David Wiggins

Sortal or Relative Identity
David Wiggins and Peter Geach debated back and forth about the idea of "relative identity" or the relativity of identity for many years after Geach suggested it in 1962.

Ruth Barcan Marcus published her original proof of the necessity of identity in 1947 and repeated her argument at a 1961 Boston University colloquium.

Whether Wiggins knew of Marcus 1961 is not clear. He should have known of her 1947, and there is similarity to her 1961 derivation (which uses Leibniz's Law). Wiggins gives no credit to Marcus, a pattern in the literature for the next few decades and still seen today.

Saul Kripke clearly modeled much of his derivation after Wiggins, especially his criticism of the derivation as "paradoxical". Kripke gives no credit to either Marcus or Wiggins for the steps in the argument, but his quote from Wiggins, that such a claim makes contingent identity statements impossible, when they clearly are possible, at least tells us he has read Wiggins. And we know Kripke heard Marcus present her work at the 1961 colloquium.

Here is Wiggins (1965),

I WANT to try to show (i) that there are insuperable difficulties any term + relation + term or subject + predicate analysis of statements of identity, (ii) that, however important and helpful the sense-reference distinction is,1 this distinction does not make it possible to retain the relational or predicative analysis of identity statements, and (iii) that a realistic and radically new account is needed both of ' = ' and of the manner in which noun-phrases occur in identity-statements.

Till we have such an account many questions about identity and individuation will be partly unclear, and modal logics will continue without the single compelling interpretation one might wish.

The connexion of what I am going to say with modal calculi can be indicated in the following way. It would seem to be a necessary truth that if a = b then whatever is truly ascribable to a is truly ascribable to b and vice versa (Leibniz's Law). This amounts to the principle

(1) (x)(y) ((x = y) ⊃ (φ)(φx ≡ φy))

Suppose that identity-statements are ascriptions or predications. Then the predicate variable in (1) will apparently range over properties like that expressed by ' ( =a) ' 2 and we shall get as consequence of (1)

Note that Wiggins predicates the property "= x" of y. Kripke writes this as "x = y," logically equivalent, but intensionally predicating "= y" of x!
(2) (x)(y) ((x = y) ⊃ (x = x. ⊃ . y = x))

There is nothing puzzling about this. But if (as many modal logicians believe), there exist de re modalities of the form

◻ (φa) (i.e., necessarily (φa)),

then something less innocent follows. If '( = a) ' expresses a property, then '◻ (a = a)', if this too is about the object a, also ascribes something to a, namely the property ◻ ( = a). For on a naive and pre-theoretical view of properties, you will reach an expression for a property whenever you subtract a noun-expression with material occurrence (something like ' a ' in this case) from a simple declarative sentence. The property ◻ ( = a) then falls within the range of the predicate variable in Leibniz's Law (understood in this intuitive way) and we get

Note (3) is almost Kripke's (3), but with intensional "y = x." Wiggins needs one more step. His (4) is Kripke's (3)

(3) (x) (y) (x = y ⊃ (◻ (x = x). ⊃ .◻ (y = x)))

Hence, reversing the antecedents,

(4) (x) (y) (◻(x = x ). ⊃ (x = y) ⊃ ◻ (x = y)))

But '(◻ (x = x)) ' is a necessary truth, so we can drop this antecedent and reach

(5) (x) (y) ((x = y). ⊃ .◻ (x = y)))

Now there undoubtedly exist contingent identity-statements. Let 'a = b' be one of them. From its simple truth and (5) we can derive '◻ (a = b)'. But how then can there be any contingent identity-statements?...

4. The derivation of (2) itself, via x's predicate ' ( = x)', might be blocked by insisting that when expressions for properties are formed by subtraction of a constant or free variable, then every occurrence of that constant or free variable must be subtracted. '( a = a )' would then yield ' ( = )', and (2) could not be derived by using ' ( = x ) ' . One would only get the impotent

(2') (x = y) ⊃ (x = x. ⊃ . y = y)

The paradox could still be derived however. Suppose that a is contingently b. Then <> ~{a=b); i.e., it is possible that not a=^H This gives the predicate '◇ ~ (a = ) ' . This is true of b. Then by (1), if a = b, this predicate is true also of a. This yields '◇ ~ (a = a) '. But ' (x) ◻(x = x)' is a logical truth and implies ' ~ ◇ ~ (a = a)'.

Wiggins on Biology and Metaphysics
It gradually became evident to me in constructing this work that for the future of metaphysics no single part of the philosophy of science was in more urgent need of development than the philosophy of biology. It is well known that Aristotle believed something like this but it seems to be the misfortune of that particular philosopher that few of the things he said can be understood or believed until they are laboriously rediscovered. And it is a misfortune of present-day analytical philosophy that it has not inspired the production of any writings in the philosophy of biology which are both worthy to succeed the seminal writing of J. H. Woodger and capable of illuminating present day philosophical discussions of classification and individuation in the way Aristotle would have argued that they require. To this important task I incite those better qualified than I am to undertake it.
Sameness and Individuation
The chief aim of this book is to elaborate a theory of the individuation of continuants, including living substances and other substances. Such a theory ought to comprise at least three things: an elucidation first of the primitive concept of identity or sameness; second, some account of what it is for something to be a substance or continuant that persists through change; third, an account of what it amounts to, practically and cognitively for a thinker, to single a thing out at a time. Here, with this last task, there is the supplementary question of what it amounts to for the same thinker, having once singled something out, later to single out that same thing as the same thing.

From a philosopher's attitude towards the logical and methodological ordering of these tasks one can tell something about his or her attitude towards the idea that the meaning of a word is a function of its use. In this work, it is everywhere accepted that the meanings of such words as 'same', 'substance', 'change', 'persist' and 'recognize' depend upon their use. The life and semantic identity of such terms is only sustained by the activity of singling out or individuating. But the thesis of meaning as use is consistent with two converse or complementary theses (A)(B), which have an equal relevance to what is to be attempted and an equal claim upon rational acceptance.

