Well, I just read through 18 pages of this, and it is the wee hours of morning.
Doug, if I have understood your argument correctly, then I still cannot fathom why you would call ‘free actions’ free will. I’ll try to explain my position more fully later, but for now, I will enumerate some points (most should be uncontroversial because they’ve already been agreed upon by most of the discussants).
1. No-one is arguing libertarian free will. No-one is suggesting that there are uncaused causes. Libertarian free will is incoherent.
2. No-one believes we have any control over beliefs and desires. I can’t believe something different to what I do and I can’t desire something other than I desire.
3. The part that makes will free seems to depend on action. If I am free to act on my beliefs and desires, freedom from coercive outside forces, then I have ‘free will.’
It is with (3) I take issue, but it may be to do with the word ‘will’. My will *is* my belief and desire. Since (2) is true, my will can’t be free.
I also have a great deal of trouble with the coercive outside forces. If someone overpowers me, and I am strapped to a chair, I am plainly not free. What if someone points a gun to my head and tells me to sit, but does not otherwise physically manipulate me? Is this coercive? If it is, at what level would it no longer be coercive? What if he had a gun with rubber bullets that will hurt me a lot but not kill me? If I choose to sit have I been as coerced as in the gun with real bullets? What if he blackmails me, and the information he has will hurt my family and damage my reputation?
4. One example I find particularly useful is the ‘pulling the fire-alarm cord.’ This is where, no matter how I turn it about in my head, I can’t imagine free will. Let me explain.
4a. Let’s say I have been physically overpowered and strapped to a chair in a rarely-used room in a large high school. My assailant informs me he is going to start a fire and has disabled the sensors on the fire-alarms (but they can still be set off manually by pulling a cord). He leaves and sets fire to the school. I am safe from the fire, I want to warn others, but I can’t pull the cord because I was coerced into being tied up. Most people would agree I was not responsible because I could not have done anything, whether or not I’d wanted to.
4b. Let’s say, as soon as my assailant leaves, by luck I almost immediately am able to get out of the ropes binding me to the chair. But let’s say that I simply leave without pulling the cord because I just don’t want to pull the cord. If I understand you correctly, I should be held responsible for this as this was a free choice.
4c. Let’s say everything is the same as (4a) except for one thing: I have no desire to warn others, and if I could, I would get up out of the chair and leave without pulling the cord. If I understand you correctly, my beliefs and desires are irrelevant because I was unable to pull the cord anyway.
These situations, as I hope you’ll see, don’t seem to me clear cut. I am guilty in 4b but not in 4c, even though there was no difference in my belief or desire, and that this guilt comes about solely because of the environmental difference. It’s blind luck that I was able to carry out my antisocial behaviour in 4b and not in 4c. So it seems to me blind luck as to whether I should be held responsible or not?
5. My biggest problem is equating freedom to act on beliefs and desires as free will. If this is what you mean, then
6. Whatever this is, I don’t think it should be called free ‘will’, perhaps free action; and
7. I don’t understand the argument that makes me culpable for free actions
8. Beliefs and desires seem to have some special causative power, in the sense that only actions that have come from beliefs and desires are ‘free will’ actions. I find this incredibly hard to accept. This is possibly just because I don’t understand it, but beliefs and desires seem to have no special place as causative processes.
9. This is the biggest problem of all, and I can’t resolve this to any degree of satisfaction in my reasoning. You say there are kinds of beliefs and desires that don’t lead to ‘free’ actions - eg the desire to use drugs for an addict, or insanity, or let’s say someone has an epileptic fit and as they are convulsing, they strike someone and break their jaw. I agree that for all these actions, there behaviour was compelled.
But whether by someone physically overpowering me, or by someone holding a gun to my head, or by physiological drives or by belief and desire, all my actions are compelled. There can’t be any distinction between ‘pathological’ beliefs and desires (eg the Devil repeatedly told me to do it) and nonpathological ones (I just didn’t feel like doing it), both of them are caused by events beyond the agents’ control.
10. Some of this debate seems to be driven by a deep-seated belief in the need for personal responsibility. But an appeal to consequences, cannot, of course, inform us of the truth-value of an account of free will.
I hope I’ve made some of my problems with a compatibilist account of free will clear.