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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

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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.


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


He held: 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.


Being at liberty to will to A can’t be understood in this fashion.


How can it be understood?


1. WillingFirst, how should willing be understood, for our purposes here?


Willing must be the kind of thing that one can do freely.


If we can do anything freely, we can freely perform intentional actions.


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


Not:IntendingNot always:Coming to intend


Deciding is a kind of willing.


What about trying?


Trying is attempting.


Trying isn’t a distinct action type on a par with walking and speaking.


Trying to A is going about or being engaged in the business of A-ing.


In 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 YouYou’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.


If 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.


But there’s a use that does.


This 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.


3. PowersPowers are a class of properties including dispositions, tendencies, liabilities, capacities, and abilities.


Examples:fragility, solubility


Some things sometimes assumed about dispositions should not be assumed about all powers.


A standard definition of ‘fragility’:the disposition to break in response to being struck.


The canonical form:the disposition to R in response to S.


o is fragile =df o is disposed to break in response to being struck.


Not all powers are amenable to this kind of treatment.


All 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


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


Examples:irritability, diligence, fragility


Finally, there appear to be powers that simply don’t have any relevant stimulus conditions.


What might the stimulus of a power to freely will be?Perhaps intending.


There’s a difficulty imposed by the up-to-you constraint.


Perhaps this is why some writers on free will describe its exercise as a kind of spontaneity.


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 AttemptConsider an instance of a young child’s agency.


The child exercises a power to 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.


Having powers to initiate attempts to do various things requires having a host of other powers.


5. Up to the Agent Whether She WillsOur powers to will are rational powers.


Their stimuli might be a kind of seeing-as, or taking there to be reasons to do certain things.


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.


Likewise, it seems, for the powers to become motivated to do certain things.


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


These suggestions face a problem.


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 PowersPerhaps: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.


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


Suppose that I have: 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: 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 PresenceIt 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 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: to come to intend to make up my mind right away whether to A in response to coming to be motivated to A,


to decide to A in response to coming to have such an intention,


and to decide not to A in response to this same stimulus.


We might consider whether the circumstances just described suffice for its being up to me whether I decide to A.


8. Non-Causal PowersThe 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.


Something done for a reason is responsive to the normativity of reasons.


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.


There 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.


This is not yet to say that free will can be.


There 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.


9. Agent-Causal PowersIt’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.


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.


Other theorists hold that 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.


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. IndeterminismHave 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.


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