Reference and Free Will
Oisín Deery (Monash University)

May 10, 2018, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, The University of Melbourne

Jim Potter Room, Old Physics
The University of Melbourne
Melbourne 3010

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The focus of attention in debates about free will is typically on the compatibility question: Is the ability to act freely compatible with causal determinism? This question is addressed partly in order to answer the conceptual question: How is the concept of a free action to be defined or analyzed? After all, part of what we may want to know in asking how to define the concept of a free action is whether free actions are compatible with determinism. The compatibility question asks only whether there is at least one agent at a deterministic world who ever acts freely. Even so, most theories of free will are at least implicitly committed to answering the existence question: Do actual human agents ever act freely? The hope is that by answering the compatibility and conceptual questions we will subsequently know how to answer the existence question. But debate rarely progresses beyond the compatibility question to the existence question. By adopting a novel approach to answering the conceptual question, I address the existence question more directly, without addressing the compatibility question at all. This approach enables me to argue as follows: (1) The concept ‘free action’ refers (and so free actions exist) just in case paradigm free actions are a natural kind; (2) paradigm free actions plausibly are a natural kind; therefore, (3) ‘free action’ plausibly refers (and so free actions exist). In this paper, I defend this style of argument against objections raised by Peter van Inwagen (1983), Mark Heller (1996), and Mark Balaguer (2010). I also situate my position in relation to recent views about reference and free will developed by Manuel Vargas (2013), Shaun Nichols (2013), and Jason Turner (2013). 

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