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proceedings of the aristotelian society

A c t i n g “ o f O n e ’s O w n F r e e Wi l l ” : Modern Reflections on an Ancient Philosophical Problem

robert kane (texas-austin)

D r a f t P a p e r

2013 - 2014 | issue no. 1 | volume cxiv


proceedings of the aristotelian society 135th session

issue no. 1 volume cxiv 2013 - 2014

a c t i n g “ o f o n e ’ s o w n f r e e w i l l” : modern reflections on an ancient philosophical problem

robert kane university of texas at austin

m o n d a y, 2 1 o c t o b e r 2 0 1 3 17.30 - 19.15

the woburn suite senate house university of london malet street london wc1e 7hu united kingdom

This event is catered, free of charge, & open to the general public

contact

mail@aristoteliansociety.org.uk www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk © 2013 the aristotelian society


biography Robert Kane (Ph. D. Yale University) is University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy Emeritus and Professor of Law at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of seven books and more that seventy articles on the philosophy of mind, free will and action, ethics and value theory and philosophy of religion, including Free Will and Values (1985), Through the Moral Maze (1994), The Significance of Free Will (Oxford, 1996), A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford, 2005), Four Views of Free Will (co-authored with John Fischer, Derk Pereboom and Manuel Vargas, Blackwell, 2007) and Ethics and the Quest for Wisdom (Cambridge, 2010). He is editor of The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (2002, 2nd edition, 2011), among other anthologies, and a multiple contributor to the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. His lecture series, “The Quest for Meaning: Values, Ethics and the Modern Experience,” appears in The Great Courses on Tape Series of The Teaching Company (Chantilly, Virginia). His book, The Significance of Free Will, was the first annual winner of the Robert W. Hamilton Faculty Book Award. His article, “The Modal Ontological Argument” (Mind, 1984), was selected by The Philosopher’s Annual as one of ten best of 1984. The recipient of fifteen major teaching awards at the University of Texas, including the President’s Excellence Award for teaching in the University’s Honors Program, he was named in 1995 one of the inaugural members of the University’s Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He is known internationally for his defense of a libertarian or incompatibilist view of free will (one that is incomaptible with determinism) and for his attempt to reconcile such a view with modern science.

editorial note The following paper is a draft version that can only be cited or quoted with the author’s permission. The final paper will be published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Issue No. 1, Volume CXIV (2014). Please visit the Society’s website for subscription information: www.aristoteliansociety.org.uk.


acting “of one’s own free will”: modern reflections on an ancient philosophical problem robert kane

i. introduction “THERE is a disputation [that will continue] until mankind is raised from the dead, between the Necessitarians and the partisans of Free Will.” These are the words of 13th century Persia poet and Sufi philosopher, Jalalu’ddin Rumi. The problem of free will of which Rumi speaks has arisen in history whenever humans have reached a certain higher stage of selfconsciousness about how profoundly the world may influence their behavior in ways of which they are unaware and do not control. Hence the importance of doctrines of determinism or necessity in the history of debates about free will. Such doctrines have taken many historical forms. At various times people have wondered whether their actions might be determined by Fate or the predestining acts of God, the laws of logic or the laws of physics, heredity and environment, unconscious motives or hidden controllers, psychological or social conditioning, and in the latest reincarnation, the unconscious neural processing of our brains. Since free will seems to imply an open future, many have believed that determinist doctrines of these kinds conflict with free will. Yet we also know that many philosophers and scientists, especially in the modern era, have argued that determinism poses no real threat to free will, or at least to any free will “worth wanting.” They are compatibilists who believe we can have all the freedom worth wanting even if determinism were true. This dialectic was firmly in place when I first began thinking about free will fifty years ago in the 1960s. The contours of philosophical debate about free will were simpler then than today. The common assumption was that if you had scientific leanings, you would naturally be a compatibilist about free will (believing it to be compatible with determinism), unless of course you were a skeptic or hard determinist denying free will altogether. Compatibilism was the default position for philosophers and scientists and still is today, though to a lesser degree. And if by contrast you were a libertarian about free will, believing in a


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free will that was incompatible with determinism, it was assumed that you must inevitably appeal to some kind of obscure or mysterious forms of agency or causation to make sense of it—to uncaused causes, immaterial minds, noumenal selves, prime movers unmoved, or other examples of what P. F. Strawson called at the time the "panicky metaphysics" of libertarianism. I began thinking about free will shortly after Strawson's seminal essay “Freedom and Resentment” appeared in 1962, when my philosophical mentor at the time, Wilfred Sellars, challenged me to reconcile a traditional incompatibilist or libertarian free will with modern science. As a compatibilist about free will, Sellars doubted, as did Strawson, that a libertarian or indeterminist free will could be accounted for without reducing it to mere chance or appealing to what Strawson had dubbed panicky metaphysics. Though Sellars granted that free will in some sense was an integral part of what he notably called the manifest image of the world, he did not believe a traditional libertarian free will could be reconciled with what he called the scientific image of the world; and he challenged me to show otherwise. Meeting that challenge has turned out to be a longer task than I expected back then, fifty years and still ongoing. And the reason, as I learned, was that it would require rethinking nearly every facet of the traditional problem of free will from the ground up.

