In an early work,1 Kadri Vihvelin argued for a view called "Libertarian Compatibilism," thereby confusing the debate, but perhaps no more than the basic claim of compatibilists that free will is compatible with determinism. As with most recent compatibilism arguments, at least since Harry Frankfurt's arguments that compatibilism does not require alternative possibilities, Vihvelin is agnostic on whether determinism is true or false. Vihvelin describes the "common sense" view which believes that we are agents, importantly different from the rest of nature. This goes against the view of naturalism and determinism. This common sense view also believes that we have the ability to transcend the forces that have made us what we are, that we are able somehow to "rise above" our desires and the chains of causation that bind the lower creatures. Most important, this view assumes that we could have chosen and done otherwise, given the actual past. Actually all we require is that our choice was not pre-determined by the actual past. In particular, all we require is that we chose from genuine alternative possibilities with a random element, and that those chance elements are not a direct cause of our decision or action, otherwise we would lack the control needed for moral responsibility. Vihvelin claims to do justice to this "common sense" view of libertarian free will without departing either from naturalism or determinism. She does this by examining the views counterfactually. First, she assumes (correctly) that the past is fixed, i.e., it was whatever it was just before the moments of decision. Second, she assumes that if we did otherwise, the only difference would be our choice, action, and the causal consequences of our action. She then comes up with two counterfactuals that she says are consistent:
(C) If the past had been suitably different, S would have had different reasons and she would have chosen, tried, and succeeded in doing otherwise. (L) If S had tried and succeeded in doing otherwise, the past prior to her choice would or at least might still have been exactly the same.2Now we can examine Vihvelin's counterfactuals and explain them in terms of our two-stage model of free will - first free, then adequately determined will - as follows. We must expand the notion of a single instantaneous moment of choice - before which was the "fixed past" and after which comes the choice and the attempted action. Where Vihvelin has a single moment dividing fixed past from choice, we need at least two moments, the first dividing the fixed past from the generation of alternative possibilities (at least some of which involve genuine randomness) and the evaluation of these alternatives (a process which is adequately determined), and a second moment, where the decision is actually determined by the will's reasons, motives, feelings, etc. We unpack the concept "free will" into a temporal sequence of "free" alternative possibilities followed by the determination of the "will." We can now revise Vihvelin's two counterfactuals as follows:
(C) If the free generation of alternative possibilities had been suitably different, S would have had different reasons and she would have chosen, tried, and succeeded in doing otherwise. (L) If S had tried and succeeded in doing otherwise, the past prior to the generation of alternative possibilities would or at least might still have been exactly the same.)Note that S is free in the libertarian sense that she could have done otherwise, but her choice is adequately determined and thus she can feel responsible for her choices and actions, which are consistent with her character and values and not the direct result of chance, although chance plays a critical indirect role. Indeterminist chance involved in generating creative alternative possibilities frees S's choices and actions from being pre-determined by the fixed past.
Vihvehlin strongly criticizes Harry Frankfurt's attempts to deny the existence of alternative possibilities.4
If Frankfurt’s aim was to convince libertarians that even if determinism renders us unable to do otherwise, it does not undermine responsibility, he has failed. If his aim was to make it easier to defend compatibilism, he has failed. And if his aim was to bypass questions about the truth-conditions of ‘can do otherwise’ claims, he has also failed, for the debate that has arisen in the wake of his original thought experiment is now mired deep in the very metaphysical questions he sought to avoid. … It is my view that this literature is a philosophical dead end. Although I am a compatibilist, I think that Frankfurt’s strategy for defending compatibilism is a bad one. If we begin with the commonsense view that someone is morally responsible only if she could have done otherwise, then Frankfurt stories will not and should not change our minds. If we are persuaded by Frankfurt, it is because we have been taken in by a bad argumentIn a recent debate, John Martin Fischer replied to Vihvelin's criticisms and defended Frankfurt. Fischer's semicompatibilism depends on Frankfurt-style cases that purport to deny the alternative possibilities and the ability to do otherwise needed by libertarian incompatibilists. Fischer says:
My contention has been that, even though the arguments fall short of being decisive, there are strong plausibility arguments for the conclusion that the Frankfurt examples show that moral responsibility does not require alternative possibilities. Further, I have contended that the elements of the direct arguments for the incompatibility of causal determination and moral responsibility are considerably weaker than the ingredients of the arguments for the incompatibility of causal determinism and genuine metaphysical access to alternative possibilities (and thus the indirect arguments for the incompatibility of causal determinism and moral responsibility)5 [T]here is no basic logical fallacy in arguing, as many of us have, that the set-up of the Frankfurt cases implies that, although the agent in question acts freely and is morally responsible, he lacks the relevant sort of access to alternative possibilities.6Vihvelin's point that Frankfurt has not really eliminated alternative possibilities might be supported by this observation. Frankfurt assumes that genuine alternative possibilities do exist. Without them, there is nothing for his counterfactual intervening demon to block. Without alternatives, Frankfurt would have to admit that there is only one "actual sequence" of events leading to one possible future, the old dilemma of determinism and bane of the compatibilists. Since Frankfurt's demon, much like Laplace's demon, has no way of knowing the actual information about future events - such as agent's decisions - until that information comes into existence, such demons are not possible and Frankfurt-style thought experiments, entertaining as they are, can not establish the compatibilist version of free will. In her reply to Fischer, Vihvelin says:
Frankfurt never pulled off his metaphysical conjuring trick. He left us with a promissory note, which his supporters have been trying to cash ever since. In the paper4 to which Fischer is replying, I argued that the literature dedicated to arguments about Frankfurt stories is a philosophical dead end.Vihvelin's arguments depend on distinguishing conditional interventions from counterfactual interventions (which Fischer accepts as important), then showing that neither or both can eliminate alternative possibilities (which Fischer rejects).
In other recent work, Vihvelin has formulated novel arguments for libertarian incompatibilism that helps to distinguish it from her coined term "impossibilism," the claim that free will is incoherent, self-contradictory, or impossible for humans. (Impossibilism is also known as hard incompatibilism or illusionism.) She says7,
Instead of understanding compatibilism and incompatibilism as propositions that are contradictories, we can understand them as propositions that are contraries. That is, we can understand compatibilism and incompatibilism as claims that can't both be true, but that can both be false. Compatibilism and incompatibilism are both false if a third claim, impossibilism, is true. Impossibilism is the thesis that free will is conceptually or metaphysically impossible for non-godlike creatures like us.Vihvelin appears to agree with Galen Strawson that a self-caused cause, a causa sui, is not possible for "non-godlike creatures."
On David Lewis and Free Will
In a 2010 post on her blog, Vihvelin presents a careful discussion of Peter van Inwagen's Consequence Argument and David Lewis's reply.