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.
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.
1. WillingFirst, how should willing be understood, for our purposes here?
If we can do anything freely, we can freely perform intentional actions.
Paradigmatic instances of willing will be instances of performing some intentional action.
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.
This places a constraint on construals of powers to be employed in an account of free will.
3. PowersPowers are a class of properties including dispositions, tendencies, liabilities, capacities, and abilities.
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.
Not every power has a stimulus that can be identified by semantic analysis of a familiar name for that power.
Other powers might have stimuli that are identifiable by semantic analysis, but those stimuli might not guarantee the powers’ manifestations.
Finally, there appear to be powers that simply don’t have any relevant stimulus conditions.
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.
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.