ii. of one’s own free will I begin with two aspects of this rethinking that were crucial to the development of my view. The first concerns the notion of free will itself and the meaning of the expression that begins the title of this paper, "of one's own free will." There has been a tendency in the modern era beginning in the 17th century and coming to fruition in the 20th to reduce the problem of free will to a problem about free action. The expression "free will" is often said to be merely an honorific title we give to the problem with a bow to its historical past. Worthy thinkers like Wittgenstein and Gilbert Ryle had convinced many philosophers at the time that the will and acts of will were suspect and should go the way of witches and phlogiston. Talk of the will suggested an inner homunculus or prime mover unmoved and hence more mystery. Even many libertarians about free will in the 20th century have accepted this consensus that free will was merely an honorific name for a problem

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about free action. I have resisted this modern trend to marginalize freedom of will because I think it oversimplifies the ancient problem. John Locke had said in the 17th century that the issue was about the freedom of the agent, not the freedom of the will, and this thought gained much currency in the modern era in reaction to medieval modes of thought. But I think Locke's older contemporary Bishop Bramhall, who had debated the issue with Thomas Hobbes, was closer to the truth when he said that the freedom of the agent was from the freedom of the will. There is no contradiction in saying that the problem is both about free agency, as Locke said, and free will, since the freedom of the will is an important aspect of free agency; and crucially it is that particular aspect of it which raises very deep philosophical problems. Over the past five decades, one other philosopher known to me has made a comparable fuss about distinguishing freedom of will from mere freedom of action, and that is Harry Frankfurt. Yet we have diametrically opposed views about the meaning of free will. Frankfurt thinks we act of our own free will when we act from a will with which we identify and to which we are wholeheartedly committed without any ambivalence. In short, we have the will or first order desires we want to have and are wholeheartedly committed to them. For me, by contrast, to act of one's own free will is to "act from a will that is to some significant degree a will of one’s own free making." My view is historical, Frankfurt’s is not. His is compatibilist, mine is not. Many years ago, I wrote a short letter to Frankfurt which mentioned several criticisms of his view. The familiar criticism was that whether or not we were wholehearted about the will we had, rather than ambivalent, could on his view be entirely a matter of social conditioning over which we had no control. The second less familiar criticism was this: If freedom of will is being wholehearted in your commitments to what you will, without ambivalence, then no one could ever get from ambivalence to wholeheartedness "of their own free will." For they wouldn't have free will on his view until they got there. Frankfurt answered forthrightly by saying he believed it didn't matter how you came to have free will or wholeheartedness. It might only be because of good fortune or upbringing or accidental factors or even social conditioning. And No, he added, you can't get to free will from ambivalence of your own free will in any deeper sense of that term. All that matters is that you have free will or wholeheartedness no matter !

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how you got it, for it is a great good which makes life go well. This honest answer did nicely frame the debate between us about what acting of one's own free will might mean. What then of my own incompatibilist or libertarian account of the expression "of one's own free will"? I believe it means what was traditionally meant by it, namely a "will of one's own free making," rather than one wholly formed by factors other than oneself and over which one did not have control. And this takes us to a second way in which I have argued over the past several decades that the free will issue required rethinking.

iii. ultimate responsibility and alternative possibilities In this case, we must turn from the meaning of “will” in the expression “of one’s own free will” to the meaning of “free.” The meaning of “free” in the expression "of one's own free will" that is usually thought to cause a problem for determinism is commonly understood to be the requirement that the free agent "could have done otherwise" or had alternative possibilities. I call this requirement AP. Arguments for incompatibilism, such as the well-known Consequence Argument, usually appealed to this requirement AP and revolved around questions of whether an agent’s power to do otherwise was compatible with determinism. As I viewed these contentious modern debates about alternative possibilities and determinism, they inevitably tended to stalemate over differing interpretations of such notions as can, power, ability, and could have done otherwise. And I believed there were good reasons for these stalemates having to do with different meanings of “freedom.” I thus came to believe that focusing on power to do otherwise or alternative possibilities alone was too thin a basis on which to rest the case for the incompatibility of free will and determinism. Fortunately there was another place to look in rethinking this issue. In the long history of free will debate, I argued, one could find another condition fueling incompatibilist intuitions even more important than AP or alternative possibilities. I called it the condition of "ultimate responsibility" or UR. The basic idea is this: to be ultimately responsible for an action, an agent must be responsible for anything that is a sufficient reason (condition, cause or motive) for the actions occurring. If for example, a choice issues from and can be sufficiently explained by,

