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Compatibilism: No Issues Here

We are free and responsible agents, regardless of the truth of determinism. This is a thesis ardently defended by compatibilists of many different backgrounds. The most swaying argument, in my opinion, is the semicompatibilist account offered by John Martin Fischer. The strongest challenge to the position of compatibilism is the dilemma argument. The dilemma argument is a piece of reasoning that sets out to prove, regardless of whether determinism is true or not, free will is impossible. On the side against determinism, the argument states: (1) If determinism is true, then we are unable to do otherwise. (2) If one cannot do otherwise, then one is not free (also called the Principle of Alternate Possibilities). Therefore, if determinism is true, then we are not free. Fischer argues from the tradition of compatibilists that attacks premise (2) of the dilemma argument, asserting that the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP) is false, so alternate possibilities are not necessary for moral responsibility. This school of thought started with Harry Frankfurt and his counter-factual examples, now named Frankfurt-style counterexamples. Frankfurt comes up with a situation where an intervener (Black) has the ability to control the decisions of an individual (Jones4). Here Black watches what Jones4 does before he is to make a decision. If Jones4 does what Black wants him to, then Black does not intervene and Jones4 makes the decision. On the other side, if Jones4 looks like he is not going to do what Black wants him to, then Black intervenes in some way to make Jones4 do what he wants1. It is clear that in this situation, no matter what, Jones4 was going
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Frankfurt, Harry G. "Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility." Free Will. Ed. Gary Watson. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. 173. Print.

to complete the action, either of his own will or through the intervention of Black, so there was no room for him to do otherwise. Another implication is that although there was no room for Jones4 to do otherwise, it would seem that he would be morally responsible in doing the action without intervention from Black. From this starting point, Fischer offers his positive account of semicompatibilism. Semicompatibilism has two requirements: an epistemic condition, and a control condition. The epistemic condition requires that the agent knows what they are doing, but Fisher does not go into any greater detail on this. The requirement for control does not ask that the agent has regulative control over what he does, but rather that he has guidance control. Regulative control is considered to be somewhat similar to alternate possibilities, that the agent is able to regulate what path is open to them, like deciding whether to make a left or a right in a car. Fischer explains the idea of guidance control by appealing to Lockes example of the man in the room. This states that a man wakes up in a room, and decides voluntarily to stay in it, although in reality, the door is locked, so he does not have the power to leave the room. His staying in the room is an example of guidance control, even though he was never truly able to do otherwise (Fischer, 4, 57). To translate this over to the driving example: as opposed to regulatory control, where you must have the ability to go either left or right, with guidance control you go right from your own reasons, not knowing that the steering mechanism would not even allow you to go left if you tried. The conditions for guidance control are twofold. Firstly, the agent must work from a reasons-responsive mechanism, and secondly, the agent must take responsibility for the mechanism. Reasons-responsive means that the mechanism that one deliberates and makes decisions with must be receptive, meaning that it can recognize reasons, and reactive,

meaning that it can act in consideration of these reasons. A mechanism that is strongly reasons-responsive would react to the best reasons possible in any situation. But this cannot be the case of human action, because it would mean that mistakes are not possible. A weak reasons-responsive mechanism would be one that responds differently based on some change in circumstances. This cannot be the case either, because it would make it that humans would change their mind for any reason. So, the appropriate reasons-responsive mechanism would be in the middle of these two, a moderately reasons-responsive mechanism. A moderate reasons- responsive mechanism is one that would be regularly receptive and weakly reactive. This means that the mechanism must be able to recognize reasons at an average rate, but be able to react and change based on only one reason. An example of this would be looking back on voting for Reagan. Say that, in 1984, an individual, after deliberation, comes to the decision, based on the reasons at hand, to vote for Reagan. Say however, that there was an alternate universe, where information about the development of President Reagans Alzheimers was public knowledge. It is possible, then, based on a moderately reasons-responsive mechanism, for the individual to change their decision and vote for Mondale instead. This shows that in circumstances with different reasons, it is possible that different actions will result, under a moderate reasons-responsive mechanism. It also illustrates that a moderate reasons-responsive mechanism is the closest to the way we think of human action. The second part of guidance control is that the agent takes responsibility for their mechanism. What this means is vague, and Fischer does not clarify it, but it roughly translates to a historical condition that an agent recognizes that their decisions are made

