Friday, May 09, 2008

Frankfurt counterexamples

Victor Reppert: “I must say I don't understand the fuss about Frankfurt's counterexamples…Look, don't these examples all founder on a failure to distinguish between choosing freely and carrying out the choice effectively.”

Far from failing to draw that distinction, it seems to me that these examples are designed to reinforce that distinction.

“In the cases given, isn't it the case that you could have chosen otherwise. You have what is ex hypothesi a libertarian free choice. Of course, if you had chosen otherwise, unbeknownst to you, you would have been prevented from carrying out the choice. But the choice was free.”

Why is it morally significant to have the ability to carry out a choice that you chose to bypass in favor of another choice?

A king offers a suitor an apparent choice between two daughters: the blond and the redhead. Unbeknownst to the suitor, the king has no intention of allowing his blond daughter to marry the suitor.

But, as it turns out, the suitor is only interested in the redhead. So, in that case, what does it matter if the suitor was never able to execute the alternative?

That would only be morally significant if he chose to marry the blond, but was unable to carry out his wish.

How does it impose a morally significant infringement on my freedom of choice if, unbeknownst to me, I’d be prevented from acting on a choice I never chose to act on?

“It is in the last analysis unfair to punish (or reward) someone for the inevitable results of past causes.”

That’s a rather sweeping statement. Suppose I get drunk. I then drive home. On the way home I hit a pedestrian at a crosswalk.

Is it unfair if I’m punished for manslaughter or vehicular homicide? My intoxication inevitably impaired my driving skills. But am I not responsible for getting drunk and driving drunk?

Will Reppert say the accident was not inevitable? So what? The accident doesn’t have to be inevitable for me to be culpable. I’m culpable because I took an unnecessary risk.

Will Reppert say that driving drunk is not an inevitable result of getting drunk? But in my inebriated condition, I lack the judgment to refrain from driving drunk.

“But there is a degree of punishment each crime deserves. But no crime ever deserves an infinite penalty. On a retributive view of hell, at least according to most Calvinist theology I have run across, sin, all sin, even the sin of our federal head Adam, deserves an infinite amount of punishment.”

I’ve already responded to this objection. When Reppert raises an objection, one or more of his opponents respond, and he exhumes the same objection the next time around as if nothing was said by way of reply, that reflects poorly on his quest for the truth.

If Reppert is going to say that eternal punishment disproportionate to the sin, then it’s incumbent on him to state what, exactly, would constitute a proportionate penalty. It won’t do to keep speaking in the abstract.

Let’s say a pedophile kidnaps a five-year-old girl from the playground. Over the next two months, he rapes her, sodomizes her and tortures her before he finally buries her alive.

According to Reppert, what punishment does the pedophile deserve? What kind of punishment? For what duration? If Reppert were God, what would he do to the pedophile?


  1. When it comes to exegesis of the text, Reppert doesn't even have to take account of our arguments because "there's disagreement between the experts."

    When it comes to Frankfurt cases, he doesn't "see what the big deal is."

    But, surely he knows this issue is hotly debated by the experts in the fields of moral responsibility and the metaphysics of free will (Reppert specializes in neither).

    On the one hand, the mere existence of disagreement affords him some intellectual respectability in failing to deal with specific arguments we've put forward. On the other hand, disagreements in this field are just evident of people who are out to lunch. Making a big deal out of nothing. Offering no serious argument for him to deal with.

    How would Reppert feel if I dismissed all his PAP requirements by the mere *claim* that "experts in the field disagree?"

    I should also add that Reppert's just showing his ignorance. There are *libertarians* who grant the force of Frankfurt counterexamples, denying that PAP is necessary for moral responsibility. So, there's got to be *something* here when *even *libertarians have granted the force of Frankfurt cases. This isn't just some compatibilist "smoke screen."

    Reppert's philosophical posturing is getting old.

  2. 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.

  3. Victor,

    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? Allen argues: "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).

  4. 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 prase a "robot" for doing what it's nature determines it will do.