Free Will Remains a Mystery
Van Inwagen (Peter)
Source: Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 14; Oct2000, p1, 19p
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. This paper has two parts.
  2. In the first part, I concede an error in an argument I have given for the incompatibility of free will and determinism. I go on to show how to modify my argument so as to avoid this error, and conclude that the thesis that free will and determinism are compatible continues to be—to say the least—implausible. But if free will is incompatible with determinism, we are faced with a mystery, for free will undeniably exists, and it also seems to be incompatible with indeterminism. That is to say: we are faced with a mystery if free will is incompatible with indeterminism. Perhaps it is not. The arguments for the incompatibility of free will and indeterminism are plausible and suggestive, but not watertight. And many philosophers are convinced that the theory of “agent causation”1 (or some specific development of it) shows that acts that are undetermined by past states of affairs can be free acts. But the philosophical enemies of the idea of agent causation2 are numerous and articulate. Opposition to the idea of agent causation3 has been based on one or the other of two convictions: that the concept of agent causation4 is incoherent, or that the reality of agent causation5 would be inconsistent with “naturalism” or “a scientific world-view.”
  3. In the second part of this paper, I will defend the conclusion that the concept of agent causation6 is of no use to the philosopher who wants to maintain that free will and indeterminism are compatible. But I will not try to show that the concept of agent causation7 is incoherent or that the real existence of agent causation8 should be rejected for scientific reasons. I will assume—for the sake of argument—that agent causation9 is possible, and that it in fact exists. I will, however, present an argument for the conclusion that free will and indeterminism are incompatible even if our acts or their causal antecedents are products of agent causation10.
  4. I see no way to respond to this argument. I conclude that free will remains a mystery—that is, that free will undeniably exists and that there is a strong and unanswered prima facie case for its impossibility.

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