from their own self and set of beliefs and values rather than from some external source. Including this gives Fischers account an edge over other compatibilist accounts. Gary Watsons Real Self View was a predecessor to Fischers, and argued that a person is free to the extent that he is able to do or get what he wants2. What this ultimately means is that our actions are results of value judgments that we as agents make about what to do in any situation3. A contention to the account that Watson offers is that it does not seem to account for cases of brainwashing by cults, where we would intuitively say that a person is not acting freely. Fischer gets around this through the implementation of the historical condition because it does not just look at the current set of value judgments that an agent has, but rather goes back in time to see if the current judgments are consistent with the overall narrative of the individuals life. One problem that the historical condition brings with it, however, is that it opens the door to worries about the origin of the self with regards to determinism. Another advantage that Fischer has over Watson is that he answers an objection that Watson brought upon himself. This objection is that his account does not take into consideration when people do things against their values because they do it for the rush or the pleasure that results from it, such as bungee jumping or riding a rollercoaster. Fischers moderate reasons-responsive mechanism takes account for this because it is weakly reactive, and one change in reasons, such as perceiving the rush or the excitement that one gets from bungee jumping, is enough for an agent to change their mind about a decision. A virtue of Fischers argument has, that he himself states, is that his deepest and most basic views about agency freedom and moral responsibility are not held hostage

2 3

Watson, Gary "Free Agency." Free Will. Ed. Gary Watson. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. 337. Print. Ibid p.346

to views in physics4. What this means is that his account of semicompatibilism works whether determinism is true or false, unlike libertarian views, which are dependent on the fact that determinism is false. Because of this, Fischer does not have to worry about whether determinism is proved to be true in the future or not. Galen Strawson proposes a skeptical argument meant to show that free will is not possible. This argument states that in order to be free, you must be responsible for your mental state. And to be responsible for that, you must have chosen it, but to choose it you must be acting from some prior principle of choice. So to be responsible, you must be responsible for those principles of choice, and so on and so on. This creates an infinite regress, which concludes that free will is an impossibility because one cannot truly be selfcreating5. Fischer would be able to respond to this argument by denying the first premise, that to be truly responsible you must be responsible for your mental state. According to semicompatibilism, it is not necessary to be responsible for your reasons-responsive mechanism, but rather, all that is required is that you take responsibility for it and the actions that it produces. Although Fischer makes a strong case for free and morally responsible action through his account of semicompatibilism, there are various objections to it. One mentioned earlier was that the historical condition opens up the possibility of problems with the origin of the self. Another is advanced by Derk Pereboom, called the Four Case Argument. The four case argument involves an agent, Professor Plum, and the world he exists in, before he kills Mrs. White. In case 1, Plum is created by neuroscientists who control his actions minute to minute, and make him kill Mrs. White. In case 2, Plum is
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Fischer, John Martin. "Compatibilism." Four Views on Free Will. Malden: Blackwell, 2007. 81. Print. Strawson, Galen "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" Free Will. Ed. Gary Watson. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. 213. Print.

created by neuroscientists who have hardwired into him a set of beliefs, and Plum proceeds to kill White. In case 3, Plum is rigorously trained by his community to hold certain beliefs, and kills White. In case 4, all actions are determined by previous events and actions, and Plum kills White6. In the first case the agent is not considered morally responsible, and the changes that occur to the world from case to case are meant to maintain that the agent has no responsibility. Pereboom also notes that all cases satisfy the compatibilist conditions for free will and moral responsibility. While this seems like a major challenge to Fischers argument, he is able to provide a response. Fischer claims that although Plum is morally responsible in all four cases, he is not blameworthy in the first two. Fischer justifies this by asserting that there is a difference between being eligible for moral responsibility and being blameworthy, for although Plum exhibits the necessary conditions of guidance control for moral responsibility, it is not the case that he is blameworthy in his application of his guidance control7. He compares the difference between eligibility and blameworthiness to eligibility in UC system. One can be UC-eligible, meaning that they are an apt candidate for admittance into a UC school, but this does not necessarily mean that they have been admitted, in fact, they have to go through an entire other series of conditions to actually be accepted into the school, and blameworthiness works in the same way8. Fischer has put forward a great argument in solving the problem of free will. Although I believe it is not infallible, it is the strongest competitor for the true view of free will in the current discourse. Through his use of the Frankfurt style examples, Fischer
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Pereboom, Derk. "Hard Incompatibilism." Four Views on Free Will. Malden: Blackwell, 2007. 97. Print. Fischer, John Martin. "Response to Kane, Pereboom, and Vargas." Four Views on Free Will. Malden: Blackwell, 2007. 185. Print.
8

Ibid. p.186

dispels arguments from leeway incompatibilists, and through his positive account on guidance control gives the strongest compatibilist account in his line of inquiry. His account is strong enough to stand up to skeptical arguments like Strawsons self creation account, and also holds against contentions from source incompatibilists like Pereboom. Because Fischer provides such a compelling account for the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism, I believe that we are free and responsible agents.

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