(A) The relation between the meaning and the use of such words as 'same', 'substance', 'change', 'persist' is in fact reciprocal or two-way Everything that concerns meaning registers upon use; but, unless we redefine use, that does not imply that meaning can be reduced to use. Among the concerns I began by enumerating, there is no question of collapsing the first two into the third, for instance.

(B) An interpretation of a set of linguistic uses or conceptual practices must speak of the subject matter to which they relate. For that reason, it must refer to the various things themselves towards which the uses or practices themselves are directed, together with the properties and relations of these things. The child who is learning to find for himself the persisting substances in the world, to think the thoughts that involve them and recognize the same ones again, grasps a skill and a subject matter at one and the same time. A philosopher who seeks properly to understand those thoughts must proceed accordingly. Let the philosopher elucidate same, identical, substance, change, persist, etc., directly and from within the same practices as those that an ordinary untheoretical human being is initiated into. At the same time, let the philosopher show by example what good elucidations can be made of such ideas as these. To this end, let him shadow the practical commerce between things singled out and thinkers who find their way around the world by singling out places and objects — and singling out one another. If the meaning of the terms 'same', 'substance', 'change', 'persist', etc., is a function of use and use is a function of the said commerce, then one by-product of this mode of elucidation will be that the task I began by calling the third task is undertaken in concert with the first and the second. The first and second tasks acknowledge the importance of the third; but, by their constant appropriate acknowledgment of this importance, they will in fact absorb the third.

Wiggins asserts that the identity relationship, namely the relative identity, of two distinguishably different objects is achieved by perceiving or recognizing some properties in the two objects (in our terms, some subset of the information in the objects) that are identical. The concepts resulting from these perceptions must be symmetric (aRb = bRa), reflexive,and transitive (if aRb and bRc, then aRc),
Relative Identity through Time
E. Jonathan Lowe describes Wiggins as the source of the "Standard Account of Identity through Time." This account is challenged by Michael Burke, who proposes a novel explanation for the paradox of Dion and Theon.
Coinciding Objects
In his 1968 article "Being in the same place at the same time," Wiggins describes two new versions of the puzzle of the Statue and Lump of Clay. In one case he describes a tree T and the wood W it is made of. He imagines the wood reduced to sawdust. The other case is a sweater made of wool that is is unpicked and wound up as a ball of wool. Suppose the wool is later crocheted into a pair of socks.

Like the statue and clay, both the tree and the wood, and the sweater/socks and the wool, have different persistence conditions, setting up the classic problem of coinciding objects. All of them seem to be Aristotle's ancient problem of matter and (immaterial) form in the clay and the statue.

If it is a materialistic thesis that T = W, then my denial that T = W is a form of denial of materialism. It is interesting how very uninteresting an obstacle these Leibnizian difficulties – real though they are – put in the way of the reduction of botany and all its primitive terms to organic chemistry or to physics. (If it does not follow from T ≠ W that trees are something over and above their matter, how much the less can it follow that they are immanent or transcendent or supervenient or immaterial beings. This is obviously absurd for trees. A Leibnizian disproof of strict identity could never be enough to show something so intriguing or obscure.)
Wiggins is unabashedly materialist and reductionist. Form over and above matter does not exist
I should expect there to be equally valid, and from the point of view of ontology almost equally unexciting, difficulties in the reduction of persons to flesh and bones, in psychophysical event-materialism, and in the materialisms which one might formulate in other categories (such as the Aristotelian categories property and state or the categories situation and fact). Over and above is one question, identity is another. But of course the only stuff there is is stuff.
Information philosophy asserts that the Tree T, the sweater and the socks are all forms, shapes, in short, information that is in fact immaterial and abstract, over and above the material in some sense.

As to identity, just like the clay that remains when the statue is crushed, the wood and the wool remain, but their information, organization, or arrangement, what Aristotle called τὸ σχῆμα τῆς ἰδέας, has largely disappeared. This is the ancient terminology of the Stoics (and Aristotle).

The material substrate (ὑποκείμενον) is transformed when matter is lost or gained, but the Stoics said it is wrong to call such material changes "growth (αὐξήσεις) and decay (φθίσεις)." They suggested these changes should be called "generation (γενέσεις) and destruction (φθορὰς)." These terms were already present in Aristotle, who said that the form, as essence, is not generated. He said that generation and destruction are material changes that do not persist (as does the Stoic peculiarly qualified individual with an Aristotelian mind).

Tibbles, the Cat (two versions)
Wiggins also describes a new example of the "body-minus" problem. He cites Peter Geach as his source of a variation on the ancient problem of Dion and Theon (where Theon is identical to Dion except he is missing a foot), Wiggins describes a metaphysical cat named Tibbles, the Cat and a second cat named Tib who lacks a tail.

Wiggins begins with an assertion S*

S*: No two things of the same kind (that is, no two things which satisfy the same sortal or substance concept) can occupy exactly the same volume at exactly the same time.

This, I think, is a sort of necessary truth...

A final test for the soundness of S* or, if you wish, for Leibniz' Law, is provided by a puzzle contrived by Geach out of a discussion in William of Sherwood. A cat called Tibbles loses his tail at time t2. But before t2somebody had picked out, identified, and distinguished from Tibbles a different and rather peculiar animate entity-namely, Tibbles minus Tibbles' tail. Let us suppose that he decided to call this entity "Tib." Suppose Tibbles was on the mat at time t1. Then both Tib and Tibbles were on the mat at t1. This does not violate S*.

But consider the position from t3 onward when, something the worse for wear, the cat is sitting on the mat without a tail. Is there one cat or are there two cats there? Tib is certainly sitting there. In a way nothing happened to him at all. But so is Tibbles. For Tibbles lost his tail, survived this experience, and then at t3 was sitting on the mat. And we agreed that Tib ≠ Tibbles. We can uphold the transitivity of identity, it seems, only if we stick by that decision at t3 and allow that at t3 there are two cats on the mat in exactly the same place at exactly the same time. But my adherence to S* obliges me to reject this. So I am obliged to find something independently wrong with the way in which the puzzle was set up.

