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3. Primer on Freedom

3. Primer on Freedom - Phil 181 Fall 2010 3 A Philosophical...

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Phil 181 Fall 2010 3. A Philosophical Primer on Freedom In what does freedom consist? Suppose that an agent, S , performs an act, a , at a time, t . Under what conditions does S perform a freely? When is a an expression of S ’s free will? I . Two Guiding Intuitions Almost everyone believes that it’s possible to act freely—more, that we often actually do it. 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 act. Indeed, it’s not a genuine act at all. 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 ’s performance at t is “up to her” is that ( i ) whatever happens at t happens under S ’s control. Also, ( ii ) the circumstances that obtain at (and just before) t leave S different options. She is free to do this, that, or the other, e.g., to do a or something else. This seems to imply that different outcomes are possible at t , none of them are necessary, and S will determine which of these possibilities actually occurs. Thus, both doing a and refraining from a (and doing something else instead) must be equally available to S at t ; both must be genuinely open alternatives for her. So if S actually does a at t , it was also in her power then to have refrained from a . In other words, she could have done other than what she actually did. 2 Guiding Intuitions 1 I. S ’s performance of a is under her control at t ; At t , S willed (just prior to t ) to do a ; II. S has the power at t to refrain from a ; 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? 1 (I) and (II) constitute nothing as formal as an analysis of the concept free act or definition of the term ‘free act.’ They are just implications (and, so, logically necessary conditions) of an agent’s acting freely. 1
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Phil 181 Fall 2010 A . The Power to Refrain 1 . Restraints and Constraints By ‘ restraints’ I mean effective obstacles or impediments in S ’s circumstances at t , whose operations she can’t then block, that are sufficient actually to prevent or preclude her from doing a . (I do not mean prohibitions or costs.)
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3. Primer on Freedom - Phil 181 Fall 2010 3 A Philosophical...

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