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I have a question about your suggestion: How does this "new" way of understanding free will help us to all get along? (The double quotes will make sense after the next paragraph.)

The reason I ask that question is because I am reminded of the story Michael Frede gives in his book on the emergence of the concept of free will. As he tells it, the Stoics employed the notion of "up-to-usness", and their critics thought that the use of "up to us" when in the context of assenting to forced impressions was a misuse of that expression. Alexander of Aphrodisias, for instance, required the assent to be unforced if it was to be up to us. (For more on this, see chapters 5 & 6.)

So if we disagree about free will because, at least, we disagree about whether free will requires the ability to do otherwise, why should we think that saying everyone agrees that free will requires "up-to-usness" will help resolve that disagreement rather than postpone it?

Joe--you're really on a roll. Beautifully direct question. Here's a skeptical (seems appropriate!) take:

"Free will" combines two words that each have a value side and a metaphysical side. "Free" after all is parsed metaphysically as one values alternatives as libertarians do, identification valued in terms of psychological complexity as Frankfurtians, valued action instead of choices as in classical compatibilism, and so on. "Will" is at least some claimed value to the mental components of action, as classical compatibilism of free action thus minimally nods as a component, or makes central as the valued source of decision as libertarians or Frankfurtians attempt to do, and again so on.

So it seems to me that the specific values attached to these two words are inextricably involved in parsing out what "is up to us" means as a potential analysis of "free will" by any given position. The values given one word must influence the values given the other, and thus influences what the relevant metaphysical reference is.

These values as to what constitutes being "free" with relation to what is "will" thus collectively constitutes what is up to us.

So asking "what is up to us" catches us in a values loop of how our wills are free as those terms refer metaphysically.


I’m only one small voice, but I can say that I’m enjoying following your balanced and energetic lead.

I believe that we’re already all getting along in a big-picture sense, and your idea of “up-to-usness” is great symbolism for showing that we can continue working together to find the truth – whatever that may turn out to be. The casual free-flowing spirit on FOF allows everyone to speak freely without wondering if our diversity of thought is appropriate or not. Diversity of ideas and respectful interaction helps us to move closer toward the truth.

With that being said, we’re probably still going to need to define two different meanings for the term “free will”, a “weak sense” and a “strong sense”, and then acknowledge that the weak sense obviously exists, and then argue whether or not the strong sense really exists.

Joe--a followup:

If you combine a metaethical analysis that yields subjectivism instead of objectivism on the values involved in the interrelated parsing of what each of the words in "free will" metaphysically means, you get Double's take on my prior post, namely his free will subjectivism.

I hope that helps.

Hi Joe-

I'm impressed with your stamina for blogging. I've been too busy keeping up with end of term commitments to weigh in, but I've been enjoying the tide of posts when I've had a moment to take a look.

On the post: why can't we all just not get along? What does "up to us-ness" add if not yet another term that papers over robust disagreements? I suppose I'm more inclined to think the idea of unifying the debate under a given phrase, concept, functional specification, or slogan is unlikely to succeed precisely because there are so many different theoretical interests people have deployed the term 'free will' to cover. In short, I doubt there is enough overlap of meaning or (theoretical or ordinary language) function to support a characterization of free will that will leave everyone satisfied.

Of course, this leaves us with the problem that parts of the current literature already face: some amount of talking past one another. It seems to me that the best solution is to just specify what phenomenon one is interested in, and ideally, bracket talk of free will until we are clear what all the phenomena of interest are (or, if one must talk about free will, simply foreground how one is using the contested term).


I have two major concerns:

A. It's not clear to me what "up to us" means. I have a general sense of what it means. But I can think of boundary cases, where the phrase is not precise enough to decide the hard questions. Yet philosophers spend all of their time arguing the hard questions. Consider Mele's Zygote Argument: is the subject's life up to Diana the Creator-God? The subject? Or both? If the term isn't precise enough to settle that question, then I don't think it adds much, and might even muddy the waters.

B. Philosophers cannot define commonly-used terms through simple fiat. 20 people on a blog can't (and shouldn't) get together and say, "from now on, free will means X." Although free will is not an every day term, tons of people still use it outside of our little circle - in the media, in the press, in the science literature, etc. If anything, we should be trying to track whatever consensus and definition that wider usage reveals. (After all, if we solve problems with our toy definition, but they have no clear relevance to the outside definition, then it's not clear what good we accomplished.) If we admit that wider common usage is a constraint (as I think we should), then we should admit that free will is a very messy term, with hardly a clean, simple definition. It is admirable to try to simplify the problem to make it solvable, but we need to do so within the constraints that the term's wider usage places on us as language speakers.

I'm sure Manuel can explain why I'm wrong about all of this. Yet I've always felt this way, and have yet to be convinced otherwise.

