The Significance of Free Will

The Significance of Free Will

The Significance of Free Will

The Significance of Free Will


Kane offers a provocative and original account of the issues surrounding free will and moral responsibility. He presents a version of the "incompatibilist" or "libertarian" view of free will, defending the classic view of free will as "the power of agents to be the ultimate creators and sustainers of their own ends and purposes" against a wide range of modern critics. This book also serves as a comprehensive survey of recent controversies about free will, covering most of the debates of the past 25 years.


At the end of the previous chapter, I suggested that the condition of Ultimate Responsibility, or UR, was the missing link in debates about the Compatibility Question, and I made two claims about UR:

Thesis 1 (on UR): Persistent disagreements between compatibilists and incompatibilists over the interpretation of contested expressions such as "can" and "could have done otherwise" (and hence over AP and the Consequence Argument) are best understood, I believe, by recognizing that incompatibilists are concerned with a kind of freedom (called "free will") that satisfies UR as well as AP, whereas compatibilists are not concerned with such a freedom. (In other words, for incompatibilists, free will requires AP + UR, not AP alone.)

Thesis 2 (on UR): Compatibilist analyses of "can" and "could have done otherwise" fail to satisfy UR (if UR is satisfiable at all) and therefore do not adequately account for free will as incompatibilists understand it, though compatibilist analyses may be able to account for everyday freedoms that do not require UR.

These two theses were merely stated at the end of chapter 4. In this chapter, I want to defend them and a series of further theses on UR that address its meaning and relevance to the Compatibility Question and to the other three core questions about free will.

The first part of the chapter is diagnostic. In defense of Theses 1 and 2, I first try to bring to the surface the subliminal role played by UR in post-1970 debates about compatibility. The aim is to show how UR might be involved in the disagreements between compatibilists and incompatibilists that go beyond disagreements about the conditional analyses of power discussed in chapter 4. To show this, I am going to focus on certain compatibilist theories that have played an important role in debates about free will since 1970, in particular those based on so-called hierarchical theories of motivation.

Hierarchical theories are important to our purposes for several reasons. First, they are a definite improvement upon earlier compatibilist accounts of free agency such as we discussed in the previous chapter. Second, hierarchical theories provide a basis for compatibilist accounts of free will as well as free action, thereby allowing . . .

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