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an agent’s character, motives and intentions, i.e. the agent’s pre-existing will (together with background conditions), then to be ultimately responsible for the choice, the agent must be at least in part responsible by virtue of choices or actions voluntarily performed in the past for having the character, motives and purposes he or she now has. Compare Aristotle's claim that if a man is responsible for wicked acts that flow from his character, he must at some time in the past have been responsible for forming the wicked character from which these acts flow. This condition UR does not require that we could have done otherwise, AP, for every act done “of our own free wills,” using that crucial expression once again. But that's only half the story. For UR does require that we could have done otherwise with respect to some acts in our past life histories by which we formed our present characters or wills. I call these self-forming actions or SFAs. Often we act from will already formed, but it is "our own free will" by virtue of the fact that we formed the will from which we act by other choices or actions in the past (SFA's) for which we could have done otherwise. If this were not so, I argue, there is nothing we could have ever done differently in our entire lifetimes to make ourselves different than we are—a consequence, I believe, that is incompatible with our being (at least to some degree) ultimately responsible for what we are. Focusing on UR helps to explain why I believe the tendency in the modern era to reduce the problem of freedom of the will to just a problem of free action is a mistake and oversimplifies the problem. Free will is not just about free action. It is about self-formation, about the formation of our wills (our characters, motives and purposes), or how we got to be the kinds of persons we are, with the wills we now have. Were we ultimately responsible to some degree for having the wills we do have, or can the sources of our wills be completely traced backwards to something over which we had no control, such as fate or the decrees of God, or heredity or environment, upbringing or social conditioning or hidden controllers, and so on? Therein, I believe, lies the core of the traditional problem of free will. Finally, if the case for incompatibility cannot be made on AP alone, it can be made if UR is added. If agents must be responsible to some degree for anything that is a sufficient cause or motive for their actions then an impossible infinite regress of past actions would be required unless some actions in an agent's life history—self-forming actions or SFAs —did not have either sufficient causes or motives and hence were undetermined. !

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iv. the intelligibility problem But of course such talk of a free will requiring ultimate responsibility leads to a host of further problems about how actions or choices lacking both sufficient causes and motives could themselves be free and responsible actions, and how if at all such actions could exist in the natural order where we humans exercise our freedom. This problem is related to an ancient dilemma that goes back at least to the Epicurean philosophers: if free will is not compatible with determinism, it doesn't seem to be compatible with indeterminism either. Indeterminism means same past, different possible futures. But how is it possible one might ask, that different actions could arise voluntarily and intentionally from the same past without occurring merely by luck or chance? If a choice occurred as a result of a quantum jump or other undetermined event in one's brain, would that amount to a free and responsible choice? From such thoughts and others flow many traditional arguments to the effect that undetermined choices or actions would be arbitrary, capricious, random, irrational, uncontrolled, inexplicable, or mere matters of chance or luck, and hence not free and responsible actions at all. The Epicureans had said that if the atoms did not sometimes swerve in chance ways there would be no room in nature for free will. But their many critics, including the Stoics, cried out in opposition: How could the chance swerve of atoms help with free will? Free will is not chance. Is it any wonder that those defending libertarian or indeterminist views of free will ever since have felt the need to appeal to various extra factors, from noumenal selves and immaterial minds, to nonevent agent causes and like (in short, Strawson’s “panicky metaphysics”)? They were looking for something to fill the causal gaps in nature that mere indeterminism left unfilled. I long ago became disenchanted with all such appeals to such “extra factors” and thought one had to try something new. Where to go if one is to avoid such appeals? What is required, I came to believe, is a series of complex steps that involve a thorough rethinking of the relation of indeterminism to freedom, choice and action.1 The first of these steps (which follows from what has been said above) is to note that indeterminism need not be involved in all acts done "of our own free !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! 1

I summarize here arguments from many prior works, including prominently, Kane 1985, 1989, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2011.

