). That is not to say that there may not be a close conceptual connection between the two. I should think, - in fact, that a statement ascribing a skill or other general ability to an agent is probably equivalent to some statement asserting that, under certain conditions, that agent has the power to perform acts that fall under certain descriptions. But I shall not pursue this question, since it is not relevant to our present concerns. It is plain that the 'can' that figures in discussions of free will and determinism is not the `can' of skill: the thesis of determinism may or may not be relevant to the question whether someone on a particular occasion can or cannot speak French; it is certainly irrelevant to the question whether that person is a French-speaker.

1.5 It is in these senses that I shall understand 'free will' and `determinism'. In Chapters III and IV, I shall argue that free will is incompatible with determinism. It will be convenient to call this thesis incompatibilism and to call the thesis that free will and determinism are compatible compatibilism. I have no use for the terms 'soft determinism', 'hard determinism; and `libertarianism'. I do not object to these terms on the ground that they are vague or ill-defined. They can be easily defined by means of the terms we shall use and are thus no worse in that respect than our terms. Soft determinism is the conjunction of determinism and compatibilism; hard determinism is the conjunction of determinism and incompatibilism; libertarianism is the conjunction of incompatibilism and the thesis that we have free will." (I should like to appropriate libertarianism' as a name for the thesis that we have free will, but the incompatibilistic associations of this term are too firmly ingrained in too many readers for this to be wise. I have toyed with the idea of using `elutherianism' for this purpose, but reason has prevailed. I have finally and reluctantly settled on `the free-will thesis'.) I object to these terms because they lump together theses that should be discussed and analysed separately. Even having them on hand is a permanent temptation to conflate the Traditional Problem and the Compatibility Problem. They are therefore worse than useless and ought to be dropped from the working vocabulary of philosophers.

There is one other term that commonly figures in discussions of free will and determinism that I shall avoid: 'contra-causal freedom'. This term is highly ambiguous and, moreover, in accepting incompatibilism the believer in free will commits himself to accepting none of the things it might mean.

'Contra-causal freedom' might mean the sort of freedom, if freedom it would be, that someone would enjoy if his acts were uncaused. But, as we shall see in Chapter IV, that someone's acts are undetermined does not entail that they are uncaused. (This point was briefly touched on in Section 1.3.)

'Contra-causal freedom' might mean the sort of freedom, if freedom it would be, that someone would enjoy if in acting he violated the laws of nature, that is, if he worked miracles—even if only small miracles, local to the motor centres of his brain. Now I am not one of those philosophers who think that miracles are conceptually impossible. It seems to me that if God created ex nihilo a spinning object, then the proposition we call 'the law of the conservation of angular momentum' would be false. Yet, it seems to me, it might be a law of nature for all that. I think I understand the notion of a supernatural being, that is, the notion of an agent who is superior to and not a part of Nature (this enormous object that the natural sciences investigate), and I think that the falsity of a proposition counts against its being a law of nature if and only if that falsity is due entirely to the mutual operations of natural things, and not if it is due to the action of such an "external" agent upon Nature. But it does not follow from this perhaps rather quaint thesis about the concept of miracle that we can perform miracles, for there is no reason to suppose we are supernatural beings. And even if we are supernatural beings, that we are is not a consequence of the joint truth of the freewill thesis and incompatibilism. If these two theses are true, then determinism is false, and, moreover, one's free choices are undetermined: if I have a free choice between A and B, then my doing A is consistent with the past and the laws of nature and so is my doing B. Incompatibilism, therefore, entails that neither my freely doing A nor my freely doing B would "violate" a law of nature. It follows that it is sheer confusion to attribute a belief in contra-causal freedom, in the present sense, to the incompatibilist who believes in free will.

