Free Will

Free Will

Graham McFee
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 193
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  • Book Info
    Free Will
    Book Description:

    Free will remains one of the great problems in philosophy. Whether human choices and actions are causally determined or in some way free and the implications of opting for one position or the other on our moral, personal, and social lives continues to challenge philosophers. Written in a clear and uncomplicated style, this introduction to the problem of free will provides readers with a solid grasp of the central issues as well as the ability to analyse and evaluate the ideas and arguments involved. Free Will explores the determinist rejection of free will through detailed exposition of the central determinist argument and consideration of responses to each of its premises. At every stage familiar examples and case studies help frame and ground the argument. Focusing on a clear, single line of argument allows the author to demonstrate what scrupulous and persistent analytic philosophical inquiry looks and feels like in practice. The manner and approach used throughout encourage the reader to contribute to the debate as an engaged participant. Free Will will be welcomed by students looking for an engaging and clear introduction to the subject. As a rigorous exercise in philosophical argument it will serve the beginning philosophy student as an excellent spring board into the subject more generally.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8328-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-viii)
    Graham McFee
  4. 1 Free will: the issue
    (pp. 1-18)

    Few issues in philosophy are as interesting, both to lay person and professional, as the problem of the freedom of the will (or freedom of action - the two descriptions I take to mean the same thing). For, as noted in the Preface (and as we will see), the central issue here concerns the ability to initiate (or possibility of initiating)action:that is, of there being (genuine) actions at all.¹ Merely being able towillcertain actions, actions not then performed, would be indistinguishable from just wishing for impossible outcomes. And would be accommodated to the degree that such...

  5. 2 Determinism: exposition
    (pp. 19-34)

    In Chapter 1 we saw how a common-sense account of the life and activity of human beings builds in the conception of humans as free agents. How might that position be attacked or undermined? Chapter 1 identified the protagonist of such an attack as the determinist: but what precisely is his or her position? As the term is used here, adeterministdisputes the viability of the contrasts mentioned in Chapter 1: he urges that the language of action is based on the contrasts identified there (pp. 1-4), contrasts that prove (on investigation) to be spurious. But why should someone...

  6. 3 Determinism: qualifications and clarifications
    (pp. 35-52)

    Initially, this chapter considers two lines of objection to the determinist argument, both rooted in the idea that it is not satisfactory as an argument. As noted previously, there are, in effect, three responses that might legitimately be made to any argument: the first is to accept its conclusion - to find it compelling. This means accepting both that the premises from which it is constructed are true and that the truth of the conclusion follows from the truth of the premises. (This idea of “following from” is what it means to speak of the argument as valid.) In passing,...

  7. 4 Libertarianism: two varieties
    (pp. 53-68)

    As noted towards the end of Chapter 2 and again in Chapter 3, the conclusion of any argument can be contested either by disputing the truth of some or all of the argument‘s premises or by denying that the conclusion follows from those premises. In that vein, this chapter will consider opposition to determinism based on denying the truth of the first premise of our determinist argument (Chapter 2, p. 21): that every event has a cause. (Later chapters will consider other premises.) Traditionally, those who deny the truth of the premise that every event has a cause are called...

  8. 5 Compatibilism I: the “utilitarian” position
    (pp. 69-78)

    We concluded, in the previous chapter, that discussions of free will must begin from an acceptance of the thesis that every event has a cause; moreover, that the kinds of causes under discussion are those characterized by biophysics (from Chapter 3). Thus opponents of determinism are obliged to accept premise 1 of the determinist argument: every event does have a cause. What mileage, therefore, is there for the free will defender in denying premise 2 of that argument; that is, denying that actions are a kind of event? In the literature, there are two standard ways to articulate such a...

  9. 6 Compatibilism II: the two-language view
    (pp. 79-98)

    In Chapter 5 we saw the unsatisfactory character of disputing the truth of premise 2 of the determinist argument, the premise stating that actions are a kind of event, by urging, simply, that actions differed from events because actions brought with them notions of responsibility in ways in which event-descriptions did not. Another, more standard, way of attempting to deny the truth of premise 2 of that argument is sometimes called “compatibilism” or “reconciliationism” or even “soft determinism”. None of these names is entirely happy, since each suggests only some aspect of the position named, rather than getting to its...

  10. 7 The irrelevance of determinism
    (pp. 99-110)

    Having put aside two of the most usually deployed free will defences, it is worth mentioning two lines of thought that suggest that our problem is misconceived: as such, they might clarify the nature of the determinist challenge. In addition to discharging an obligation to do so (Chapter 3, p. 45), these issues will be considered here because such arguments ground much contemporary discussion of free will related topics: thus a student ignorant of them might find himself or herself at sea in the contemporary literature. As such, they offer research agendas, even if not dealing with our problem. Further,...

  11. 8 The very idea of causal necessity
    (pp. 111-136)

    In addressing my own view of an appropriate free will defence, I offer something both slightly more technical and certainly more speculative than elsewhere. The technicality is warranted both because, this late in the text, readers are ready for it and because it offers hope for a solution.

    As we have seen, there is no mileage in objecting to premise 1 of the determinist argument; further, while the two-language view may oblige the determinist to make some drafting changes (Chapter 6, p. 95), the force of premise 2 of the determinist argument cannot be avoided in that two-language way: the...

  12. 9 Conclusions and reflections on philosophical method
    (pp. 137-154)

    The argument of the book is now complete. We have explored a number of traditional options concerning free action (that is, canvassed alternatives to determinism) having first set out a determinist argument as a way of posing the issue. In passing, the philosophical strategies of argument have been highlighted. In both these ways, then, this text is a suitable “beginners’ guide” to philosophical investigations of this traditional topic.

    I have put forward a “solution” (better, a dissolution) of the problem. Here I tie up some loose ends by commenting both on that solution and on the strategy of the book...

  13. Appendix: chaos theory and determinism
    (pp. 155-158)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 159-168)
  15. A guide to further reading
    (pp. 169-174)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 175-180)
  17. Index
    (pp. 181-184)