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wills," but only those by which we make ourselves into the kinds of persons we are, namely, "self-forming" actions or SFAs. The second step involves giving an account of how these SFAs arise and what they involve. I argue that self-forming actions occur at those difficult times of life when we are torn between competing visions of what we should do or become, say, between doing the moral thing or acting from ambition, between powerful present desires and long term goals, or when faced with difficult tasks for which we have aversions. In all such cases, we are faced with competing motivations and have to make an effort to overcome temptation to do something else we also strongly want. At such times, the tension and uncertainty in our minds about what to do, I suggest, is reflected in some indeterminacy in our neural processes themselves (perhaps in the form of chaotically amplified background neural noise) "stirred up," one might say, by the conflicts in our wills. 2 The uncertainty and inner tension we feel at such soulsearching moments of self-formation would thereby be reflected in the indeterminacy of our neural processes themselves. The experienced uncertainty would correspond physically to the opening of a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by the past.3 A third step involves noting that in such cases of self-formation, where we are faced with competing motivations, whichever choice is made will require an effort of will to overcome the temptation to make the other choice. I thus postulate, in such cases, that multiple goaldirected cognitive processes would be involved in the brain, corresponding to these competing efforts, each with a different goal corresponding to the different choices that might be made—in short, a form of parallel processing in the free decision-making brain. One of these neural processes would have as its goal the making of one of the competing choices (say, a moral choice), realized by reaching a certain activation threshold, while the other has as its goal the making of the other choice (e.g., a self-interested choice). The competing processes have different inputs, e.g., moral motives (beliefs, desires, etc.), on the one hand, self-interested motives, on the other; and each of the processes is the realizer of the agent's effort or endeavoring to bring about that !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! 2

Kane 1996: 130ff. Whether the requisite indeterminacy is there in the brain is an empirical question of course. On this empirical question there is much recent discussion. See, e.g., Balaguer 2010, Heisenberg 2012, Glimcher 2005, Hameroff and Penrose 1996, Shadlen (forthcoming), Brembs 2011, Stapp 2007, Maye et al. 2007. 3

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particular choice (e.g. the moral choice) for those motives (e.g. moral motives). In such circumstances, if either process succeeds in reaching its goal (the particular choice aimed at), despite the indeterminacy involved, the resulting choice would be brought about by the agent's effort or endeavoring to bring about that choice for those motives. This would be so because the process itself was the neural realizer of this effort and it succeeded in reaching its goal, despite the indeterminism. The fourth step is thus to think of the indeterminism involved in free choice, not as a cause acting on its own, but as an ingredient in larger goal-directed or teleological activities of the agent, in which the indeterminism functions as a hindrance or interfering element in the attainment of the goal. The choices that result would then be achievements brought about by the goal-directed activity (the effort) of the agent, which might have failed since it was undetermined, but did not. Moreover, if there are multiple such processes aimed at different goals (in the conflicted circumstances of an SFA), whichever choice may be made, will have been brought about by the agent's effort to make that particular choice rather than the other, despite the possibility of failure due to the indeterminism. A fifth step is then to note that when indeterminism functions in this manner as an obstacle to the success of a goal-directed activity of an agent, the indeterminism does not preclude responsibility, if the activity succeeds in attaining it goal nonetheless. There are many examples in the literature illustrating this point (some of them first suggested by J. L. Austin and Elizabeth Anscombe). An assassin who kills an official with a high powered rifle, despite the possibility of failing due to an indeterministic wavering of his arm, is one such example. Here is another. A husband, while arguing with his wife, in anger swings his arm down on her favorite glass-table top in an effort to break it. Imagine there is some indeterminism in the nerves of his arm making the momentum of his swing indeterminate so that it is literally undetermined whether the table will break up to the moment when it is struck. Whether the husband breaks the table or not is undetermined; and yet he is clearly responsible if he does break it. It would be a poor excuse for him to say to his wife "Chance did it (broke the table), not me." Though there was a chance he would fail, chance didn't do it, he did. Putting these steps together, one can say that in cases of selfformation (SFAs), agents are simultaneously trying to resolve plural and competing cognitive tasks (represented by the distributed cognitive processes involved). They are, as we say, “of two minds,” yet are not !

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two separate persons. A businesswoman who wants to go back to help an assault victim for moral reasons is the same ambitious woman who wants to go on to a meeting important to her career. She is torn inside by different visions of who she is and what she wants to be. But this is the kind of complexity, I argue, that is needed for genuine self-formation and free will. Note here, contra Frankfurt, the role of ambivalence or conflict in the will in all this. If we were never ambivalent or moved by conflicting values, multiple valences, we could never be "self forming" beings. Of course it is also true that if we were always ambivalent we would never be self formed beings.

v. questions: introspection, rationality, will-setting Needless to say, there are many questions and objections that may be raised about this view that I have tried to address. I will consider a few of the more prominent ones and leave the rest for further discussion. A frequently-made objection is that we are not introspectively or consciously aware of making dual efforts and performing multiple cognitive tasks in self-forming choice situations. But I am not claiming that agents are introspectively aware of making dual efforts. What persons are introspectively aware of in SFA situations is that they are trying to decide about which of two options to choose and that either choice is a difficult one because there are resistant motives pulling them in different directions that will have to be overcome, whichever choice is made. In such introspective conditions, I am theorizing that what is going on underneath is a kind of distributed processing in the brain that involves separate attempts or endeavorings to resolve competing cognitive tasks. There is a larger point here I have often emphasized: Introspective evidence cannot give us the whole story about free will. Stay on the introspective surface and libertarian free will is likely to appear obscure or mysterious, as it so often has in history. What is needed is a theory about what might be going on behind the scenes when we exercise such a free will, not merely a description of what we immediately experience; and in this regard new scientific ideas can be a help rather than a hindrance to making sense of free will. It is now widely believed that parallel processing takes place in the brain in such cognitive phenomena

