Sunday, May 11, 2008

Frankfurt Schmrankfurt

In the comments section of Steve's post Victor Reppert asks if his "refutation" of Frankfurt Style Counterexamples, FSCs, was really as easy to refute as he thinks:

Victor Reppert said:

I wrote my master's thesis on free will. It still seems to me that the distinction between the freedom of action of freedom of choice means that we can ask the question "was the choice free" independent of any consideration of whether in a counterfactual situation, a person could have carried out their action had they chosen otherwise. PAP, as I see it, applies to choices, not actions.

I must ask myself, is it that easy to refute Frankfurt arguments? And maybe you guys can help me see why it isn't that easy. Still, I think the examples will all sooner or later founder on this problem.

This kind of philosophical debate is closer to my area of specialization, certainly, than biblical exegesis.

5/10/2008 8:30 PM

i) Let me give you four definitions of PAP from prominent libertarians who are *specialists* in this field (quotes taken from Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibility: Essays on the Importance of Alternative Possibilities, eds. Widerker & Mckenna, Ashgate, 2006):

"PAP: An agent is morally responsible for performing a given action A only if he could have avoided performing it" (Widerker, p.53).

"PAP: An agent S is morally responsible for its being the case that p only if S could have made it not the case that p." (Ginet, 75).

"Frankfirt-style cases (FSCs) were introduced to undermine 'the principle of alternative possiblities' or PAP. They were designed to show that a person could be morally responsible even though the person had no alternative possibilities (APs) or could not have done otherwise." (Kane, p. 91, see fn. 4 for an elaboration. Kane agrees that in *particular* cases FSCs show that an agent was morally responsible even though he could not have done otherwise just in case he had some libertarian free choices in his past that shaped his character.)

"PAP3: A person is (libertarian) free in what he has done (= A) only if there is something he did (= B) which is such that (i) he could have done otherwise than B and (ii) it is (at least in part) in virtue of his doing B that he is (libertarian) free in doing A" (Hunt, p.167).

ii) So, we must ask why you go against the experts on your own side?

iii) We should note that there are libertarians who think Frankfurt has made his point. Some would be:

a) W.L. Craig
b) Dave Hunt (the philosopher)
c) Robert Kane (for particular cases)

iv) Did you even read my links? Your post at DI implies they left with the above questions unanswered. But Allen concluded in one I gave you: "Thus Frankfurt cases can be constructed involving mental acts such as deciding" (Alan, Re-examining Frankfurt-Cases, pp. 9-13).

v) Apropos (iv), say an omnipotent fiend wants you to kill your wife. He knows you have chosen to do so. He lets you proceed, but just in case you have a change in heart, he makes sure that he will block any choice to do otherwise. It just so happens that you never change your mind. You're resolved. You couldn't have chosen otherwise, though. You hack your wife. Are you not responsible?

vi) The control needed for moral responsibility as defined by libertarianism hasn't been able to answer the luck objection. So it would appear that the presuppositions inherent in libertarian definitions of PAP undercut moral responsibility. So, your "choice" constraint just might actually undermine responsibility (assuming you're using an agent-causation model).

vii) Since God is essentially holy, perfectly good, he cannot choose (or do) evil.

So on your score you just removed God as a proper subject of ascriptions of praise. Can't praise a "robot" for doing what its nature determines it will do.


  1. Moreland and I are libertarians and would never argue that we are free in every respect. But we accept from experience and scripture that when God speaks to us we can hear and respond to Him because He has created us in such a way that we can hear and respond.

  2. 1.Your experience does nothing to validate libertarianism. As one critic has noted,

    (2) If one means CHDO [could have done otherwise] “in exactly the same circumstances,” then this is a concept that is inherently immune from any evidence, regardless of the “robust commonsense” characterization of morally responsibility mentioned here.

    No one has ever had such evidence, nor would anyone ever hope to get such evidence, since time is a concept that’s unavoidably used in any account of freedom. The future’s unavoidable on anyone’s account of freedom.

    Maybe I can believe that I can go back to noon on Sunday and claim that I CHDO when I ordered that steak. But this belief is completely ungrounded, and I would never hope to get such evidence to back it up.

    (3) If one means CHDO “in exactly the same circumstances,” then, by the libertarian requirement – and related observations from (2) – no one really knows whether anyone has ever been responsible about anything at all.