This is a clear case of Peter van Inwagen's Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts
It was set up in such a way that before t2 Tibbles had a tail as a part and Tib allegedly did not have a tail as a part. If one dislikes this feature (as I do), then one has to ask, "Can one identify and name a part of a cat, insist one is naming just that, and insist that what one is naming is a cat"? This is my argument against the supposition that one can: Does Tib have a tail or not? I mean the question in the ordinary sense of "have," not in any peculiar sense "have as a part." For in a way it is precisely the propriety of some other concept of having as a part which is in question.

As an arbitrary undetached part, Tib has been picked out and defined as coinciding with Tibbles, except for the tail Tibbles is about to lose. This violates S*
Surely Tib adjoins and is connected to a tail in the standard way in which cats who have tails are connected with their tails. There is no peculiarity in this case. Otherwise Tibbles himself might not have a tail. Surely any animal which has a tail loses a member or part of itself if its tail is cut off. But then there was no such cat as the cat who at t1 has no tail as a part of himself. Certainly there was a cat-part which anybody could call "Tib" if they wished. But one cannot define into existence a cat called Tib who had no tail as part of himself at t, if there was no such cat at t1. If someone thought he could, then one might ask him (before the cutting at t2), "Is this Tib of yours the same cat as Tibbles or is he a different cat?"
In Geach's second account of Tibbles as an exemplar of a metaphysical problem, published some years later (1980), Tibbles is a cat with 1,000 hairs that can be interpreted as 1,001 cats. This is an example of Peter Unger's Problem of the Many, not the "body-minus" problem of the original Tibbles.

His second version of Tibbles is widely cited as a discussion of the problem of vagueness.

If a few of Tibbles' hairs are pulled out, do we still have Tibbles, the Cat? Obviously we do. Have we created other cats, now multiple things in the same place at the same time? Obviously not.

Geach argues that removing one of a thousand hairs from Tibbles shows that there are actually 1,001 cats on the mat.

The fat cat sat on the mat. There was just one cat on the mat. The cat's name was "Tibbles": "Tibbles" is moreover a name for a cat.—This simple story leads us into difficulties if we assume that Tibbles is a normal cat. For a normal cat has at least 1,000 hairs. Like many empirical concepts, the concept (single) hair is fuzzy at the edges; but it is reasonable to assume that we can identify in Tibbles at least 1,000 of his parts each of which definitely is a single hair. I shall refer to these hairs as h1, h2, h3, . . . up to h1,000.

Now let c be the largest continuous mass of feline tissue on the mat. Then for any of our 1,000 cat-hairs, say hn, there is a proper part cn of c which contains precisely all of c except the hair hn; and every such part cn differs in a describable way both from any other such part, say cm, and from c as a whole. Moreover, fuzzy as the concept cat may be, it is clear that not only is c a cat, but also any part cn is a cat: cn would clearly be a cat were the hair hn plucked out, and we cannot reasonably suppose that plucking out a hair generates a cat, so cn must already have been a cat. So, contrary to our story, there was not just one cat called 'Tibbles' sitting on the mat; there were at least 1,001 sitting there!

All the same, this result is absurd. We simply do not speak of cats, or use names of cats, in this way; nor is our ordinary practice open to logical censure. I am indeed far from thinking that ordinary practice never is open to logical censure; but I do not believe our ordinary use of proper names and count nouns is so radically at fault as this conclusion would imply.

Everything falls into place if we realize that the number of cats on the mat is the number of different cats on the mat; and c13, c279, and c are not three different cats, they are one and the same cat. Though none of these 1,001 lumps of feline tissue is the same lump of feline tissue as another, each is the same cat as any other: each of them, then, is a cat, but there is only one cat on the mat, and our original story stands.

Thus each one of the names "c1 ; c2, . . . c1.000 or again the name "c", is a name of a cat; but none of these 1,001 names is a name for a cat, as "Tibbles" is. By virtue of its sense "Tibbles" is a name, not for one and the same thing (in fact, to say that would really be to say nothing at all), but for one and the same cat. This name for a cat has reference, and it names the one and only cat on the mat; but just on that account "Tibbles" names, as a shared name, both c itself and any of the smaller masses of feline tissue like c12 and c279; for all of these are one and the same cat, though not one and the same mass of feline tissue. "Tibbles" is not a name for a mass of feline tissue.

As David Wiggins has argued, we only have relative identity between any two objects
So we recover the truth of the simple story we began with. The price to pay is that we must regard " is the same cat as " as expressing only a certain equivalence relation, not an absolute identity restricted to cats; but this price, I have elsewhere argued, must be paid anyhow, for there is no such absolute identity as logicians have assumed.

So we now have two metaphysical cats named Tibbles. Of course, it may have been Geach, not Wiggins, who repurposed his cat Tibbles between the 1960's and 1980's! In his 1997 republication of "Being in the same place" (in Michael Burke's book Material Constitution), Wiggins notes Geach had a different purpose for his Tibbles.

In their 1987 book The Hellenistic Philosophers (p.175), Long and Sedley use Wiggins' 1968 version of Tibbles to illustrate the "body-minus" problem, with no reference to Wiggins (or Geach). Just a few pages earlier, Long and Sedley had presented Philo's ancient version of Dion and Theon as part of Chrysippus's "growing argument." .

Free Will
Inspired by the libertarian philosophers Roderick Chisholm and Richard Taylor, Wiggins provided a vigorous defense of libertarianism (or an attack on compatibilism) in a 1965 paper read to the Oxford Philosophical Society. Part of that paper was rewritten as "Towards a reasonable libertarianism" in Ted Honderich's 1973 Essays on Freedom of Action.

