Tuesday 2/18

Contemporary Views on Love III



Quiz Questions

  • Why does Frankfurt conclude that "even quite reasonable and respectable people find that other things may sometimes mean more to them, and make stronger claims upon them, than either morality or themselves"?
  • Why does Frankfurt conclude no purely rational justification for how to order our lives is possible?


We moved on today by setting up the backstory, if you will, to Frankfurt's account of love. This backstory will become important later in the semester when we take up other topics, so it is worth spending some time on it this semester.

Now, what I am calling 'the backstory' is really Frankfurt's approach to the Traditional Problem of Freedom of the Will. This is a longstanding, altogether vexing problem in philosophy.

We may cast the Traditional Problem of Freedom of the Will as a dilemma:

The Dilemma of Free Will
  1 Either Determinism is true or Determinism is not true.  
  2 If Determinism is true, then Freedom of Will is impossible.  
  3 If Determinism is not true, then Freedom of Will is impossible.  
4 Freedom of Will is impossible. 1,2&3

The problem with the dilemma is that it is unclear how to respond. The first premise is simply an instance of the proposition form,

P or not P

which is tautologous--that is, necessarily true. Premise (1) is apparently untouchable. Nor is it clear, given the following argument, whether we can reject premise (2).

The Argument from Determinism
  1 If Determinism is true, then our actions necessarily have external causes.  
  2 If Freedom of Will is possible, then at least sometimes we could have done otherwise.  
  3 If our actions necessarily have external causes, then it is not the case that at least sometimes we could have done otherwise.  
4 If Determinism is true, then Freedom of Will is impossible. 1,2&3

Note that the above argument assumes a version of Determinism called causal determinism. There are other forms of determinism which we need not pursue at this point, since much the same argument can be given in each case. The upshot is that if Determinism is true, then i) we could not have done otherwise and ii) responsibility for our actions is ultimately not us but the (external) causes of which our actions are but effects.

It's not entirely incorrect to think of the argument as proposing that if the Universe is a gigantic clockwork mechanism, and we are but cogs in the clockworks, then what we do depends not on us but on the movement of the mechanism.

The idea that it is we who determine our actions and nothing else for freedom of will to be possible is also called into question by the following argument, which serves to justify premise (3) of the Dilemma of Free Will:

The Argument from Indeterminism
  1 If Determinism is not true, then events do not have causes.  
  2 Actions are events.  
  3 If actions do not have causes, then they are merely spontaneous.  
  4 If actions are merely spontaneous, then Freedom of Will is impossible.  
5 If Determinism is not true, then Freedom of Will is impossible. 1,2,3&4

Thus if our actions randomly happen for no reason whatsoever, then they are no more up to us than if we were cogs in a celestial clock.

This is important philosophically and socially, and it is important to understand why.

Consider: It is difficult to understate the importance of responsibility for our relationships and the larger society. Indeed, the assumption of responsibility underwrites our social practices. Any short list must include

  • Gratitude: It would make no sense to be grateful for another person's kindness if they were under the influence of a psychoactive drug and wouldn't otherwise have given you the time of day.
  • Blame: If someone does us injury purely by accident and through no fault of their own, it may for awhile make us feel better to get angry, but we can't really blame the person--accidents do sometimes happen.
  • Friendship: Suppose someone were hypnotized to be your friend who otherwise wouldn't be in the least bit so inclined, perhaps because the hypnotizer pities you; if you knew, what value could you place on the friendship?
  • Love: A mind-control device to make the object of our desires love us might be tempting, but would it be love?
  • Punishment: It would probably be a good idea to imprison someone who randomly assaults others just to keep them from doing so in the future, but doing so could not be construed as an act of punishment since punishment makes no sense in such a case.

Missing in each case (and many others besides!) is any assurance that the object of gratitude, blame, friendship, love, or punishment acted of their own accord. That is, a necessary condition on holding someone responsible is that their actions be up to them and they presumably could have done otherwise.

Being responsible for one's own actions is, then, for one's actions to be decided by oneself, regardless of outside influences and for one's own reasons. The Traditional Problem of Freedom of the Will can be understood as an attempt to explain how one's actions can be at once free yet still be determined by one's own will. For if Determinism is true, it seems our actions cannot be free. Yet if Determinism is not true, it seems our actions cannot be determined by our own wills. We seem, then, to be caught in a remarkable--and, to philosophers at least, deeply disturbing--dilemma.

So we are hard-pressed to find solutions to the dilemma. Frankfurt offered a solution in his paper, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person". Today we gave a rough gloss of his solution which we will revisit next time, not because his solution is uncontroversial or even broadly accepted, of course, but because he uses it throughout his discussion of love.