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as visual perception. The theory is that the brain separately processes different features of the visual scene, such as object and background, through distributed and parallel, though interacting, neural pathways or streams. Suppose someone objected that we are not introspectively aware of such distributed processing in ordinary cases of perception. That would hardly be a decisive objection against this new theory of vision. For the claim is that this is what we are doing in visual perception, not necessarily that we are introspectively aware of doing it. And I am making a similar claim about free will. If parallel distributed processing takes place on the input side of the cognitive ledger (in perception), then why not consider that it also takes place on the output side (in practical reasoning, choice and action)? That is what I am suggesting we should suppose if we are to make sense of libertarian free will. Another commonly made objection is that it is irrational to make efforts to do incompatible things. I concede that in most ordinary situations it is. But I contend that there are special circumstances in which it is not irrational to make competing efforts: These include circumstances in which (i) we are deliberating between competing options; (ii) we intend to choose one or the other, but cannot choose both; (iii) we have powerful motives for wanting to choose each of the options for different and competing reasons; (iv) there is a consequent resistance in our will to either choice, so that (v) if either choice is to have a chance of being made, effort will have to be made to overcome the temptation to make the other choice; and most importantly, (vi) we want to give each choice a fighting chance of being made because the motives for each choice are important to us. The motives for each choice define in part what sort of person we are; and we would be taking them lightly if we did not make an effort on their behalf. These are the conditions of "will-setting" or "self-forming" actions (SFAs). It is critical here to recognize the uniqueness of such "will-setting" situations. For our normal intuitions about efforts are formed in everyday situations in which our will is already "set one way" on doing something, where obstacles and resistance have to be overcome if we are to succeed in doing it. We want to open a door, which is jammed, so we have to make an effort to open it. In such everyday situations, it would be irrational to make incompatible efforts because our wills are already set on doing what we are trying to do. In will-setting situations, by contrast, one's will is not yet set on doing either of the things one is trying to do, though one has strong reasons for doing each, neither of !

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which are as yet decisive. Because most efforts in everyday life are made in will-settled situations where our will is already set on doing what we are trying to do, we tend to assimilate all effort-making to such situations, thereby failing to consider the uniqueness of will-setting, which is of a piece, in my view, with the uniqueness of free will.

vi. indeterminism, control and responsibility But does not the presence of indeterminism or chance at least diminish the control persons have over their choices or actions? And would that not affect their responsibility? Is it not the case that the assassin's control over whether the official is killed (his ability to realize his purposes or what he is trying to do) is lessened by the undetermined impulses in his arm—and so also for the husband and his breaking the table? Their control is indeed lessened. But a further surprising point worth noting is that diminished control in such circumstances does not entail diminished responsibility, when the agents succeed in doing what they are trying to do. The assassin is not less guilty of killing the official, if he did not have complete control over whether he would succeed because of the indeterminism involved; nor is the husband less guilty of breaking the table if he succeeds in doing so, despite the indeterminism involved. Suppose there were three assassins, each of whom killed an official. Suppose one of them had a fifty percent chance of succeeding because of the indeterministic wavering of his arm; another had an eighty percent chance, and the third a hundred percent chance. Is one of these assassins less guilty than the other, if they all succeed? It would be absurd to say that one assassin deserves a hundred years in jail, the other eighty years and the third fifty years. The diminished control in the assassins who had an eighty percent or a fifty percent chance does not translate into diminished responsibility when they succeed. There is an important further lesson here I believe about free will in general. We should concede that indeterminism, wherever it occurs, does diminish control over what we are trying to do and is a hindrance or obstacle to the realization of our purposes. But recall that in the case of the businesswoman mentioned earlier (and SFAs generally), the indeterminism that is admittedly diminishing her control over one thing she is trying to do (the moral act of helping the victim of the assault ) is coming from her own will—from her desire and effort to do the opposite (go on to her business meeting). And the indeterminism that is