This paper caught the eye of Daniel Dennett, who expanded on Wiggins' theme of figuring out what libertarians say they want, and trying to give it to them. Wiggins described his goals:

One of the many reasons, I believe, why philosophy falls short of a satisfying solution to the problem of freedom is that we still cannot refer to an unflawed statement of libertarianism. Perhaps libertarianism is in the last analysis untenable. But if we are to salvage its insights, we certainly need to know what is the least unreasonable statement the position could be given. Compatibilist resolutions to the problem of freedom2 must wear an appearance of superficiality, however serious or deep the reflections from which they originate, until what they offer by way of freedom can be compared with something else, whether actual or possible or only seemingly imaginable, which is known to be the best that any indeterminist or libertarian could describe.

A sympathetic and serviceable statement of libertarianism cannot be contrived overnight, nor can it be put into two or three sentences, which is all that some utilitarian and compatibilist writers have been willing to spare for the position. If they were more anxious to destroy or supersede libertarianism than to understand and improve it, this was natural enough; but time or human obstinacy have shown that the issue is too complex for such summary treatment. What follows is offered as a small step in the direction of a more reasonable exposition. It concentrates on two or three points, where many need attention. If the treatment of these two or three points has the final effect of making the position even less credible, or of making me sacrificial scapegoat for oddities which persist, I still hope to have shown that the libertarian perceived something which was missed by all extant compatibilist resolutions of the problem of freedom; and that the point the libertarian was making must bear upon any future reconstruction of our notions and practices.

Wiggins proposed a specific form of (quantum mechanical) indeterminism as a variation on an idea of Arthur Stanley Eddington and Bertrand Russell. Here is Russell's suggestion
for those who are anxious to assert the power of mind over matter it is possible to find a loophole. It may be maintained that one characteristic of living matter is a condition of unstable equilibrium,...so delicate that the difference between two possible occurrences in one atom suffices to produce macroscopic differences in the movements of muscles. And since, according to quantum physics, there are no physical laws to determine which of several possible transitions a given atom will undergo, we may imagine that, in a brain, the choice between possible transitions is determined by a psychological cause called "volition." All this is possible, but no more than possible; there is not the faintest positive reason for supposing that anything of the sort actually takes place.

Daniel Dennett called this "Russell's Hunch" in his 1978 book Brainstorms. Note that Wiggins' variation does not get away from the error of making chance a direct cause of action, since he simply amplifies microscopic indeterminacy to macroscopic indeterminacy, as Eddington and Russell had done.

Daniel Dennett avoided that error in his two-stage decision model (which was based on Wiggin's work, Paul Valery's comments, and perhaps Arthur Holly Compton's ideas as interpreted by Karl Popper). Dennett limits indeterminism to the early stages of deliberation (where in a two-stage model they can generate alternative possibilities). But Dennett refused to endorse his own excellent model, because as a determinist he denied any role for quantum uncertainty. And as a computationalist in mind theories he thought pseudo-random number generation was all a mind needed.

Wiggins amplifies the quantum indeterminacy directly.

For indeterminism maybe all we really need to imagine or conceive is a world in which (a) there is some macroscopic indeterminacy founded in microscopic indeterminacy, and (b) an appreciable number of the free actions or policies or deliberations of individual agents, although they are not even in principle hypothetico-deductively derivable from antecedent conditions, can be such as to persuade us to fit them into meaningful sequences. We need not trace free actions back to volitions construed as little pushes aimed from outside the physical world. What we must find instead are patterns which are coherent and intelligible in the low level terms of practical deliberation, even though they are not amenable to the kind of generalisation or necessity which is the stuff of rigorous theory.
Note the similarity to Robert Kane's Self-Forming Actions
On this conception the agent is conceived as an essentially and straightforwardly enmattered or embodied thing. His possible peculiarity as a natural thing among things in nature is that his biography unfolds not only non-deterministically but also intelligibly; non-deterministically in that personality and character are never something complete, and need not be the deterministic origin of action; intelligibly in that each new action or episode constitutes a comprehensible phase in the unfolding of the character, a further specification of what the man has by now become.
References
Burke, M. B. (1997). Material Constitution, New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Geach, P. T. 1980b. Reference and Generality. 3d ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Long, A. A. and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Cambridge University Press
Wiggins, D. (1963). "The Individuation of Things and Places," in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume XXXVII, p.163.
Wiggins, D. (1965). "Identity statements," in R. J. Butler, Analytical Philosophy, Second Series, Blackwell
Wiggins, D. (1967). Identity and spatio-temporal continuity. Oxford, BH Blackwell.
Wiggins, D. (1968). On being in the same place at the same time. The Philosophical Review, 90-95; second version in Burke (1997), pp.3-9.
Wiggins, D. (1974). Essentialism, continuity, and identity. Synthése, 28(3), 321-359. Chicago
Wiggins, D. (1980). Sameness and Substance, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Wiggins, D. (1991). "Towards a reasonable libertarianism." in Needs, Values, Truth: Essays in the philosophy of value (Vol. 6). Oxford University Press., 269–300.
Wiggins, D. (2001). Sameness and Substance Renewed (Preamble). Cambridge University Press.
For Teachers
For Scholars
Excerpts from Towards a reasonable libertarianism1
One of the many reasons, I believe, why philosophy falls short of a satisfying solution to the problem of freedom is that we still cannot refer to an unflawed statement of libertarianism. Perhaps libertarianism is in the last analysis untenable. But if we are to salvage its insights, we certainly need to know what is the least unreasonable statement the position could be given. Compatibilist resolutions to the problem of freedom2 must wear an appearance of superficiality, however serious or deep the reflections from which they originate, until what they offer by way of freedom can be compared with something else, whether actual or possible or only seemingly imaginable, which is known to be the best that any indeterminist or libertarian could describe.
A sympathetic and serviceable statement of libertarianism cannot be contrived overnight, nor can it be put into two or three sentences, which is all that some utilitarian and compatibilist writers have been willing to spare for the position. If they were more anxious to destroy or supersede libertarianism than to understand and improve it, this was natural enough; but time or human obstinacy have shown that the issue is too complex for such summary treatment. What follows is offered as a small step in the direction of a more reasonable exposition. It concentrates on two or three points, where many need attention. If the treatment of these two or three points has the final effect of making the position even less credible, or of making me sacrificial scapegoat for oddities which persist, I still hope to have shown that the libertarian perceived something which was missed by all extant compatibilist resolutions of the problem of freedom; and that the point the libertarian was making must bear upon any future reconstruction of our notions and practices.

