from ANALYSIS 50.1, pp. 33-35. Copyright V. Alan White 1990
HOW TO MIND ONE'S ETHICS: A REPLY TO VAN INWAGEN
By V. Alan White
A few years ago in this journal Peter van Inwagen attempted to prove that two traditional arguments for compatibilism cannot both be sound ('On Two Arguments for Compatibilism', ANALYSIS 45.3, June 1985, pp. 161-3). Citing several familiar compatibilist texts which employ the two arguments, van Inwagen condenses various expressions of the arguments into his own succinct restatement of them:
THE ETHICS ARGUMENT
Analysis shows that statements of ability are disguised conditionals. More exactly, the correct analysis of 'X could have done A' is 'If X h decided (chosen, willed ...) to do A, X would have done A'. Therefore having acted freely--having been able to act otherwise than one fact did--is compatible with determinism (with the causal determination of one's acts).
THE MIND ARGUMENT
If one's acts were undetermined. they would be 'bolts from the blue'. They would no more be free acts than they would if they had been caused by the manipulations of ones nervous system by a freakish demon. Therefore, free action ii not merely compatible with determinism; it entails determinism (pp. 161-2)
In order to prove that at best only one of these arguments can be sound, van Inwagen first argues that the Ethics argument allows that free action is compatible with the indeterminism of deliberation by an agent (pp. 162-3). With this result in hand, van Inwagen then draws his intended conclusion:
If the Mind argument is sound, then free will entails determinism. If free will entails determinism, then free wtll is not compatible with indeterminism. Therefore, if either [the Mind or Ethics argument is sound, then the other is unsound (p 163).
Van Inwagen's proof is unassailable, but only if the Mind and Ethics arguments are about the very same sense of 'free will'. (Or, at van Inwagen's pleasure, 'free action'. Note that van Inwagen's characterizations of the arguments utilize the latter term, while his final proof utilizes the former. Clearly they are interchangeab terms as far as he is concerned.) However, it apparently never occurs to van Inwagen that these two arguments might be used make quite distinct points about free will.
I will not rehearse van Inwagen's argument that an Ethics analysis is compatible with the indeterminism of deliberation because it is unnecessary (and perhaps unavailing) to resist that conclusion. After all, Ethics-style arguments were introduced by compatibilists in the first place because they show that intelligible an agent's ability to act otherwise is fully compatible with any account of deliberation, deterministlc or not. What is the Mind argument about? A casual rereading of van lnwagen's version supports the impression that it, like its companion argument is about free action. And, it is true that the argument might be generously interpreted to refer loosely to any and all aspects of human action from deliberation to bodily movement, However, to suppose that the compatibilist's interest in the argument extends to proving the causal determinism of indisputably physiological processes of behavior such as neural transmission or muscular contraction seems rather silly. The Mind argument therefore is clearly and specifically directed at shunning mdeterministic accounts of deliberation by holding that the vicissitudes of indeterministic mental processes rob agents of control of and responsibility for their actions.
Thus, despite van Inwagen's assumption to the contrary, there are at least prima facie reasons for believing that the Ethics argument concerns the relation between the free actions of agent and their decisions or choices, independently of any specific account of their prior deliberations, whereas the Mind argument insists on the need for a deterministic account of those deliberations. Furthermore, if these arguments are so understood, then not only are they compatible with each other, but they may be combined to yield a composite picture of free will as the free action of agents whose deliberations are causally determined.
In fact, since van Inwagen's purpose is to charge compatibilists with inconsistency, I submit that, by failing to recognize how these arguments are reconcilable in the way I have suggested, his reading of at least one compatibilist's use of these arguments is erroneous The case in point involves his citation of R. E. Hobart (Dickinson Miller) as an advocate of the Mind argument in the classic 'Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It' (Mind 43, January 1934, pp. 1-27). Hobart does indeed use the Mind argument, but only to show that a concept of causally determined mental processes is a necessary part of a proper conception of free will. Van Inwagen fails to see that Hobart employs the Ethics argument as well in order to show that conditional freedom of action is the other part of that conception. Hobart was not merely trying to be long-winded in titling his essay as he did: he was signaling that in spelling out what free will is, he would Mind his Ethics, so to speak.1
1 I thank the Editor and anonymous referees for helpful remarks on earlier drafts of this note.
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