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diminishing her control over the other thing she is trying to do (act selfishly and go to her meeting) is coming from her desire and effort to do the opposite (to be a moral person and act on moral reasons). In each case, the indeterminism is functioning as a hindrance or obstacle to her realizing one of her purposes—a hindrance or obstacle in the form of resistance within her will which has to be overcome by effort. If there were no such hindrance—if there were no resistance in her will—she would indeed in a sense have "complete control" over one of her options. There would be no competing motives standing in the way of her choosing it and therefore no interfering indeterminism. But then also, she would not be free to rationally and voluntarily choose the other purpose because she would have no good competing reasons to do so. Thus, by being a hindrance to the realization of some of our purposes, indeterminism opens up the genuine possibility of pursuing other purposes—of choosing or doing otherwise in accordance with, rather than against, our wills (voluntarily) and reasons (rationally). To be genuinely self-forming agents (creators of ourselves)—to have free will— there must at times in life be obstacles and hindrances in our wills of this sort that we must overcome. Compare Evodius’ question to St. Augustine (in Augustine’s classic work On the Free Choice of the Will) of why God gave us free will, since it brings so much conflict and struggle into the world. Of relevance here also is an image of Kant’s, which I have used before. It is of a bird that is upset by the resistance of the air and the wind to its flight and so imagines that it could fly better if there were no air at all to resist it. But of course, as Kant notes, the bird would not fly better if there were no air. It would cease to fly at all. So it is with indeterminism in relation to free will. It provides resistance to our choices, but a resistance that is necessary if we are to be capable of true self-formation.

vi. regresses Another set of objections made against this view and other views requiring ultimate responsibility concerns the possibility of various regresses. According to UR, if a choice issues from, and can be explained by, an agent's present will (character, motives and purposes), then to be ultimately responsible for the choice, the agent must be at least in part responsible by virtue of choices or actions voluntarily performed in the

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past (SFAs) for having the will he or she now has. But this suggests a potentially vicious regress. For in order to be ultimately responsible for these earlier SFAs by which we formed our present wills, wouldn't we have to be responsible in turn for the characters, motives and purposes from which these earlier SFAs issued? And wouldn't this require still earlier SFAs by which we formed these characters, motives and purposes? Thus we would proceed backwards to the earliest choices of childhood when the wills from which we chose were not formed by us at all, but were the product of influences outside ourselves, parents, social conditioning, heredity, genetic dispositions, and so on? It may thus appear that all responsibility for later choices in life would go back to the earliest choices of childhood when we seem to have far less freedom and responsibility than we have later in life, which is absurd.4 The initial response to this familiar worry about a regress of responsibility is to note that the ultimate responsibility for choices in later life need not have its source entirely in choices of childhood. This would be true only if we made no subsequent SFAs in later life, which is certainly not what is being assumed here. To the contrary, it is a feature of the preceding view that we make SFAs throughout our lives and more so as we mature and life becomes more complex.5 In doing so, we are constantly forming and reforming our existing characters, motives and purposes as we go along in ways that, while influenced by our prior characters, motives and purposes, are not determined by our prior characters and motives. Thus ultimate responsibility does not have to completely backtrack to earlier and still earlier SFAs. Rather we add to, reform and change our characters, motives and purposes, as we go along with each SFA that we make. I believe therefore, with Aristotle, that responsibility for our wills accumulates over time.6 It is by making many SFAs through a lifetime that we gradually form and reform our characters, motives and purposes in ways not determined by our past. With regard to most of the SFAs we make, as a consequence, our responsibility has a two-fold source: First, in the choices we make now between our conflicting motives and pur!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! 4

The most well-known statement of this argument against libertarian views that emphasize UR is that of Galen Strawson 1986, 1994 (the latter specifically directed against my view). 5 If this were not the case, or if, for example, mental capacities never developed beyond those of a child, as happens in some cases, then ultimate responsibility (and liability for punishment and blame) would be severely limited and minimal. 6 See Kane 2008.

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poses and, second, in the conflicting motives and purposes themselves for which the choices are made, many of which had their source in earlier self-forming choices by which we gradually formed our present wills over time. The only exceptions are the very earliest SFAs of childhood when it is normally true, if we go back far enough, that the motivations among which we choose all come from sources outside ourselves, parents, society, genetic inheritance, etc. Now I have a view about these first SFAs of childhood.7 Our responsibility for them (so far from being the source of all later responsibility) is very limited, precisely because there is as yet no backlog of self-formed character. For which reason, of course, we hold children less responsible the younger they are. In fact, I have argued that the earliest SFAs of childhood have a probative (or probing or learning) character to them.8 Young children are often testing what they can get away with (the limits) and what consequences their behavior will have on them and others. (That is one reason why childrearing is so exhausting.) Their character is thus slowly built up by how they respond to the responses to these earliest probes. Character and purposes to which they commit themselves accumulate and they become more responsible for subsequent acts that flow not just from present efforts but from past formed character and purposes as well. If a three-year old is told not to take more than his share of cookies, but tries to do so anyway the next time, then the child is responsible, but not as responsible as when he does it a second, third or fourth time and it becomes a pattern of behavior. The wise parent will not punish him severely the first time, but may do so mildly, by withholding something he wants. But the wise parent will also know that it is a mistake never to hold the child responsible at all for these earliest probes; for it is only by being so held responsible in however limited ways in our earliest years that we gradually become self-forming beings with wills of our own making.

viii. luck and chance Yet, the most powerful and pervasive objections to this view and to all indeterminist and libertarian accounts of free will turn on issues about !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! 7 8

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See Kane 2008, 2009. Ibid.