I What the libertarian means by 'He could have done otherwise'

The libertarian insists that a man is only responsible or free if sometimes he could do otherwise than he does do. It must be genuinely up to him what he chooses or decides to do. But what does this mean? Let us begin with three clarifications.

(i) It is characteristic of the libertarian to insist that for at least some of the things which the man with freedom does, or plans, or decides to do, he must have a genuine alternative open to him. That is, for some action A and some action B, where A ≠ B, he must be able to do A and he must be able to do B. But does the same apply to what the man with freedom thinks, what he believes, and what he infers?3 In another place,4 I have given an argument, whatever it may be worth, whose purpose was to show that the notions open choice, decision, alternative, up to me, freedom have a different point in the realm of belief, the state whose distinctive aspiration it is to match or represent the world as it is, from their point in the realm of action and volition. For of action and volition the proper province is not to match anything in the physical world but to affect or act upon the world. The world and its causal properties, whether or not these constitute it a deterministic world, are the unarguable framework within which action takes place; but for the libertarian it is typical and proper to insist that nothing in that world should completely determine the ends, objectives and ideals with which the free agent, if he is truly free, deliberates to change that world. There is no question of requiring of ends and ideals some correspondence with, some sentence-like satisfaction by, the things in the world. (If the onus were anywhere then, as Miss Anscombe has suggested, it would have to be the other way about.) The libertarian ought, on the other hand, to be content to allow the world, if it will only do so, to dictate to the free man how the world is.5 Freedom does not consist in the exercise of the (colourable but irrelevant) right to go mad without interference or distraction by fact.6 Alternatives of the kind which the libertarian defines and demands are alternatives in the realm not of theory but of practice.

(ii) To say that an agent is doing B or will do B and not A, and that there is something else, A, which he can do, is to say something ambiguous, even though (ignoring permissive and epistemic contexts) 'can' itself is most likely univocal (see (iii) below). A may be something the agent can generally do, for instance, or something he can for such and such a stretch of time do, given the opportunity. It is true and important that the latter claim is confirmed if the agent's wanting or trying to do A at an appropriate moment during that period is a sufficient condition of his producing a non-fluke performance of A. But read in this way he can do otherwise is irrelevant to what concerns the libertarian. What organises the whole dispute, and what holds the libertarian's position apart from his present day opponents' position, is rather his treatment of another question: if physical determinism is true, is there ever something different from what the agent will in fact do at some time ti such that the agent can at ti do that other thing at ti instead? If physical determinism is true, then the libertarian maintains that such an alternative is never really or truly available to the agent (see Section III). Sometimes earlier actions do completely determine successions of later events and actions. According to the libertarian, however, there can only be true alternatives if there are at least some movements or actions or mental events which, whether or not they completely determine their immediate successors, are not themselves entirely determined by some predecessor. (Of course, this is only a necessary condition of alternatives or freedom of action.) He readily allows that even if there were not such successions, we could, if we wished to ignore all sorts of relevant facts, mechanically continue to draw our conventional distinctions between different kinds of situations - between acting voluntarily and acting reluctantly, between control and non-control, between freedom and constraint. But determinism undermines their whole point, he says. It whittles away too much that is important from the notion of responsibility. It transforms it out of recognition. True freedom cannot be maintained by holding onto distinctions for which there is no factual backing or consistent rationale.

(iii) Though the sentence schemata he could have done otherwise and he could have done A instead of B may be used with varying truth conditions, one may hope to explain all these variations by differences of complementation with respect to (a) the time or period for which the ability subsists, (b) the particular fully specified value of the action variables, and (c) the time relevant for the acting itself. Can itself is, in my own provisional opinion, a unitary semantical element. But those who have distinguished, e.g. a 'general' can from 'particular' can have performed an important service in forcing us to be clear about what exactly it is that a man could or could not have done. The (b)-place must be carefully and fully specified. The provision of two slots (a) and (c), for the times of the ability and the performance respectively, may seem questionable. But consider the fact that I may now, in Baker Street at 9.55 a.m., be able to catch the train from Paddington to Oxford at 10.15 a.m. Eight minutes later, however, at 10.03 a.m., if I have not progressed from Baker Street, then, given the state of the Inner Circle line and Marylebone Road, I shall certainly be unable to catch the train. What we have in this example is not a special case but a specially clear case. Both slots are always there — we cannot create them specially for the train case — but when they both take the same temporal specification (as they must in 'he could have done otherwise' in at least some important occurrences) then the ellipse of one of them is surely natural and intelligible enough.

So much for the sentence he could have done otherwise as it figures in the dispute. The other urgent need is for a clarification of the determinism which the libertarian finds incompatible with his understanding of the sentence.

II What determinism signifies

J. L. Austin once maintained that determinism was 'the name of nothing clear'.8 But as a second-level non-scientific theory that the world admits of explanation by a certain kind of ground level scientific theory, it seems to me that the thesis can be made as plain as 'causality' and 'explanation' can. Whatever his other difficulties, I think the libertarian must find it depressingly easy to indicate what it is that he is afraid of.

