Monday, March 22, 2010

Some notes from Hasker of Frankfurt counterexamples

 Another redated post.

Bill Hasker sent me some clarifying comments on Frankfurt counterexamples.

WH: First, I think agent-causation is the key issue in the Frankfurt cases; what one is ultimately responsible for is agent-causing one’s own action (or attempted action, etc. . . .), or failing to do so. The issue of responsibility for consequences of one’s action is certainly complex, as the discussion shows, and I haven’t worked out a detailed position on it. The second point is, I may have “softened” my view insofar as I no longer think it’s possible to give a simple taxonomy of Frankfurt cases and dispose of them once for all. (John Martin Fischer has persuaded me that my criticism of him concerning “flicker of freedom” defenses is inaccurate and unfair.) “Of the making of Frankfurt cases there is no end, and many refutations make for weariness of the flesh!” Seriously, if one wants to engage these cases, they have to be taken one at a time. But I haven’t yet seen one that can’t be answered. Either the intuition that the agent is still responsible is shaky, or there is something in the example concerning which there was an alternative possibility. And then Fischer, et al., will say that the alternative isn’t sufficiently “robust” to ground responsibility – and that is probably where the argument reaches an impasse. At least, that’s the way I tend to see it at present.


James Alan Gibson said...

This post confirms what I said a few months back (see comment 1 here):

Mike Darus said...

The issue of "responsibility for the consequences" of one's actions is an ethical land mine. A good action does not necessarily have good results for all concerned. A good action can be purposely self-scarificial. A good action can have unintended and unforseen negative consequences for oneself or others. A good action can have good initial consequences and subsequent bad consequences. To further complicate, the negative consequence may due to other contributing factors. A consequence rarely has a single cause.

Steven said...

Frankfurt cases I have read are not instances in which my intuitions are "shaky", and the "flickers of freedom" available, if any, are absolutely absurd as grounds for responsibility. (The possibility of you being manipulated into X-ing is hardly a good grounds for your being responsible for X-ing.) So I agree with Fischer in that the whole "flickers of freedom" approach is bad.

And it's hard for me to see how agent-causation helps in responsibility. If flickers of freedom don't provide responsibility--then what difference does agent-causation make? The point in FSC is AP--we have a responsible agent with no AP--so it isn't obvious how agent-causation helps us one way or the other.

Besides that, agent-causation is a mysterious doctrine, replete with "dark sayings" as Plantinga once put it (though in reference to a different mysterious doctrine). An agent causing an event, in a way that is not reducible to event-to-event procession, is hard to think about. And there are still luck and randomness objections that are open against the agent-causal libertarian. I remember seeing a video with van Inwagen where he says, in response to the Rollback argument, that positing agent-causation does not explain why in some worlds John chooses one way and in other worlds John* chooses another, all prior factors remaining identical to them; it doesn't help us at all. So why agent-causation?

Victor Reppert said...

A flicker is still an alternate possiblity. The fact that all you get is a flicker is a function of the "cooked" character of these Frankfurt cases. In the real world, unless determinism is true, we have more than a flicker of freedom. Denying the PAP means that there are no alternative possibilities. No means no. We point out that there has to be some movement toward the opposite action in order for the Controller to act, and then we are told "Oh, that's just a flicker. You can't base moral responsibility on that."

Why the heck not?