Freedom and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (ed)

Freedom and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (ed)
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  1 Freedom and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities Introduction  Harry Frankfurt, in “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” his famous articleon the principle of alternate possibilities, formulates the principle as follows: “A person ismorally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.” 1 Against themajority of his contemporaries, at least among philosophers in the analytic tradition, hemaintains that this principle is not sufficient to account for moral responsibility. This paper takesup an analogous line of argumentation against the principle of alternate possibilities translated into an account of freedom, which runs thus: “A person acts freely only if he could have doneotherwise.” Although there is,  prima facie , no literature explicitly advancing this claim, it is onethat fits comfortably with common sense and thus deserves an examination, which this paper willattempt at least in a preliminary fashion. In doing so, it will be shown that while it is true that theability to do otherwise is closely related to freedom, it does not constitute it as such and so thetheory of human freedom that the translated principle of alternate possibilities suggests isinadequate, after which an alternate theory of freedom, that of Thomas Aquinas, will be proposed as a more viable solution to the problem raised by Frankfurt’s essay.   I. A Frankfurt Counterexample Examined One of the counterexamples that Frankfurt gives is akin to the following. 2 Suppose thatJones is on the cusp of an extremely important decision between X and ~X. Black, who happensto be a mad scientist, is very invested in the outcome of this decision and wants Jones to choose 1 Martinich & Sosa, 394. 2    Ibid. 397-8. I am also indebted here to Dr. Paul Symington ’s treatment of this essay in class.  2X. Jones, however, seems to be leaning towards ~X, so Black descends into his laboratory and creates a nanobot that, when released, will surreptitiously enter Jones’ brain and seize control of  his motor neurons. Now Black does not want to be entirely manipulative, so the nanobot is programmed to only seize control of Jones if he chooses ~X, in which event it will redirect his  body to enact X. In fact, it turns out that, after the nanobot was released and settled into Jones’  prefrontal cortex, Jones chose X anyway. Thus although Jones could not have done otherwise,since the nanobot would have irresistibly impelled Jones to enact X, Jones is neverthelessresponsible for choosing X, since the nanobot did not, in fact, have to leap into action.From the above it can be seen that the ability to do otherwise is not a necessary conditionfor moral responsibility. That it is not a sufficient condition could be seen if it is possible toconceive of actions in which the agent either (a) had or (b) had not the possibility of doingotherwise and in which the agent (1) may or (2) may not be morally responsible. Possibility b1 isexemplified by the above example. Possibility b2 is simply the above example with theexception that Jones tried to undertake ~X and the nanobot failsafe was triggered and forced himto carry out X, in which case it is obvious that Jones is not morally responsible for the act.Possibility a1 is the most obvious scenario: that of someone who chooses with no interference of an extrinsic agent between one or more possible actions. Possibility a2, however, presents adifficulty. Is it possible that one might have one or more alternate possible actions with respect toa choice to be made and still not be morally responsible for carrying out one or the other?This same argument, complete with the same resultant difficulty, applies to the principleof alternate possibilities as translated into an account of freedom. A preliminary line of inquirywhich seems fruitful is the examination of the following question: What exactly is the conceptionof choice with which Frankfurt and those against whom he is arguing are working, and what  3constitutes a free choice? It seems that one or both of them views choice as constituted only bythe actual carrying out of the act. But what, then, should be said in the case that Jones chose ~Xand the nanobot seized control of his neurons and forced his body to carry out X? Would notJones still be said to have chosen ~X, moreover, to have chosen it freely, even though theconsequent action which was caused by the nanobot was neither free nor chosen? One mayimagine the horror that Jones would feel upon finding his limbs impelled by some alien forceagainst his will. It seems that this points to a division between the choice and the act. If thisdivision is accepted, as it seems to be at least implicitly in the Frankfurt counterexample, then just as the principle of alternate possibilities cannot be either a necessary or sufficient conditionfor moral responsibility, it cannot be the case that freedom is constituted by the presence of alternate