I propose to say that a scientific theory for a subject-matter s is deterministic if and only if the theory possesses a store of predicates and relation-words for the characterisation of s-items (events, situations), and affirms lawlike general statements L1, L2, . . . Ln, such that for every s-item sj it can find a description Dj, and s-item si with description Di which occurred some t seconds earlier, and a law L such that L implies (if a Di event occurs, then a Dj event occurs t seconds later).9

A deterministic theory is adequate if its vocabulary of descriptions D1, D2, . . . Dn and its laws L1, L2, . . . Ln together yield explanations which are of universal correct applicability and the statements L1, L2, . . . are true.

As a first attempt then let us say that determinism is the theory that for every event (situation, state of the world or whatever) there is a true description Di and an adequate and deterministic theory T which explains that event under Di. I suppose our reason for thinking that this might hold is science's spectacular success in extending again and again the number and variety of events for which it can find theories with the title to be in my sense both adequate and deterministic.

Someone may comment that it is hardly surprising that we have discovered the regularities which were there to be discovered; that our success shows nothing about the residue; nor does the possibility of such success really guarantee the operational or empirical intelligibility of the thesis of determinism. Perhaps it is not intelligible, it may be said. The charge ignores falsification however; and those who persist in subscribing to determinism (in spite of, e.g. quantum phenomena) surely might reply to the whole objection with this question: 'How big then is the residue? Can there really be, what the objection purports to achieve, an a priori estimation of it?' At this point, however, we stumble upon the widespread idea, presumably shared by the objector, that every situation must be infinitely describable. If it were, then getting evidence for determinism would certainly be like filling a broken pitcher.

III The logical character of the incompatibility of determinism and the ability to do otherwise

So much for serious determinism. It is a shaky hypothesis, and in its stricter forms open to disbelief It is not a thesis to be disarmed by a priori arguments against its truth or significance; and it is not obviously equivalent to the prima facie weaker thesis that every event has some cause. Its importance for freedom resides in the fact that if determinism is true and every action of every agent depends in its particular circumstances upon some specific physical condition being Satisfied, then actions cannot be torn free from the nexus of physical effects and fully determining causes.16 Here then we come to the problem of the incompatibility which the libertarian alleges between physical determinism and statements of the form 'he could at t' have done otherwise at t''.

IV Views of the self open to the libertarian

It may be said that the whole preceding demonstration turns on a confusion between what lies in the agent and what lies outside him.20 It is perfectly absurd, it will be said, to lump together under conditions C things as diverse as the character of the agent, the present state of mind of the agent, the external causes of that state of mind, and the concrete particularities of the conditions under which he acts. It makes as much sense as saying that one of the circumstances under which an agent did a specific action was the circumstance that he was a man of a mean and murderous disposition. Nothing but confusion can come from such a way of speaking, it will be said; and the only possible philosophical outcome of speaking like this is a far fetched theory of the metaphysical, totally non-empirical, and characterless self whose difficulties match exactly the incoherences of the Lockean doctrine of substance - the thing with the property of having no properties, the substrate which explains the possibility of change by being both unchanged and identical with that which persists through change. Either the libertarian requires (cf. Section I (i)) that nothing in the world outside the free agent himself determine for that agent how he will change or deliberate to change the world, or the libertarian simply requires that determine for the agent how he will change or deliberate to change the world. It will then be said that if the requirement is stated in the former way we can and must distinguish what lies within the agent from what lies without. If the requirement is stated in the latter way, however, then even the agent himself is excluded from determining anything - even for himself - unless the self is outside the world altogether. This is an unintelligible conception. Finally it may be said that the libertarian's expression 'determining for the agent' is pure rhetoric - the man deliberates and thus determines for himself what change he will import. [See Locke - not the will that is free, the man is free.]

I hope this states the objection as dissolutionists or compatibilists want to see it stated. But without the discovery of a specific mistake in the argument above, the absurdities of the metaphysical self cannot themselves suffice to disprove the inference from determinism to nobody can do otherwise than they do do. How exactly the metaphysical self could be supposed to compensate for physical determinism is not at all clear. But if determinism did really imply that if we were responsible then the doctrine of the metaphysical self would be true; and if the doctrine of the metaphysical self is absurd (as I for one am sure that it is), then either we are not responsible or the doctrine of determinism is not true. But then if determinism is true, the conclusion follows that we are not responsible. (At least in the sense of 'responsible' fixed by the question whether a man can do otherwise.) But that after all is exactly what the libertarian said. As for the confusion of character and circumstance, it is true that condition C groups them together. But why shouldn't it group them together without confusing them? Perhaps there is an important point to be made by comparing character and circumstance, by bringing out some similarity in them so far as historical inevitability is concerned. One can compare without confusing. In comparing for an important purpose one can also undermine the rationale of distinctions some people insist on making, if they are artificial or pointless distinctions.

Maybe it is pointless to debate whether the sentence 'he could at t' have done otherwise at t'' does have the sense I have ascribed to it in the incompatibilist demonstration of Section III above until it has at least been shown that that sense is even a possible sense, or that it could do for the libertarian what he wanted. This is often taken to be equivalent to the following question: can the libertarian even specify a possible world, however different from the actual one, in which there are particular responsible actions which people can (in the libertarian's sense) do but do not do? Hume has been followed by a large number of philosophers in holding that not even a possible world of the required sort could be specified. If it were false that every event and every action were causally determined then the causally undetermined events and actions would surely, to that extent, be simply random. So the argument goes. That a man could have done x would mean no more than that it might have turned out that way - at random. It will be asked if it makes any better sense to hold a man responsible for actions which happen at random than for ones which arise from his character. Surely then, if it doesn't, we ought to prefer that our actions be caused?

Considered simply as an argument this objection is circular, and flagrantly so. One cannot prove that determinism is a precondition of free will by an argument which employs as a premiss everything is either causally determined or random. This is nothing other than a form of the conclusion, that whatever is undetermined is random. This is what had to be shown. But in the form of a challenge something in the objection can stand. If an event is undetermined, if an event of different specification might have taken its place, then what does it mean to deny that the event is simply random? What is it justifiably to ascribe the action identical with the event or comprised of the event to an agent whom one holds responsible for that action? In the unclaimed ground between the properly or determinatically caused and the random, what is there in fact to be found?

