Posted: September 6th, 2023
To be taken seriously by the free will skeptic, libertarians must argue their case on three fronts. Against the compatibilist, they must show that determinism and free will are incompatible (that incompatibilism is true). Against the determinist, they must show that there is good reason to believe that we sometimes act freely. And against all free will skeptics, they must demonstrate that the libertarian concept of free will is coherent and plausible. Often libertarians try to establish incompatibilism by putting forth what is known as the Consequence Argument. Peter van Inwagen crafted the most influential form of it, which he summarizes like this: Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us
: Richard Taylor, Metaphysics The only conception of action that accords with our data is one according to which people—and perhaps some other things too—are sometimes, but of course not always, self-determining beings; that is, beings that are sometimes the causes of their own behavior. In the case of an action that is free, it must not only be such that it is Imagine that your friend says he knows you so well that he can predict everything you will do in any given time period. So you test him. For an hour you try to act normally, and he observes you. After the hour is up, he hands you his notes that he wrote an hour ago, before the experiment began. You are shocked to see that he has accurately predicted your every action. Then you begin to worry. Does the fact that everything you did was predictable mean that your whole life is determined by forces beyond your control? In other words, is your life predictable because it is determined?
Hard determinists and compatibilists typically reply that this experiential sense of freedom is illusory. Our experience is not good evidence for free will, and we believe in free will only because we are ignorant of all the factors (genes and environment, for example) that determine us. Libertarians reply that we can indeed be mistaken about whether our actions are free, for our experience could mislead us. But we are entitled to trust our experience unless evidence gives us good reasons to doubt it. And so far, they say, there are no good reasons to do so. Can libertarians provide an intelligible and credible explanation of how free will is possible? If not, libertarianism will be regarded as a problematic theory—even if incompatibilism and the existence of free will are assumed. The main difficulty is explaining how actions can be free if indeterminism is true—that is, if actions are not caused by prior events. How can an action be uncaused? And if it is uncaused by previous events, wouldn’t it be simply random? A random action is not a free action. Several philosophers have responded to these worries, most notably Thomas Reid in the eighteenth century and in recent years Roderick Chisholm, Randolph Clarke, Richard Taylor, Timothy O’Connor, and Robert Kane. One proposed solution favored by most of these is agent causation, the view that a free action is caused by an agent (person) and is not wholly determined by previous events. Here is Taylor making a case for one version of this theor
In order to defend the libertarian view of free will, proponents must address three challenges posed by skeptics. First, they must argue that determinism and free will are incompatible. Second, they must demonstrate that there is good reason to believe that we sometimes act freely. Third, they must provide a coherent and plausible account of libertarian free will.
The Consequence Argument, proposed by Peter van Inwagen, is a common strategy employed by libertarians to establish incompatibilism. It argues that if determinism is true, then our actions are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past, which are not up to us. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us either.
Richard Taylor offers a conception of action that is compatible with our experience of being self-determining beings, capable of causing our own behavior. However, skeptics argue that this experiential sense of freedom is illusory and that we believe in free will only because we are ignorant of all the factors that determine us.
The main challenge for libertarians is to explain how actions can be free if they are not caused by prior events. One proposed solution is agent causation, which holds that a free action is caused by an agent (person) and is not wholly determined by previous events. However, skeptics have raised concerns that agent causation implies randomness, which is not a sufficient condition for free will.
Several philosophers, including Thomas Reid, Roderick Chisholm, Randolph Clarke, Richard Taylor, Timothy O’Connor, and Robert Kane, have attempted to address these challenges and provide a credible account of libertarian free will. However, the debate remains ongoing and unresolved.