Finally, "contra-causal freedom" might be attributed to an agent if that agent has it within his power to act contrary to the laws of nature; that is, if the agent is able to perform certain acts whose performance would be sufficient for the falsity of certain propositions that are in fact laws of nature. But the incompatibilist, whether or not he accepts the free-will thesis, does not believe in contra-causal freedom in this sense. Quite the contrary: it is because the incompatibilist believes that we do not possess this power with respect to the laws of nature that he believes free will requires indeterminism. The precise sense in which this is true will be evident from an inspection of the arguments for incompatibilism that will be presented in Chapter III.

Incompatibilism, therefore, may perhaps be described as the thesis that free action is "extra-causal"; to say it is the doctrine that free action is "contra-causal" can only lead to confusion.

1.6 Incompatibilism can hardly be said to be a popular thesis among present-day philosophers (the "analytic" ones, at any rate). Yet it has its adherents and has had more of them in the past. It is, however, surprisingly hard to find any arguments for it. That many philosophers have believed something controversial without giving any arguments for it is perhaps not surprising; what is surprising is that no arguments have been given when arguments are so easy to give. Perhaps the explanation is simply that the arguments are so obvious that no one has thought them worth stating. If that is so, let us not be afraid of being obvious. Here is an argument that I think is obvious (I don't mean it's obviously right; I mean it's one that should occur pretty quickly to any philosopher who asked himself what arguments could be found to support incompatibilism):

If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.
I shall call this argument the Consequence Argument. In Chapter III, I shall argue for incompatibilism by presenting three very detailed versions of the Consequence Argument. Or, if you like—how does one count arguments, anyway?—I shall present three detailed arguments each of which is suggested by the Consequence Argument.

In Chapter IV, I shall examine three arguments for compatibilism: the "Paradigm Case Argument", the "Conditional Analysis Argument", and an argument I shall call the Mind Argument because it has appeared so often in the pages of that journal."

The Paradigm Case Argument attempts to establish the compatibility of free will and determinism by an examination of cases of human action that, it is alleged, serve as paradigms for the teaching of the meanings of words like 'free'.

The Conditional Analysis Argument maintains that statements ascribing to human agents the power or ability to act otherwise are to be analysed as disguised conditionals, which, when their disguise is removed, can be seen to be compatible with determinism.

The Mind Argument proceeds by identifying indeterminism with chance and by arguing that an act that occurs by chance, if an event that occurs by chance can be called an act, cannot be under the control of its alleged agent and hence cannot have been performed freely. (In this brief statement of the Mind Argument I have left entwined three strands of reasoning that I shall disentangle in Chapter IV.) Proponents of the Mind Argument conclude, therefore, that free will is not only compatible with determinism but entails determinism.

I shall argue in Chapter IV that these arguments fail. There are, I think, no other arguments for compatibilism that need be taken seriously. Let me give just one example of an argument that need not be taken seriously. Some philosophers have urged that to suppose that free will and determinism are in conflict is to confuse compulsion with determination by causal laws. For, these philosophers argue, to do something of one's own free will is to do that thing without being compelled to do it, and to behave in accordance with a deterministic set of causal laws is not to be compelled. I reply that this argument confuses doing things of one's own free will with having free will about what one does. These are not the same thing. The following case shows this. Suppose a certain man is in a certain room and is quite content to be there; suppose, in fact, that he wants very much to. remain in that room and that it would be difficult indeed to induce him even to consider leaving it. Then, I should think, he remains in the room of his own free will. But we can with perfect consistency go on to suppose that he has no free will about whether he leaves the room: suppose that, unknown to him, the only door is locked and that it is not within his power to open it.

Now someone might want to say that our imaginary agent did not remain in the room "of his own free will". I don't think this is right, but I will not argue the point. For if it is true that our agent did not remain in the room "of his own free will", then we cannot establish that a person does something "of his own free will" by establishing that his doing it is uncompelled. But the "compulsion" argument we have been considering certainly does depend on the premiss that one can so establish that a person has acted "of his own free will". Let us grant this premiss. The example of the man locked in the room shows that it does not follow from a person's doing something "of his own free will" that he can do otherwise. And thus it does not follow from the undoubted fact that we often do things of our own free will that what I have called the free-will thesis is true. And, therefore, the Compatibility Problem is not going to be solved by jejune reflections on compulsion.