Some philosophers have ventured the idea that what would make the difference, within the field of physically undetermined events, between the random and the non-random is the presence or absence of a prior mental event such as a volition. It was in this tradition (which goes back at least as far as the clinamen or swerve of Epicurus and Lucretius) that Russell and Eddington tried to deploy the phenomena of quantum-indeterminacy as having a bearing upon the free-will issue.23

If - as seems likely - there is an uninterrupted chain of purely physical causation throughout the process from sense-organ to muscle, it follows that human actions are determined in the degree to which physics is deterministic. Now physics is only deterministic as regards macroscopic occurrences, and even in regard to them it asserts only very high probability, not certainty. It might be that, without infringing the laws of physics, intelligence could make improbable things happen, as Maxwell's demon would have defeated the second law of thermo-dynamics by opening the trapdoor to fast-moving particles and closing it to slow-moving ones. On these grounds it must be admitted that there is a bare possibility - not more - that, although occurrences in the brain do not infringe the laws of physics, nevertheless their outcome is not what it would be if no psychological factors were involved ... So for those who are anxious to assert the power of mind over matter it is possible to find a loophole. It may be maintained that one characteristic of living matter is a condition of unstable equilibrium, and that this condition is most highly developed in the brains of human beings. A rock weighing many tons might be so delicately poised on the summit of a conical mountain that a child could, by a gentle push, send it thundering down into any of the valleys below; here a tiny difference in the initial impulse makes an enormous difference to the result. Perhaps in the brain the unstable equilibrium is so delicate that the difference between two possible occurrences in one atom suffices to produce macroscopic differences in the movements of muscles. And since, according to quantum physics, there are no physical laws to determine which of several possible transitions a given atom will undergo, we may imagine that, in a brain, the choice between possible transitions is determined by a psychological cause called 'volition'. All this is possible, but no more than possible.
Russell is not enthusiastic, and perhaps the idea is even less free of difficulty than he allows. (Could not the incidence of human acts of 'volition' upon quantum phenomena upset the probability distributions postulated by the quantum theory?) It is perplexing too that the theory bases action on occurrent mental events which it does not found in or relate to personality or character or even to purpose. Could it do this without seeming to threaten its own rationale in causal indeterminism? If the theory tried to find room for such components as these in the genesis of action, then would the whole idea of an as it were `immaterial realisation' of the agent, the source of the volitions -paradoxical and absurd as it already sounds - be defenceless against the suggestion that there was no criterion by which the self or spiritual nucleus of an agent would qualify as a non-bodily thing not accountable to or determined by neurophysiological and physical laws? Nor, for the same sort of reason, is it clear that Russell's suggestion can give any very clear account of what would justify comparing the role of a volition to that of the child who gives the stone a gentle push in one or other of several possible directions.

But this is not the end of Eddington's and Russell's idea. They have simply given it a disastrously Cartesian expression. For indeterminism maybe all we really need to imagine or conceive is a world in which (a) there is some macroscopic indeterminacy founded in microscopic indeterminacy, and (b) an appreciable number of the free actions or policies or deliberations of individual agents, although they are not even in principle hypothetico-deductively derivable from antecedent conditions, can be such as to persuade us to fit them into meaningful sequences. We need not trace free actions back to volitions construed as little pushes aimed from outside the physical world. What we must find instead are patterns which are coherent and intelligible in the low level terms of practical deliberation, even though they are not amenable to the kind of generalisation or necessity which is the stuff of rigorous theory. On this conception the agent is conceived as an essentially and straightforwardly enmattered or embodied thing. His possible peculiarity as a natural thing among things in nature is that his biography unfolds not only non-deterministically but also intelligibly; non-deterministically in that personality and character are never something complete, and need not be the deterministic origin of action; intelligibly in that each new action or episode constitutes a comprehensible phase in the unfolding of the character, a further specification of what the man has by now become.

For help with such ideas, in spite of the physicalistic form in which I have couched them, we look naturally in the direction of J.-P. Sartre, and would best look not at the crazily optimistic positions of the early plays Les Mouches or Huis Clos or of L'Etre et le Neant but to what he now soberly tries to make of his position.24

Here is Sartre's 1969 account of it.25
For the idea which I have never ceased to develop is that in the end one is always responsible for what is made of one. Even if one can do nothing else besides assume this responsibility. For I believe that a man can always make something out of what is made of him. This is the limit I would today accord to freedom: the small movement which makes of a totally conditioned social being someone who does not render back completely what his conditioning has given him. Which makes of Genet a poet when he had been rigorously conditioned to be a thief.

Perhaps the book where I have best explained what I mean by freedom is in fact, Saint Genet. For Genet was made a thief, he said 'I am a thief', and this tiny change was the start of a process whereby he became a poet, and then eventually a being no longer even on the margin of society, someone who no longer knows where he is, who falls silent. It cannot be a happy freedom, in a case like this. Freedom is not a triumph. For Genet, it simply marked out certain routes which were not initially given.

This is not of course the place to take up everything that is strange or interesting in the passage. Nor is the passage innocent of possible confusion where it employs the words rigorously conditioned, which belong with a view of the world which Sartre surely ought to see the life of Genet as refuting. But the capital point is that it may not matter if the world approximates to a world which satisfies the principles of a neurophysiological determinism provided only that this fails in the last resort to characterise the world completely, and provided that there are actions which, for all that they are causally under-determined, are answerable to practical reason, or are at least intelligible in that dimension. These are not random.

