Reading Randolph Clarke

From Randolph Clarke’s web page at Florida State University

My primary research interests are issues concerning human agency, particularly intentional action, free will, and moral responsibility. I’ve also written on practical reason, mental causation, and dispositions.I favor a causal theory of action, on which something counts as an intentional action in virtue of being appropriately caused by mental events of certain sorts, such as the agent’s having an intention with pertinent content. This kind of action theory takes human agency to be a natural phenomenon, something of a kind with (even if differing in sophistication from) the agency of many non-human animals.

Many philosophers have thought that free and morally responsible action would be ruled out if our actions were causally determined by prior events. My book, Libertarian Accounts of Free Will, examines whether indeterminism of any sort is more hospitable. Though I defend libertarian views (accounts requiring indeterminism) from several common objections, I argue that none of these accounts is adequate. If responsibility isn’t compatible with determinism, then, I think, it isn’t possible.

Clarke introduced the terms “broad incompatibilism” and “narrow incompatibilism.” A narrow incompatibilist is an incompatibilist on free will and a compatibilist on moral responsibility. A broad incompatibilist sees determinism as incompatible with both free will and moral responsibility.Narrow incompatibilism resembles John Martin Fischer’s term semicompatibilism.Semicompatibilism is the idea that moral responsibilityis compatible with determinism.The term “incompatibilism” is used to characterize both determinists and libertarians.

Thus broad incompatibilism resembles Derek Pereboom’s term “hard incompatibilism.” Hard incompatibilism is the idea that free will and moral responsibility do not exist. Some hard incompatibilists like Saul Smilanskyand Daniel Wegner call free will an illusion.

Like many philosophers, Clarke tends to equate moral responsibility with simple responsibility or accountability, that is, being the cause of an action.

In recent years, it has come to be a matter of some dispute whether moral responsibility requires free will, where the latter is understood as requiring anability to do otherwise.I shall not take sides here in these disputes. I treat the thesis that responsibility is incompatible with the truth of determinism as a separate claim, and I call incompatibilism without this further claim “narrow.” Narrow incompatibilism holds that free will, understood as indicated above, is incompatible with determinism, but it (at least) allows that responsibility and determinism may be compatible. I call the position that free will and determinism are not compatible but responsibility and determinism are compatible “merely narrow incompatibilism.” A semicompatibilist may endorse merely narrow incompatibilism, but she need not, as she may remain uncommitted on the question whether determinism precludes the ability to do otherwise. I call the view that both free will and responsibility are incompatible with determinism “broad incompatibilism.” (Libertarian Accounts of Free Will, p.11)

The technical language of philosophers specializing in free will is a total mess, quite opposite to the stated goal of analytic language philosophy to make conceptual analysis clear. This makes it very difficult for outsiders (and some insiders) to follow their contentious debates.

Conceptual analysis would be much easier if a more careful separation of concepts was made, for example “free” from “will,” and “free will” from “moral responsibility.”

Clarke’s Objections to Dennett, Mele, Ekstrom, Kane and our Cogito Model.

Clarke defines additional new terms in his Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. He calls Daniel Dennett’s two-stage model of decision making “deliberative,” since quantum randomness internal to the mind is limited to the deliberations. And he calls Robert Kane’s model “centered,” by which he means the quantum randomness is in the center of the decision itself.Clarke accepts the Kane and Ekstrom views that if the agent’s decision simply results from the events in the deliberation phase that that could not be what he calls “directly free.” Clarke calls this deliberative freedom “indirect.”

“Indirectly free” is a reasonable description for our Cogito Model, which has indeterminism in the “free” deliberation stage and “adequate” determinismin the “will” stage.

Although Clarke says that a “centered event-causal libertarian view provides a conceptually adequate account of free will,” he doubts that it can provide for moral responsibility. He says that

An event-causal libertarian view secures ultimate control, which no compatibilist account provides. But the secured ultimacy is wholly negative: it is just (on a centered view) a matter of the absence of any determining cause of a directly free action. The active control that is exercised on such a view is just the same as that exercised on an event-causal compatibilist account.

It is a bit puzzling to see how the active control of a libertarian decision based on quantum randomness is “just the same as that exercised” on a compatibilist account, unless it means, as Double argued, no control at all. So it may be worth quoting Clarke at length.

Dennett requires only that the coming to mind of certain beliefs be undetermined; Mele maintains that (in combination with the satisfaction of compatibilist requirements) this would suffice, as would the undetermined coming to mind of certain desires.Likewise, on Ekstrom’s view, we have undetermined actions — the formations of preferences — among the causes of free decisions. But she does not require that these preference-formations either be or result from free actions. Nor can she require this. Any free action, she holds, must be preceded by a preference-formation. An infinite regress would be generated if these preference-formations had to either be or result from free actions. And a similar regress would result if Dennett or Mele required that the undetermined comings-to-mind, attendings, or makings of judgments that figure in their accounts had to either be or result from free actions.

Thus, given the basic features of these views, all three must allow that an action can be free even if it is causally determined and none of its causes, direct or indirect, is a free action by that agent. Setting aside the authors currently under discussion, it appears that all libertarians disallow such a thing. What might be the basis for this virtual unanimity?