1.7 If the arguments of Chapter III are correct, then incompatibilism is true. These arguments have premisses. Some of the premisses are more controversial than others. That is, some of the premisses of Chapter III will be accepted without question by the compatibilist and others he will want to argue about. Let us call the conjunction of these "controversial" premisses P. Suppose I am willing to grant that if any of my premisses are false, the false ones are conjuncts of P. The compatibilist and I will thus agree that if compatibilism is true, then P is false. One compatibilist has actually argued (in effect) that this proposition on which he and I agree entails that I am begging the question against compatibilism by assuming the truth of P.

It should suffice to point out that the situation in which this argument places the compatibilist and me is a perfectly symmetrical one: I am in a position to employ the same argument, mutatis mutandis, to prove the conclusion that his choice of premisses begs the question, and I should be as well justified in employing the argument against him as he is in employing it against me. Now why, I have asked myself uneasily, would anyone say something that can be so easily refuted? I think there are two possible answers. (i) The compatibilist thinks that compatibilism is prima facie true and that the burden of proof lies on the incompatibilist. (When a philosopher says, "The burden of the proof lies on you", he means, "You must deduce your conclusion from the truths of immediate sensory experience by means of an argument that is formally valid according to the rules of elementary logic, I on the other hand may employ any dialectical tactic I find expedient".) (ii) He thinks that the premisses from which he derives compatibilism are more plausible than those from which I derive incompatibilism.

As to the first of these possibilities, I deny that compatibilism is prima facie right and incompatibilism prima facie wrong. Quite the other way round, if you ask me. But I shall not assume that either of these propositions is prima facie right. I shall treat them as philosophical theses of equal initial plausibility, and this, it seems to me, is the only reasonable way to approach the Compatibility Problem.

In Section 4.3, I shall attempt to undermine the thesis that the premisses of the compatibilist are prima facie more plausible than my own by comparing the premisses of one argument for compatibilism, the Conditional Analysis Argument, with the premisses of one of the incompatibilist arguments presented in Chapter III. I think that the unprejudiced reader—if such can be found: very likely anyone willing to read as far as Chapter IV will have brought strong feelings about the Compatibility Problem to his reading of this book—will agree that if the premisses of my argument and the premisses of the Conditional Analysis Argument are considered independently of their implications for the Compatibility Problem, then the former will be seen to be considerably more plausible than the latter.

1.8 If the arguments of Chapters III and IV are cogent, then I shall have provided good reasons for thinking that free will and determinism are incompatible. Suppose I am right. Suppose these theses are incompatible. Which, if either, ought we to accept? As a first step towards answering this question, I shall, in Chapter V, address the question, "What would it mean to reject free will?" I shall argue that such a rejection would have at least two interesting consequences.

First, anyone who rejected free will could not consistently deliberate about future courses of action. This is so, I shall argue, owing simply to the fact that one cannot deliberate without believing that the things about which one is deliberating are things it is possible for one to do. How important one takes this consequence to be will, of course, depend on how important one thinks consistency is.

Secondly, and, I think, much more importantly, to deny the existence of free will commits one to denying the existence of moral responsibility. Until a short while ago, most philosophers would have taken this to be obvious. But if any of these philosophers had been asked to defend this obvious thesis, he would almost certainly have appealed to the following principle: a person can be held morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. In a recent remarkable article, however, Harry Frankfurt has presented convincing counter-examples to this principle. I shall devote the bulk of Chapter V to showing that even if Frankfurt is right, it is none the less true that moral responsibility is possible only if we have free will.