James G: My thought is that classical theorists have no reason to reject that up-to-usness is essential to free will. For one reason, as you/Frede note, the concept of ability to do otherwise grew out of the concept of up-to-usness. Even someone like van Inwagen can agree that up-to-usness is important and related to the ability to do otherwise. Here is his English version of the consequence argument for instance:

"If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things are not up to us. (van Inwagen 1983, 16)"

Good point, Al. Your point is that even if we change our destination, it is likely that our free will baggage will just be rerouted. That is likely true. But it will help source theorists and classical theorists get along better, knowing that there views have something in common in spite of an important difference between them. And as James G. noted it is a more historically accurate rendering of the development of the concept of free will.

Thanks James L. I don't know that I like the weak/strong sense distinction. Of course, among classical theorists there is a debate about whether categorical abilities are required or some short of that; and among source theorists there is a debate about whether sourcehood means ultimate or adequate sourcehood. The former is settled by the compatibilism debate but the latter is not. There are at least some examples of compatibilist ultimate sourcehood (Markosian and Kant, on some interpretations of Kant).

Manuel: I tried to respond to some of your concerns in my response to Al but I'm not sure how satisfactory the response is. Toward that end I think the advice you give is good advice. In general, one should always define ones terms but if the term is contentious and there is no hope for agreement on even the most basic of issues, then it is perhaps best to avoid the term. It has always been interesting to me that in John's book "The Metaphysics of Free Will," he never uses the expression "free will."

Still, it is the holiday season, my birthday is coming up, and the semester is nearing the end. So I'm trying to remain optimistic. You should give Joe's taxonomy a try. If anyone is still unhappy with Joe's taxonomy after 30 days, I promise to return you to your original views without charge.

Kip: I'm not trying to remove the kinds of disagreements that you are noting. Folks will always disagree (perhaps) about whether, say, the acts of the Zygote, or of a causally determined person, were up to the agent. To settle that issue would be to solve the problem of free will and determinism. Taxonomy is not going to do that.

What taxonomy can do is get us all on the same page, prevent us from talking passed one another. Then we can better see where are real disagreements lie.

I agree that is seems difficult to see how merely doing philosophy might change the meaning of a term. Eventually we've got to get the folk involved. Or do we?

From the comments, it looks as if it's fairly uncontroversial that up-to-us-ness and free will are indeed pretty much the same thing. That's probably a point in favour of the new taxonomy. I am trying to think of ways up-to-us-ness could be more or less inclusive than free will, and the following are what I've thought of. I'm not sure they convince even me, but I thought it would be a public service to report the attempt.

Case (1) - Up-to-us-ness may be more inclusive than free will: I am trying to rush an accident victim to hospital in may car, but I reach a fork in the road and can't decide whether turning right or left would be the better route, so as I bear down on the fork I enter a state of panic sufficient to absolve me of responsibility for my choice, but turn left. I didn't exercise free will in turning left, but my turning left was up to me (e.g. I can say afterwards 'I'm sorry we took longer than necessary; it was up to me to choose and I turned left'.)

Case (2) - Up-to-us-ness may be more restrictive than free will: I work in a warehouse with a much taller friend who complains that I'm assigned a task retrieving things from high places while he's assigned a task retrieving things from low places; I can say to him 'It's not up to me, the manager assigns our tasks', and it really isn't up to me, but I'm still exercising my free will in doing it.

(For case (2), I'm tempted to try to make 'up-to-me' contrastive, i.e. point out that it is up to me that I do my task rather than arguing, or rather than quitting, even though it isn't up to me that I do my task rather than doing my friend's task.)

CJ: In the second case I'm inclined to say you have free will.

Same with the first case. To the extent that one is willing to say "It wasn't up to me" they could equally say "I had no choice about the matter" or "I couldn't have done otherwise." I'm inclined to say we these expressions interchangeably.

I think there is a danger in identifying free will with the freedom relevant necessary condition for moral responsibility.

The point of the second case was meant to be that I *do* have free will (I'm not confused or manipulated or whatever) but it's not up to me in at least one sense - instead, it's up to the manager. Apologies for the unclarity. Of course, you can start to distinguish senses of 'up to me', as is right and proper, but it means that the situation is more complicated than free will just being up-to-us-ness, since you have to specify what kind of up-to-us-ness you mean (without mentioning free will).

This might be a better way of putting case (2): given that I've already freely agreed to obey some authority, e.g. a manager, it isn't up to me what they end up telling me to do, though I am free in doing it. And this might be a better way of putting case (1): it can be up to me to turn one way or the other, in that it depends only on my actions, even though it doesn't depend on my free choice, because I can't make one. There may well be a sense of 'it is up-to-me' that just means 'it is my free choice', but it will have to be distinguished from those two other senses of 'up-to-me', one too liberal and the other, too narrow.

What is this danger you're worried about, anyway?

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