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luck and chance. So-called “luck objections” or “chance objections” have taken many forms. Some of them have been called Mind arguments because they so frequently appeared in that journal.9 One of the most powerful and oft-cited of these luck objections is the “explanatory luck objection,” which I quote here in the influential form given to it by Alfred Mele, one of its prominent defenders, who directed it specifically against my view. If different free choices could emerge from [exactly] the same past [as their being undetermined would require] there would seem to be no explanation for why one choice was made rather than another in terms of the total prior character, motives and purposes of the agent. The difference in choice, i.e., why the agent made one choice rather than another, would therefore be just a matter of luck. (1998: 183)

Many philosophers assume this objection and others like it are decisive against libertarian views. I think they are mistaken. But I also think the objection has the power it has because it teaches us something important about free will. The question to ask is this: What is supposed to follow from the premise of this explanatory luck objection—that "if different free choices could emerge from the same past of an agent, there would seem to be no explanation for why one choice was made rather than another in terms of the total prior character, motives and purposes of the agent.” Is it supposed to follow from this premise that (1) the agent did not cause or bring about the choice that was actually made? This does not follow on the view I have described. On that view, the agent causes or brings about the choice made by engaging in a goal-directed process of trying or attempting to bring about that choice (for adequate reasons, though not conclusive or decisive reasons) and by succeeding in attaining that goal, whichever choice is made. Is it supposed to follow from this premise that (2) the agent did not have control over the occurrence or non-occurrence of the choice that was made when it was made? To the contrary, on the view described, the agent does have control over the choice made in the following important sense: To have control at a time in this sense over the being and nonbeing of some event or state is to have the power at the time to make that event or state be and the power at the time to make it not be. And in SFA situations, agents have such control over the choice that is made (e.g., the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! 9

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This designation was due to van Inwagen 1983. 15


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choice of A rather than B). For not only do they have the power at the time to make that choice be, they also have the power at the time to make it not be, by making the competing choice (of B rather than A) be. They have both these powers because either of the efforts they are making in their conflicted situation might have succeeded in attaining its goal; and if either did succeed, the agent could be said to have brought about the choice thereby made by endeavoring to bring it about. The power at a time to make some event be and the power to make it not be is an important everyday sense of what it means to have control over an event. Nor does it follow from the premise of this luck objection that (3) the choice made was irrational, since it would have been made for satisficing (though not decisive) reasons either way, reasons that the agent then and there endorsed. Nor does it follow that (4) the choice made was not made voluntarily, since it was not coerced or compelled and an alternative choice could have been made. Nor does it follow that the choice made (5) was made by mistake or accident or unintentionally, rather than being made on purpose. For it was brought about by a goaldirected activity of the agent whose goal was to bring about that choice rather than the alternative. Finally, if all these conditions are satisfied, it would not follow that (6) the choice made could not have been a responsible choice. Note that it was brought about by the effort of the agent, the agent had control over it at the time in the sense of having the power to make it be and the power to make it not be, the agent brought it about voluntarily, intentionally or purposefully, and for reasons and could have brought about an alternative choice at the time voluntarily, intentionally and for reasons. I have argued at length in other works that these conditions taken together—conditions for what I call plural voluntary control—are those required to ascribe responsibility to the agents for their choices or actions. And if the choices or actions have moral significance, these conditions would suffice to ascribe moral responsibility to the choices. The problem then is that none of the conclusions (1)-(6) follows from the premise P of the luck objection in the case of SFAs as described. It does not follow that the choices just happened and the agent did not bring them about, nor that the agent did not have a plural kind of control over them, nor that they were made irrationally, involuntarily or unintentionally, etc. So, if saying the agent's making one choice rather than the other "is just a matter of luck" is meant to imply any of these things, it is the wrong conclusion to draw from the argument. And of course, if one were to say that "just a matter of luck" is meant to be

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consistent with all of these claims, the argument would lose all traction.