Now some philosophers will perhaps want to protest at this point in the argument that while I may indeed have shown that in some sense free will is incompatible with determinism, and while I may have shown that free will in some sense is logically necessary for moral responsibility, I have not shown that there is any single notion of free will that has both these features. Therefore, these philosophers may allege, I am not in a position to say that considerations having to do with moral responsibility can be used to show that we ought to accept the doctrine called 'free will' in Chapters III and IV and there shown to be incompatible with determinism.

I shall meet this possible objection in two ways. First, I shall ask the reader to examine the premisses of the arguments of Chapter III after they have been rewritten according to the following rule: at each place at which the words 'free will' occur in the premisses of these arguments, replace them with the words 'free will in just that sense of free will that is relevant to questions of moral responsibility'. I contend that the reader will find that the rewritten premisses are no less plausible than the original ones. Secondly, I shall present an argument for the incompatibility of moral responsibility and determinism that makes no mention whatever of free will, though it will be structurally identical with one of the arguments for the incompatibility of free will and determinism that occurs in Chapter III. I think this "direct" argument for the incompatibility of responsibility and determinism will have the following feature: it will clearly be sound if and only if the corresponding argument of Chapter III is sound. But if this is true, then it seems very unlikely that it is only some sort of "free will" that has nothing to do with moral responsibility that is shown in Chapter III to be incompatible with determinism.

The principal conclusion of Chapter V will therefore be that to reject free will—in just that sense of 'free will' in which we have earlier argued that free will is incompatible with determinism—is to reject moral responsibility.

In Chapter VI, I shall discuss the Traditional Problem, that is, the problem of finding out whether determinism is true, or whether the free-will thesis is true, or whether neither is true. I shall proceed by asking what reasons we have for thinking that determinism is true and what reasons we have for thinking that the free-will thesis is true.

There are two sorts of reason for believing in determinism. First, one might believe in determinism because one believes that science has shown determinism to be true. I shall argue at length that science has, if anything, shown determinism to be false. Secondly, one might believe that determinism is a truth of reason, on the ground that it is a logical consequence of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. I shall show that, whether or not determinism is a consequence of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, the Principle of Sufficient Reason must be rejected, since it entails the collapse of all modal distinctions.

In addition to asking what reasons might be brought in support of determinism, we shall also ask what reasons might be brought in support of a certain closely related but weaker thesis: the thesis that human beings, like typical digital computers, behave in ways that are entirely determined by their past states and their current "input". It is important to consider this thesis because: (i) it would seem to be incompatible with free will if and only if determinism proper is; (ii) unlike determinism proper it is not in even prima-facie conflict with current physical theory; and (iii) it is commonly contended that the empirical study of human beings has uncovered facts that strongly support it. I shall argue that this common contention is sheer bluff.

The conclusion of the argument whose course is summarized in the last few paragraphs is that neither physics nor pure reason supports determinism, and, moreover, that the scientific study of human beings does not support the thesis that the behaviour of human beings is "for all practical purposes" determined.

What reasons can be brought in support of the free-will thesis? It cannot, I think, be seriously maintained that we can know by some sort of introspection that we have or that we do not have free will. And neither can it be maintained that the empirical study of human beings is likely to show us that we have or that we do not have free will. The only relevant argument would seem to be this: if we do not have free will, then there is no such thing as moral responsibility; therefore, since there is such a thing as moral responsibility, there is such a thing as free will. (Moreover, since free will is incompatible with determinism, determinism is false.) The first premiss of this argument is defended in Chapter V in the way outlined above. In Chapter VI, we shall examine its second premiss, and I shall defend my use of this argument against the charge that for an incompatibilist so to argue amounts to his claiming to be able to prove that determinism — a thesis about the motion of matter in the void — can be shown to be false by a priori reflection on moral responsibility. I shall also examine a condition of certain philosophers (their having fallen under the spell of "scientism") that makes it psychologically very difficult for them to believe that such "tender-minded" arguments as this could possibly provide one with good reason to reject determinism.

I shall finally address the question, "What would you say if, after all, the progress of science did show that indeterminism was untenable?"


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