possibilities; this because it does not deal with choice directly but the action consequentupon choice. As such, an alternative account of freedom must be found. II. Aquinas’ Alternative Account of Freedom   Having brought the central problem with the account of freedom implicit in the Frankfurtcounterexample to light, it is time to examine the proposed alternative of Thomas Aquinas. In thefirst place, he makes the distinction called for above between the choice and the action. He callsthese two parts of willing the immediate act, which is the will willing the act, and its execution,which is the appropriate power enacting that which the will wills. The example that he gives iswalking: the will moving the body to walk is distinct from walking, that is, its execution by the body. 3 For example, an amputee might will to walk, but his will cannot be executed. With thisfact in mind, it can be seen that the conception of freedom implicit in the Frankfurtcounterexamples is insufficient for explicating the nature of human freedom. Human freedom 3   Summa Theologiae I-II 6, 4.  4cannot simply be constituted by the ability to act in different ways. Eleonore Stump, in her essay “Aquinas’s Account of Freedom: Intellect and Will” points out that Aquinas holds that …freedom with regard to willing is a property primarily of a human being, not of some  particular component of a human being. Furthermore, the will is not independent of theintellect. On the contrary, the dynamic interactions of intellect and will yield freedom asan emergent property or a systems-level feature. 4  Thus freedom is a property of a rational substance as a whole that has as its subject the will andits cause in reason. 5 After the meaning of the above has been explained, the questions raisedabove in relation to examples b2 and a2 may be able to be answered.A commonly accepted view of the will is a switch with three positions: accept, reject, andoff. Thus the will is able to accept something that the intellect presents to it, reject it, or simplynot act. 6 This view is unacceptably simplistic both in its account of the intellect and will and their relationship. Aquinas takes a much more dynamic and nuanced view of all three. First, the will isnot a blind power of arbitration. It is the appetite of a rational substance for goodness. 7 However,it itself does not apprehend goodness; this is the function of the intellect, which presents objectsor actions as good to the will and thus moves it as its final cause. 8 Further, the relationship is notsimply constituted by the intellect as moving the will in this way. The will is also capable of moving the intellect as its efficient cause, for example, the will can command the intellect to takeup or set aside a certain object or even a certain belief. 9 However, this power is limited, since theintellect can have an object presented to it without the mediation of the will. 10 Thus freedom isnot simply located the will. It is found in the dynamic relationship between the intellect and the 4 Stump 1997 5    Ibid. 6    Ibid. 7    Ibid. 8    Ibid. 9    Ibid.   10  Ibid.  5will in a rational substance, not simply the ability of the will to choose one way or the other or not at all in a given situation. III. Problems and Solutions Presented by Aquinas’ Account   Given that the rational substance moves itself in such a complex way, the definition of freedom cannot be as simple as being able to do otherwise. First, there is the problem observedabove, namely, that the freedom of the immediate act of willing is not identical to the freedom of the execution of the will. Within Aqu inas’ framework, h owever, this problem is rather easilysolved. Since in order for an act to be free, whether of the will or executing power, it must proceed at least primarily from the agent, the primary source of freedom can only be located inthose powers of the rational substance that are impregnable from outside influence, namely, thesystem of the intellect and will. While it is true that an agent whose executing powers aredominated by some other cause rather than one ’s will is in a sense not free, on this accountfreedom is constituted essentially only by the proper functioning of the rational principle.This, however, seems to be an unsatisfactory account of freedom, since it seems to be a reductio ad absurdam to conclude, as may be soundly done from the given principles, that aslave may be just as free and, in fact, may even be freer than a man whose executing powers areunhindered in such a way. In order to defend the proposed notion of freedom from this objection, what is meant by “the proper functioning of the rational principle” must be explained. As statedabove, given the dynamic account of willing, freedom cannot consist simply in a rationalsubstance having its executing powers uninhibited. It is impossible for a finite being to be in thisstate absolutely; insofar as he is human, he will always be limited, not only by time and space butalso by any number of factors, both subjective and objective. Since freedom has been predicated
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