V Conclusion: the prospects for a reasonable libertarianism

The free-will dispute has reached a point where real progress depends not only on the deeper research into necessity, possibility, disposition and causality which logic and philosophy are now edging into position to achieve but also, I claim, upon a more precise and much more sympathetic examination of what the libertarian wants, of why he wants it, and of how his conception of metaphysical freedom is connected with political or social freedom. Whether or not it is our world - that is another question - we must continue to press the question, 'What is the possible world which would afford the autonomy of thought and agency the libertarian craves in this one?' (A) Can any possible world really afford us that long sought autonomy? And (B), if none can, then what must we do with all the feelings and arguments which have led so many philosophers and men to reject compatibilism? Nothing, I think, will make them oblige philosophy and without vestige or trace disappear. I shall end by outlining some further problems in the specification of the libertarian's world, and then try to indicate what I think it would signify if these problems were simply insurmountable.

A. I have tried to describe an indeterministic world in which human beings rank as natural objects, as a set of natural objects amongst others, whose motions and capacities can nevertheless be appraised in a dimension defined by subtle and rather exacting standards of rationality. But in dropping the Cartesian conception of an extra-physical volitional origin of motion do I not exchange one mystery for another? How is it that just human beings, and other rational creatures if any, behave in the way they do, freely but practically rationally? Well, it might be said we have simply picked out the class of natural objects which do do so and we just happen ourselves to belong to it (which explains our interest in that category): to be puzzled about the question is like looking for some teleologically motivated agency which directed the course of evolution towards the emergence of some particular species and for its benefit wrote off countless others in the process - a search at once fruitless and prompted by a certain confinement of perspective, as if one were never allowed to see some thick and luxurious tree except from one angle in mid air just above it. (Compare the difficulty of believing that the earth is part of the Milky Way.) Again someone may ask, to what extent can a libertarian's 'developing or accumulating biography' view of persons and their characters supplant the cosmic unfairness of the determinist's view of these matters? If it is unfair to hold a man responsible for what through no fault of his own he is, is it not equally unfair to hold him responsible for his biography developing in one indeterministic fashion rather than another? If the reply were 'Well, it's him', would this do equally well for the compatibilist? Or wouldn't it? Is this simply to relapse into satisfaction with Hume's specious dilemma?

When we confront these and other questions it may be said by some libertarians and others, we shall come to see quantum phenomena not as the missing clue, not as the one piece we need to complete our theory of free action, but as the anomaly which points to the need for a whole conceptual revolution in our way of thinking about causality - particularly in its connexion with generality, necessity and invariance.26

B. But let me now finish with something about the other possibility - that such a conceptual revolution is an incoherent fantasy, even though the answers to the queries I have put could only be discovered within one. Let us face the idea that in the last resort the questions raised by the libertarian's world of freedom cannot be answered either piecemeal or by some new perspective upon causality. What would this show? Not I think that the libertarian has failed to explicate the notion of freedom which we and he began with. What he began with may have been both correctly identified and, in the last analysis, incoherent. It was not obviously incoherent. It was conceivable that this freedom was conceivable. But, in the end, the freedom itself turned out to be not conceivable - unless perhaps as a limiting case (and an impossible one) of absence of various kinds of causal determination. What then?

If we have the notion of freedom I have argued that we have, kept in place by he could have done otherwise understood in the sense I have ascribed to it; and if so understood this sentence may always be false and that notion is everywhere incoherent; then it can only darken counsel to pretend that our notion is another notion - some notion touted by utilitarians and dissolutionists, for instance - or to pretend that we never really had our deterministic notion. For all sorts of things in our social, judicial, and penal institutions, and all sorts of things in our relations with human beings, may be based (and are based I think) upon the supposition that men can do otherwise than they do do. Substitution of another notion of responsibility may be called for, but substitution is not the same as analysis. The practical and metaphysical import of substitution and analysis are completely different. If a dilemma exists here it should first be acknowledged and felt as such. Only barbarism and reaction can benefit by concealment. If the unreformed notion of responsibility, the notion which is our notion, is a sort of metaphysical joke must we not at the very least create some safe time or place in everyday life to laugh at it?27 A reformed notion of responsibility need not rest on the simple efficacy of punishment - which is by no means the same thing as the efficacity working through consciousness of moral norms or ideals28 - but it will not reconstruct what men at present feel by way of remorse at their own actions or by way of anger at those of others. Such looking backwards must be strictly senseless. Yet what happens if (except for instruction about the future) we try to ignore the past? What happens to moral consciousness itself as it arises from the generalisation of such affective attitudes?

In a British Academy lecture P. F. Strawson29 once claimed that whatever we knew in favour of the hypothesis of total determinism, it could never be rational for us to opt out from all resentment or anger or gratitude or admiration or from the conceptual framework of responsibility in which these and like responses or attitudes have their meaning; no one who supposed that it would be rational had thought into what it would really signify for human life to attempt to abandon them. This was an important argument. Yet what it really told against, I think, was the utilitarian and substitutive resolution of the problem of freedom. It did not show the bankruptcy of libertarianism. How could a practical consideration - however all-embracing - prove the theoretical compatibility of freedom and determinism? But it does help the incompatibilist and the libertarian to improve his point about the range and variety of things which determinism puts in jeopardy, however 'panicky' or 'obscure' Strawson found libertarian metaphysics. What Strawson's lecture brings out is the character of the dilemma with which the problem of determinism confronts us - one set of considerations making an attitude rational, the other set undermining - that attitude - and the complex conceptual constitution of the notion of rationality which figures in the argument. The dilemma, whatever else it does, demonstrates the bewildering variety of heterogeneous and incommensurable considerations - truth, consistency, diversity of experience, comfort, security, fellow feeling - between which rationality has in real life to hold sway. The theme can scarcely find its natural development here, but perhaps it is the most distinctive of all the marks of rational man to have reasoned himself to a point where he falls into barbarism if he takes the notion of autonomous agency, whether mythical or not, either too seriously - or too lightly.

 Chapter 1.4 - The Philosophy Chapter 1.6 - The Scientists Home Part Two - Knowledge
Normal | Teacher | Scholar