ix. liberum arbitrium voluntatis Well not quite all traction. This luck objection, as I suggested, shows something important about free will. It shows that a residual arbitrariness seems to remain in all self-forming choices since the agents cannot in principle have sufficient or overriding ("conclusive" or "decisive") prior reasons for making one option and one set of reasons prevail over the other. Therein lies the truth in this luck objection—a free choice cannot be completely explained by the entire past, including past causes or reasons of the agent; and this is a truth that reveals something important about free will. I have argued that such arbitrariness relative to prior reasons tells us that every undetermined self-forming choice is the initiation of novel pathway into the future, whose justification lies in that future and is not fully explained by the past.10 In making such a choice we say, in effect, "I am opting for this pathway. It is not required by my past reasons, but is consistent with my past and is one branching pathway my life can now meaningfully take. Whether it is the right choice, only time will tell. Meanwhile, I am willing to take responsibility for it one way or the other." Of special interest here, as I have often noted, is that the term "arbitrary" comes from the Latin arbitrium, which means "judgment"— as in liberum arbitrium voluntatis, "free judgment of the will" (the medieval designation for free will). Imagine a writer in the middle of a novel. The novel's heroine faces a crisis and the writer has not yet developed her character in sufficient detail to say exactly how she will act. The author makes a "judgment" about this that is not determined by the heroine's already formed past, which does not give unique direction. In this sense, the judgment (arbitrium) of how she will react is "arbitrary," but not entirely so. It had input from the heroine's fictional past and in turn gave input to her projected future. In a similar way, agents who exercise free will are both authors of and characters in their own stories at once. By virtue of "self-forming" judgments of the will (arbitria voluntatis) (SFAs), they are "arbiters" of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! 10

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Kane: 1996: 145-6.

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their own lives, "making themselves" out of past that, if they are truly free, does not limit their future pathways to one. If we should charge them with not having sufficient or conclusive prior reasons for choosing as they did, they might reply: "True enough. But I did have adequate reasons for choosing as I did, which I'm willing to endorse and take responsibility for. If they were not sufficient or conclusive reasons, that's because, like the heroine of the novel, I was not a fully formed person before I chose (and still am not, for that matter). Like the author of the novel, I am in the process of writing an unfinished story and forming an unfinished character who, in my case, is myself."

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references Balaguer, Mark. 2010. Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem. Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Brembs, B. 2011. "Towards a Scientific Concept of Free Will as a Biological Trait." Proceeding of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 278: 930-39. Glimcher, Paul. 2005. "Indeterminacy in Brain and Behavior." Annual Review of Psychology 56: 25-56. Hameroff, Stuart and Roger Penrose. 1996. "Conscious Events as Orchestrated Space-Time Selections. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3: 36-53. Heisenberg, Martin. 2013. "The Origin of Freedom in Animal Behavior." In A. Suarez and P. Adams eds. Is Science Compatible with Free Will? Springer Verlag: 95-103. Kane, Robert. 1985. Free Will and Values. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. _____1989. "Two Kinds of Incompatibilism," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 31: 219-254. Reprinted in T. O'Connor, ed.: 115-50. _____1996. The Significance of Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press. _____1999. “Responsibility, Luck, and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism.” Journal of Philosophy 96: 217-40. _____2002. "Some Neglected Pathways in the Free Will Labyrinth." In Robert Kane ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 406-37. _____2005. A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press. _____2007. “Libertarianism" and "Responses to Fischer, Pereboom and Vargas." In Fischer, Kane, Pereboom and Vargas Four Views of Free Will Oxford: Blackwell: 5-43 and 166-83. _____2008. “Three Freedoms, Free Will and Self-formation: A Reply to Levy and Other Critics.” In Trakakis, Nick and D. Cohen, eds.

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Essays on Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press: 142-61. 58:25-44. _____2009. “Free Will and the Dialectic of Selfhood.” Ideas y Valores _____2011. "Rethinking Free Will: New Perspectives on an Ancient Problem." in Robert Kane ed. The Oxford Handbook on Free Will. (2nd Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press: 381-404. Maye, A., C. Hsieh, G. Sugihara and B. Brembs. 2007. "Order in Spontaneous Behavior." PloS ONE 5, e443: 1-14. Mele, Alfred. 1998. “Review of Robert Kane’s The Significance of Free Will.” The Journal of Philosophy 95: 581-84. Shadlen, Michael. (Forthcoming). "Comments on Adina Roskies: Can Neurosciences Resolve Issues about Free Will?" In W. SinnottArmstrong ed. Moral Psychology Vol. 4. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stapp, H. 2007. Mindful Universe. Berlin: Springer Strawson, Galen. 1986. Freedom and Belief. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ______1994. “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility.” Philosophical Studies 75: 5-24. Van Inwagen, Peter. 1983. An Essay on Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ! ! ! ! ! !! !

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the aristotelian society

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Robert Kane (Texas-Austin): Acting "of One’s Own Free Will"  

Draft paper to be delivered to the Aristotelian Society on 21 October 2013: 'Acting "of One’s Own Free Will": New Perspectives On An Ancient...

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