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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 23, 2017

Experience and the Argument Against Human Freedom

David K. Clark
From the journal Metaphysica


The heart of this essay, presented in part II, is an attempt to break the longstanding gridlock of the determinism/free-will controversy. Part I sets the table by examining recent attempts to refine and resolve this controversy. For example, Fischer’s groundbreaking case for semi-compatibilism seeks to soften the devastating impact of incompatibilism by arguing that while metaphysical (libertarian) freedom is indeed incompatible with determinism, human responsibility is not. But Fischer’s ingenious application of Frankfort-like examples simply cannot rescue any relevant notion of human responsibility. Rather, Fischer’s resourceful argumentation guides us to a pivotal realization. Kane’s Principle of Alternative Possibilities (the longstanding “could have done otherwise” necessary condition for human freedom aka Fischer’s “Leeway Principle”) is false. Thus, any successful attack against metaphysical freedom must target the “source-hood” thesis – an indeterministic agency theory of metaphysical freedom – the very idea of which is rejected by Hume, Nietzsche, Fischer et al as simply incoherent. But I argue that these philosophers are surely mistaken about the literal incoherence of the source-hood premise. Consequently, the current debate cannot move us beyond the frustration faced so squarely by Kant: we just can’t find a way to advance the case for or against metaphysical freedom. In Part II, I urge that an appeal to the a posteriori data of experience is sufficient to decisively resolve this recalcitrant impasse. This a posteriori evidence I argue, reveals that the thesis of metaphysical freedom is surely false. There is no human freedom; and neither are humans morally responsible for their choices. The supportive case supplied here will seek to rehabilitate Schopenhauer’s proclamation that while “man can do what he wants, he cannot will what he wants.” [1] I believe this claim is importantly correct; but as it stands, it obviously begs the question. Therefore, this essay will attempt to present both a compelling defense of Schopenhauer’s dictum, as well as the supplementary insight which makes philosophical capital of that defense. My central thesis, universally confirmed by experience, is that what we want most causes us to choose accordingly. It is not physically possible to choose otherwise than in accord with what we desire most strongly; but this efficacious desire is never itself chosen; it is instead always already given. The full argument follows.


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Published Online: 2017-3-23
Published in Print: 2017-9-26

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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