    If one is looking for a “robust commonsense” view of moral responsibility, then the approach should be to start from ordinary cases and move out from there, not start out with an approach that is inherently problematic, such as requiring someone to hypothetically (incoherently?) go back in time and speculate that something different could have happened. I’m guessing this is what Dennett (1984) calls, “the sheer impossibility of conducting any meaningful investigation into the question [of responsibility].”

    2.Likewise, Scripture does not validate the notion that creation enables us hear and respond to God. You’re skipping over the fall. Original sin. Are you a Pelagian?

    We can only hear and respond to God due to grace (i.e. regeneration), not (fallen) nature.

  3. 1. Briefly, there seems to be epistemic justification (of the theistic kind) for believing that true beliefs can be grounded in the mind of God. What about omniscience makes this difficult for you to see?

    For "truth makers and grounding" go here-->

    2. When I stated that “when God speaks to us we can hear and respond to Him because He has created us in such a way that we can hear and respond” you asked, “are you a Pelagian?” I know of no Pelagian who sees the need for God to solve the problem of sin by reaching out to us. No, I’m not a Pelagian.

  4. You wrote: Your experience does nothing to validate libertarianism.

    Have you been reading David Hume?

  5. The grounding of truthmakers in divine omniscience is wholly irrelevant to your original claim that “we accept from experience and scripture that when God speaks to us we can hear and respond to Him because He has created us in such a way that we can hear and respond.”

    Moving along:

    “I know of no Pelagian who sees the need for God to solve the problem of sin by reaching out to us.”

    That disclaimer does nothing to fix your original claim that “when God speaks to us we can hear and respond to Him because He has created us in such a way that we can hear and respond.”

    Moving along:

    “Have you been reading David Hume?”

    I gave you two specific reasons (from another critic) to shoot down your appeal to experience as a source of libertarianism. Hume is irrelevant. And you’re ducking the two objections.

  6. Normajean,

    I don't see the relevence of your comment to my post.

    Frankfurt examples don't depend on compatibilist accounts of freedom. That's what makes them so potent.

    They're intending to show that "ability to do otherwise" (or other varients) are not necessary for *moral responsibility.*

    There are *libertarians* who agree.

    Some *libertarians*, therefore, do not say ability to do otherwise (or some varient) is necessary to ascribe resonsibility to an agent.

    So, your comments seem entirely irrelevant to my post.

    I could even grant libertarianism *as well as* FSCs.

  7. Steve, Paul or whoever, I read your post but didn't pay attention to what you actually wrote. Sorry for that. In any case, I see nothing about libertarians not being free in every respect to experience and scripture telling you and I that when God speaks to us we can hear and respond to Him, because He has created us in such a way that we can hear and respond that’s needs revision or correction. This is not Pelagianism!

  8. Normajean,

    I have no clue what you're trying to accomplish. First, the person who wrote the post has his name attached at the bottom. That shouldn't be hard to figure out. Second, again, your comments do nothing to undercut my post. So you're just pushing an agenda and trying to get off your "talking points." Third, you'd need to define "respond." Only special revelation provides saving knowledge of God. The Bible is unambiguous about "natural man's" response to special revelation as they see it as foolishness and do not have the spiritual discernation to be able to respond to it in a saving way; let alone the fact that they hate God and always supress the truth in unrighteousness. Now, I would grant that man was originally created to respond to God. That is the most natural thing to do. But, with the fall, we are not properly function spiritual agents anymore. Thus the fall has damaged this natural reception faculty. God must repair it. A radio is programmed to respond to signals it catches. But if it gets submerged underwater, its original design plan won't help out. You need a radio repair man.

    But, getting into all this would get us involved in discussions outside the scope of my post. Into discussions about Arminianism and Calvinism. Surely your simple one-liners, with premises and presuppositions supressed, aren't going to do enough to get your point across. If this whole debate could be resolved with one-liners, why are you, with that funky avata, the first to figure it out?

  9. No one denies that man is able to respond to God. However, in the unregenerate man, man can only respond negatively.

  10. NM: "Saint, I disagree."

    That's a great assertion and all that , Norma, but do you actually have any argumentation to go along with it? What Scriptural support do you have that fallen, unregenerate creatures who have made themselves enemies of God (to paraphrase Scripture) are even remotely capable of responding to Him without His regenerative help?