Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Michael McKenna (University of Arizona)

Thu, September 1, 2011 | WAG 316

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


“Reasons-Responsiveness, Agents, and Mechanisms: A Compatibilist Theory of Free Will”


Abstract:  Many compatibilists are attracted to a reasons-responsive theory of freedom--that is, a theory in which an agent's free will is accounted for in terms of proper sensitivity to reasons.  But reasons-responsiveness appears to conflict with another common staple of many compatibilists, which is the thesis that the freedom worth theorizing about is of a type that can be found even in a Frankfurt example (an example in which an agent is alleged to act freely but conditions are arranged so that the agent cannot do otherwise).  The problem seems to be that in a Frankfurt example, an agent is not reasons-responsive insofar as, if she had reason to do otherwise, she would *not* do otherwise.  Some philosophers, most notably John Martin Fischer and Mark Ravizza, have attempted to overcome this problem by offering a careful analysis of an agent's "mechanisms" of action that are operative in a Frankfurt example.  Unfortunately, theorizing about an agent's freedom in terms of her mechanisms of action leads to several difficulties.  In this paper, I examine the compatibilists' prospects for salvaging a mechanism-based account of reasons-responsiveness in light of these difficulties, and I consider whether theorists committed to a reasons-responsive view should return to an agent-based rather than a mechanism-based view.  

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