When an agent acts with direct freedom — freedom that is not derived from the freedom of any earlier action— she is able to do other than what she, in fact, does. Incompatibilists (libertarians included) maintain that, if events prior to one’s birth (indirectly) causally determine all of one’s actions, then one is never able to do other than perform the actions that one actually performs, for one is never able to prevent either those earlier events or the obtaining of the laws of nature.

Clarke now claims that even prior events thought up freely by the agent during deliberations will “determine” the agent’s decision. This is roughly what the Cogito Model claims. After indeterminism in the “free” deliberation stage, we need “adequate” determinism in the “will” stage to insure that our actions are consistent with our character and values (including Kane’s SFAs), with our habits and (Ekstrom’s) preferences, and with our current feelings and desires.Clarke oddly attempts to equate events prior to our births with events in our deliberations, claiming that they are equally determinist. He says,

If this is correct, then a time-indexed version of the same claim is correct, too. If events that have occurred by time t causally determine some subsequent action, then the agent is not able at t to do other than perform that action, for one is not able at tto prevent either events that have occurred by t or the obtaining of the laws of nature. An incompatibilist will judge, then, that, on Dennett’s and Mele’s views, it is allowed that once the agent has made an evaluative judgment, she is not able to do other than make the decision that she will, in fact, make, and that, on Ekstrom’s view, it is allowed that once the preference is formed, again the agent is not able to avoid making the decision that she will, in fact, make. If direct freedom requires that, until an action is performed, the agent be able to do otherwise, then these views do not secure the direct freedom of such decisions.Mele confronts this line of thinking head-on. Some libertarians, he acknowledges, do hold that a decision is directly free only if, until it is made, the agent is able to do other than make that decision, where this is taken to require that, until the action occurs, there is a chance that it will not occur. But such a position, Mele charges, is “mere dogmatism” (1995a: 218). It generates the problem of control that he (along with Dennett and Ekstrom) seeks to evade, and hence libertarians would do well to reject this position.

There is, however, a decisive reason for libertarians not to reject this position, a reason that stems from the common belief — one held by compatibilists and incompatibilists alike — that, in acting freely, agents make a difference, by exercises of active control, to how things go. The difference is made, on this common conception, in the performance of a directly free action itself, not in the occurrence of some event prior to the action, even if that prior event is an agent-involving occurrence causation of the action by which importantly connects the agent, as a person, to her action. On a libertarian understanding of this difference-making, some things that happen had a chance of not happening, and some things that do not happen had a chance of happening, and in performing directly free actions, agents make the difference. If an agent is, in the very performance of a free action, to make a difference in this libertarian way, then that action itself must not be causally determined by its immediate antecedents. In order to secure this libertarian variety of difference-making, an account must locate openness and freedom-level active control in the same event — the free action itself — rather separate these two as do deliberative libertarian views.

On the views of Dennett, Ekstrom, and Mele, agents might be said to make a difference between what happens but might not have and what does not happen but might have, but such a difference is made in the occurrence of something nonactive or unfree prior to the action that is said to be free, not in the performance of the allegedly free action itself. Failure to secure for directly free actions this libertarian variety of difference-making constitutes a fundamental inadequacy of deliberative libertarian accounts of free action.
(Libertarian Accounts of Free Will, p.63-4)

We need only extend the process of decision to include everything from the start of freedeliberations to the moment of willed choice to see that the Cogito Model allows the agent to make a real difference. The agent is justified saying “I could have done otherwise,” “This action was up to me,” and “I am the originator of my actions and the author of my life.”Clarke goes on to consider his “centered” event-causal view, and initially claims that it provides an adequate account of free will, but his “adequate” is damning with faint praise.

Clarke finds a “conceptually adequate account of free will” for narrow, but not for broad, incompatibilism. His “centered” account, like that of Kanevan InwagenEkstrom, andBalaguer, includes indeterminism in the decision itself. It is not limited to deliberations as in most two-stage models.

If merely narrow incompatibilism is correct, then an unadorned, centered event-causal libertarian view provides a conceptually adequate account of free will. Such a view provides adequately for fully rational free action and for the rational explanation — simple, as well as contrastive — of free action. The indeterminism required by such a view does not diminish the active control that is exercised when one acts. Given incompatibilism of this variety, a libertarian account of this type secures both the openness of alternatives and the exercise of active control that are required for free will.

It is thus unnecessary to restrict indeterminism, as deliberative accounts do, to locations earlier in the processes leading to free actions. Indeed, so restricting indeterminism undermines the adequacy of an event-causal view. Any adequate libertarian account must locate the openness of alternatives and freedom-level active control in the same event — in a directly free action itself. For this reason, an adequate event-causal view must require that a directly free action be nondeterministically caused by its immediate causal antecedents.

If, on the other hand, broad incompatibilism is correct, then no event-causal account is adequate. An event-causal libertarian view secures ultimate control, which no compatibilist account provides. But the secured ultimacy is wholly negative: it is just (on a centered view) a matter of the absence of any determining cause of a directly free action. The active control that is exercised on such a view is just the same as that exercised on an event-causal compatibilist account.

This sort of libertarian view fails to secure the agent’s exercise of any further positive powers to causally influence which of the alternative courses of events that are open will become actual. For this reason, if moral responsibility is precluded by determinism, the freedom required for responsibility is not secured by any event-causal libertarian account. (pp.219-20)