(0:05) You make that sound like it's an easy question, like this is a starter question. But it’s actually very hard.
So that's a good question, I think free will is...
Free will is…
Free will, I think is…
What free will is actually a pretty complicated question.
So, what is free will?
(0:31) Santiago Amaya:
Hello, this is Free Will Matters. My name is Santiago Amaya and I'm an associate professor in Philosophy at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. I am very happy to host this podcast.
The problem of free will has been at the center of many discussions in Western Philosophy for the last 20 centuries. But in recent years the problem has reappeared in a fresh form. There are new and exciting developments in the field that make this a fascinating topic of conversation. For this podcast we have invited various philosophers who work in free will. Philosophy might be a daunting thing, but with their help we will get to know better the what, the how and the why of free will. Welcome.
In today's episode, we're fortunate to have Carolina Sartorio, professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona. Professor Sartorio works on issues at the intersection of metaphysics, the philosophy of action, and moral theory, and she is the author of Causation and free will.
Traditionally, it's been thought that being free requires what philosophers call the ability to do otherwise. For example, if you freely marry someone, then you could have not marry that person, or you could have not gotten married at all. Now some philosophers, including you, disagree with this idea. Carolina, can you explain the disagreement? Can you tell us why you do not think that ability, the ability to do otherwise, is required for free will?
(2:05) Carolina Sartorio:
It is very natural to think that free will consists at least partly in having the capacity to choose from alternative possibilities, in having the capacity to choose from options that are available to us at one point in our lives. That is a very natural thing to think. However, the philosopher Harry Frankfurt has famously argued against this idea. He has argued that this is an illusion, the idea that free will requires this capacity to choose from alternatives, and that all that matters is what the actual causes of our behavior are. Why would anyone think, then, that the capacity to choose from alternatives is part of what free will amounts to?
If you did wrong, but you didn't have the possibility of doing otherwise, it would seem unfair to punish you. For example, if you were forced to lie, then it would seem unfair to punish you for having lied. On the other hand, being liable for punishment is characteristic of free agents. Don't you think this suggests that freedom requires the possibility of doing
Whenever we don't have alternatives because there are some factors that rule out
alternative possibilities in those cases, those very same factors also are what cause us to
act. So we get the illusion that what explains why we're not responsible in those cases is the
fact that we lack alternatives, when it's in fact the fact that they're caused in a certain way,
that their acts are caused in a certain way by those kinds of factors. So, it seems very
natural to think that if you didn't have alternatives it's unfair to punish you for something
that you did, something that you shouldn't have done.
However, again, somebody like Frankfurt or somebody in that tradition, like me, would
think that this is a mistake. There are some cases where it's unfair to punish you, but that's
not the reason why it's unfair to punish you. And in those cases where you don't have
alternatives, but you still are doing what you want to be doing, if you're still acting from the
right kinds of causes, if you're doing it because this is the kind of person that you want to
be, and so on, you should still be held responsible for what you do.
Many people think the biggest obstacle to free will lies in the causal determination of the
world. If what you do today is causally determined by events that occur in the past, maybe
that occur before you began existing, then it would seem that you didn't act freely.
However, you think the relation between causation and freedom is more complicated than
this. Carolina, can you explain how you see that relation? Does a causal structure of the
world actually make freedom possible?
I think that there is a very important relation between causation and freedom, and the
relation is definitely not that causal determination rules out freedom. The relation is that in
order for you to be acting freely, you have to have the right kinds of causes. You have to be
acting from the right kinds of causes. So, acting freely is not at all a matter of not having
been caused in any way to act, it's in fact a matter of being caused to act in the right kind of
way, or your actions having the right kinds of causes. Roughly, on my view, the right kind of
way, the right kinds of causes, are causes that reflect the fact that we are exercising our
reason’s responsiveness capacities, our capacities to respond to the right kinds of reasons.
That's what makes us free.
Carolina, suppose you became convinced that your current view of free will is false. What
would be the most appealing fallback view for you?
Ok. So, if you convince me that my current view of free will is false, I guess my backup plan
would be to go with another compatibilist view of free will, another view, according to
which determinism doesn't rule out free will, and definitely not a view according to which
determinism doesn't rule out free will because it doesn't rule out the ability to do
So, I don't want the ability to do otherwise to play an important role in freedom. It would
have to be another view according to which what makes us free is a different aspect of our
human capacities or reason responsiveness capacities or other kinds of capacities that we
humans have and that we can have in a deterministic world.
In recent years the free will debate has seen a lot of interesting developments. New voices
have entered the debate, alternative approaches are being considered, some long-standing
assumptions are being challenged, and so on. Carolina, can you tell us what, in your
opinion, are the most exciting recent developments in the field?
I guess one thing that I would count as one of the most exciting recent developments in the
field is the infusion of contributions by people in different areas, contributing different
aspects to the debate on free will. This isn't just metaphysics or philosophy of action, which
is the first thing that comes to mind. But there are also people doing empirically informed
work on free will, and there also people interested in moral psychology or the role played
by emotions. There are people interested in philosophy of mind. I think the field of free will
is an exciting field precisely because of this intersection of different contributions from
different kinds of philosophers.
Free Will Matters is part of the LATAM Free Will, Agency, and Responsibility Project. It is
produced by Cerosetenta thanks to a generous grant of the John Templeton Foundation and
with the support of Universidad de los Andes and the University of California in San Diego.
For more information, visit us at freewill.uniandes.edu.co