3. A Philosophical Primer on Freedom
In what does freedom consist?
Suppose that an agent,
, performs an act,
, at a time,
Under what conditions does
freely? When is
an expression of
’s free will?
Two Guiding Intuitions
Almost everyone believes that it’s possible to act freely—more, that we often actually do
But, why does almost everyone believe this?
I suppose it’s because almost everyone believes
that an agent acts freely when he doesn’t act (as we say) “against his will,” and almost everyone
believes that such deeds do occur.
Now, that sounds right, but it’s not enough.
In the first place,
the truth that free acts are not done against one’s will can provide but little understanding or
explanation free action until we understand what it is to act against one’s will.
Second, if the
agent does something by sheer accident or because of the wind, a shove, or a spasm, etc., then
it’s not really against his will—after all, he didn’t will to do the opposite—but it’s also not a free
Indeed, it’s not a genuine
More carefully, then, I think what almost everyone believes is that an agent acts freely only when
what he does is (as we say) “up to him.”
Part of what we mean, I suggest, when we say that
’s performance at
is “up to her” is
) whatever happens at
) the circumstances that obtain at (and just before)
She is free
to do this, that, or the other, e.g., to do
or something else.
This seems to imply that different
outcomes are possible at
, none of them are necessary, and
will determine which of these
possibilities actually occurs.
Thus, both doing
and refraining from
(and doing something else
instead) must be equally available to
; both must be genuinely open alternatives for her.
, it was also in her power then to have refrained from
words, she could have done other than what she actually did.
2 Guiding Intuitions
’s performance of
is under her control at
willed (just prior to
) to do
has the power at
to refrain from
; she could have done otherwise.
I’ll use ‘the power to refrain’ and ‘could have done otherwise’ interchangeably.
We take (I) and (II) to express logically necessary conditions for a free act, but what do
they really mean?
(I) and (II) constitute nothing as formal as an analysis of the concept
or definition of the term ‘free act.’
They are just implications (and, so, logically necessary conditions) of an agent’s acting freely.