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Free Will and Agential Powers. Randolph Clarke Florida State University. Free will – or freedom of the will – is often taken to be a power of some kind. The power in question would be a power of the agent, not of the will. .

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Free will and agential powers
Free Will and Agential Powers

Randolph Clarke

Florida State University




Locke’s initial account of freedom illustrates one difficulty in understanding free will in this way.


He held: difficulty in understanding free will in this way.I’m at liberty to A just in case I have a power to A or not A, according to which of these I will to do.


B eing at liberty to will to a can t be understood in this fashion
B difficulty in understanding free will in this way.eing at liberty to will to A can’t be understood in this fashion.


How can it be understood
How difficulty in understanding free will in this way.can it be understood?


1 willing first how should willing be understood for our purposes here
1. Willing difficulty in understanding free will in this way.First, how should willing be understood, for our purposes here?


Willing must be the kind of thing that one can do freely
Willing must be the kind of thing that one can do freely. difficulty in understanding free will in this way.



Paradigmatic instances of willing will be instances of performing some intentional action
Paradigmatic instances of intentional actions. willing will be instances of performing some intentional action.


Not intending not always coming to intend
Not: intentional actions. IntendingNot always:Coming to intend


Deciding is a kind of willing
Deciding intentional actions. is a kind of willing.


What about trying
What about intentional actions. trying?


Trying is attempting
Trying is attempting. intentional actions.


T rying isn t a distinct action type on a par with walking and speaking
T intentional actions. rying isn’t a distinct action type on a par with walking and speaking.



I of A-ing.n some cases, willing to do a certain thing is some early portion of one’s attempt to do that thing. It’s an initiation of an attempt.


2. Up to You of A-ing.You’re free with respect to willing to A only if, on the occasion in question, it’s up to you whether you will to A then.


I f you re free with respect to making a decision to b then it s up to you whether you decide to b
I of A-ing.f you’re free with respect to making a decision to B, then it’s up to you whether you decide to B.


If you’re free with respect to initiating an attempt to C, then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt.


The expression it s up to you is sometimes used in ways that don t concern free will
The expression “it’s up to you” is then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. sometimes used in ways that don’t concern free will.


But there s a use that does
But there’s a use that does. then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt.


T his places a constraint on construals of powers to be employed in an account of free will
T then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. his places a constraint on construals of powers to be employed in an account of free will.


It must be up to the agent whether these powers are exercised
It must be up to the agent whether then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. these powers are exercised.


3. Powers then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. Powers are a class of properties including dispositions, tendencies, liabilities, capacities, and abilities.


Examples fragility solubility
Examples: then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. fragility, solubility


S ome things sometimes assumed about dispositions should not be assumed about all powers
S then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. ome things sometimes assumed about dispositions should not be assumed about all powers.


A standard definition of fragility t he disposition to break in response to being struck
A standard definition of ‘fragility’: then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. the disposition to break in response to being struck.


The canonical form t he disposition to r in response to s
The canonical form: then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. the disposition to R in response to S.


O is fragile df o is disposed to break in response to being struck
o is fragile = then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. df o is disposed to break in response to being struck.


Not all powers are amenable to this kind of treatment
Not all powers are amenable to this kind of treatment. then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt.


A ll powers are powers to do something
A then it’s up to you whether you initiate such an attempt. ll powers are powers to do something.


Not every power has a stimulus that can be identified by semantic analysis of a familiar name for that power.


Example narcolepsy
Example: semantic analysis of a familiar name for that power.narcolepsy


Other powers might have stimuli that are identifiable by semantic analysis, but those stimuli might not guarantee the powers’ manifestations.


Examples irritability diligence fragility
Examples: semantic analysis, but those stimuli might not irritability, diligence, fragility



What might the stimulus of a power to freely will be perhaps intending
What might the stimulus of a power to freely will be? any relevant stimulus conditions. Perhaps intending.




Reid: the active powers of intelligent agents are utterly different in kind from the powers of inanimate objects. Indeed, only the former are powers in the proper sense of the word.


4 the power to initiate an attempt consider an instance of a young child s agency
4. The Power to Initiate an Attempt different in kind from the powers of inanimate objects. Consider an instance of a young child’s agency.


The child exercises a power to try to crawl over and get the shiny object
The child exercises a power to different in kind from the powers of inanimate objects. try to crawl over and get the shiny object.


We might manage an account of a power to initiate an attempt if we set our sights lower than free will.


A power to initiate an attempt to A might be (at least in part):a disposition to initiate an attempt to A in response to coming to have a present-directed intention with relevant content.


H aving powers to initiate attempts to do various things requires having a host of other powers
H part):aving powers to initiate attempts to do various things requires having a host of other powers.


5 up to the agent whether she wills our powers to will are rational powers
5. Up to the Agent Whether She Wills part):Our powers to will are rational powers.



The powers to come to have present-directed intentions might be powers to do so in response to taking there to be certain practical reasons.



And the powers to come to believe might be certain things. powers to acquire beliefs in response to taking there to be evidence for those beliefs or arguments in their support



If the exercise of our powers to will depends on things not themselves up to us, it’s hard to see how it can be up to us whether we exercise these powers.


6. Opposing Powers themselves up to us, it’s hard to see how it can be up to us whether we exercise these powers.Perhaps:if it’s up to me whether I will to A, I must have a power to will to A and also a power to do something incompatible with my willing to A.


One such power would be a power to will not to a
One such power would be a power to will not to A. themselves up to us, it’s hard to see how it can be up to us whether we exercise these powers.


Another would be a power to suspend the execution of one’s motivational states while one evaluates their objects.


Suppose that I have: motivational states while one evaluates their objects. a power to decide to A in response to coming to intend to make up my mind whether to A, and also a power to decide not to A in response to that same stimulus.


It might be that having both of these powers, or two or more similarly opposing powers, is required for being free to decide to A.


Suppose that I have: similarly opposing powers, is required for being free to decide to A. a power to initiate an attempt to A in response to coming to intend to A right away, and also a power to suspend execution of such an intention in response to the same stimulus.


It might be that having both of these powers, or two or more similarly opposing powers, is required for being free to initiate an attempt to A.


7. Stimulus Presence similarly opposing powers, is required for being free to initiate an attempt to A.It might contribute to conditions in which it’s up to me whether I decide to A if I now intend to make up my mind right away whether to A.


The suggestion isn’t that this is similarly opposing powers, is required for being free to initiate an attempt to A.required, but rather that together with other conditions it might be sufficient.


Suppose that I’ve just now taken there to be good reason to A and I’ve not yet become motivated to A.


But suppose I have a power to become so motivated in response to taking there to be good reason to A.


And suppose I have further powers: response to taking there to be good reason to A. to come to intend to make up my mind right away whether to A in response to coming to be motivated to A,




W intention, e might consider whether the circumstances just described suffice for its being up to me whether I decide to A.


8. Non-Causal Powers intention, The manifestation of a rational power is something done in the light of reason, something done for a reason.


And some philosophers maintain that nothing can be both done for a reason and caused
And some philosophers maintain that nothing can be both intention, done for a reason and caused.



But causal processes, it’s sometimes said, “bring about their effects with complete indifference to the question of whether those effects have cogent considerations in their favour” (Lowe 1998: 156).


I m not convinced
I’m not convinced. their effects with complete indifference to the question of whether those effects have cogent considerations in their favour” (Lowe 1998: 156).


T their effects with complete indifference to the question of whether those effects have cogent considerations in their favour” (Lowe 1998: 156).here can be causal outcomes that are sensitive to whether earlier stages of the processes leading to them consist of someone’s taking there to be reasons of various sorts


Further, taking there to be a reason can be responsive to there actually being something that has a certain normative significance.


When one’s taking there to be a reason to A results in an appropriate way from there being a reason to A, and one’s A-ing is caused in the right way by one’s taking there to be a reason to A, one can have A-ed for a reason.


Coming to desire, believe, and intend, and deciding and trying can be things that we do for reasons and also things that are caused.


Powers to do these things can be causal dispositions rational powers can be causal dispositions
Powers to do these things can be causal dispositions. trying can be things that we do for reasons Rational powers can be causal dispositions.


This is not yet to say that free will can be
This is not yet to say that trying can be things that we do for reasons free will can be.


T trying can be things that we do for reasons here remains the problem of understanding how it can be up to me whether I do a certain thing if my power to do that thing is a causal disposition of the sort we’ve been considering.


However it s hard to see how appeal to a non causal power is going to help here
However, it’s hard to see how appeal to a trying can be things that we do for reasons non-causal power is going to help here.


9. Agent-Causal Powers trying can be things that we do for reasons It’s sometimes said that when an agent freely makes a decision, the agent causes something, and the agent’s causing that thing isn’t causation by any occurrence or state.


It s causation by an enduring substance
It’s causation by an enduring substance. trying can be things that we do for reasons


Sometimes it’s said that there exists this kind of substance causation only in the case of exercises of free will; all other causation is causation by events or states.


This seems to me unlikely
This seems to me unlikely. substance causation only in the case of exercises of free will; all other causation is causation by events or states.


Other theorists hold that all causation is fundamentally causation by objects or substances
Other theorists hold that substance causation only in the case of exercises of free will; all other causation is causation by events or states. all causation is, fundamentally, causation by objects or substances.


Substance-causal powers of this sort might have characteristic stimuli.Indeed, it’s sometimes held that they must.


An object causes something it s said always by doing something or by undergoing some change
An object causes something, it’s said, always characteristic stimuliby doing something, or by undergoing some change.


This kind of view of agential powers requires only minor alteration of the dispositional view suggested earlier.


But precisely because it involves such a minor reformulation of the dispositional view, it’s hard to see that it constitutes any advance over that view.


10. Indeterminism of the dispositional view, it’s hard to see that it constitutes any advance over that view. Have I failed to mention the key requirement, that one is free to will to A only if it’s undetermined whether one wills to A?


I can t see how this would help
I can’t see how this would help. of the dispositional view, it’s hard to see that it constitutes any advance over that view.


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