An Evaluation of Compatibilism

Traditional compatibilism is the philosophical doctrine which states that free actions should meet two requirements first, they should be caused by ones will and second, they must not have any external constraints. Freedom then, according to the traditional compatibilists like Thomas Hobbes, is the doing of the action according to the persons will and the absence of coercion, thus always giving the person the chance to do otherwise. However, through the years, traditional compatibilism was criticized by a number of theories and arguments seeking to disprove it. Although most of these arguments are logical, I have personally argued that most of them are either logically incorrect or do not oppose at all the doctrine of traditional compatibilism, and that the latter remains correct and true.

A number of philosophical arguments in the form of thought experiments have been advanced by various individuals in order to disprove the traditional compatibilist doctrine. Yet the ones discussed below all fall short of logic or semantics making them unworthy of what they have sought to prove.
Thought Experiment Lockes Trapped Conversationalist. This philosophical argument seeks to prove that the first condition of a free action held by traditional compatibilism, namely that the action must be caused by the persons will, is indeed untrue. What this argument claims is that it is not a persons will, or volition, that determines freedom of action but his having the power of doing otherwise (Schick and Vaughn 205). Simply speaking, it is not that you want to do something that makes you free but that you can actually do it.

The example of the carried man in Lockes Trapped Conversationalist argument is illustrated in this way the sleeping man is carried into a room ( he was locked up in the room with someone he likes ( he wakes up inside the room ( he feels glad where he is ( he is not planning on going out.

According to Locke, the man above is not free at all for by virtue of being locked in, he definitely has no freedom to leave. Locke said that this argument primarily points to us the fact that freedom of action is based not on the mans will to go out or not, as proposed by the traditional compatibilists, but on the mans actual ability to go out or not. Locke therefore contends that traditional compatibilism is not true. The weakness of this argument, however, will be evaluated in the next section.

Thought Experiment Taylors Ingenious Physiologist. Taylor argues that the first condition of Hobbes traditional compatibilist doctrine is false or defective in that it does not consider actions that follow from artificially-induced volitions. According to Taylor, compatibilism does not distinguish between pure and artificial wills, and that whatever may have influenced the persons individual will, the action that arises from it is illogically expected to be free.

Taylor illustrates his argument in this way neurophysiologists machinations ( desiresvolitions of Taylor (influencedartificial) ( Taylors actions (not free despite the lack of constraints). Taylor contends that if ones desires are controlled by someone or something different from the person who owns these desires, then all the actions of his that arise from these desires are not free, whether or not the second condition, the absence of a constraint, is existent or not (Schick and Vaughn 207). In this argument, Taylor has sought to disprove traditional compatibilism. Yet an evaluation of this argument in the succeeding chapter will show us that, in fact, it does not oppose the compatibilism doctrine.

Thought Experiment Frankfurts Happy Addict. Frankfurt illustrated in his argument on the Happy Addict that the problem with traditional compatibilism is that it does not distinguish between the types of wills. According to Frankfurt, freedom is not achieved by someone who acts only on his first-order desires, or desires that are directed on objects (Schick and Vaughn 210), such as the desire to eat upon the sight of food. The one who achieves freedom, Frankfurt says, is the one who acts on his second-order desires or volitions, which are directed towards his first-order desires.

Frankfurts Happy Addict argument looks like this the person takes drugs ( he becomes an addict  he could not stop taking drugs YET he has a choice to struggle or not BUT he does not struggle to stop BECAUSE he does not want to stop  he is acting on his second-order volition ( his actions are free.
According to Frankfurt, the above situation illustrates a free man in the person of the happy addict. Though he could not stop taking drugs, he still had a choice during his conscious state whether to struggle against the addiction or not  but he freely chooses not to. Therefore his continuance of his addiction is a free act. This philosophical argument seems very logical and coherent at first sight, but not after it has been evaluated.

The argument on Lockes Trapped Conversationalist, in my opinion, appears very convincing  until you see its flaws. Locke has forgotten that in his illustration of the argument through the example of the carried man, he has unconsciously failed to consider the relation between volition and action. According to the first condition of Hobbes traditional compatibilism, the action must be caused by his will (Schick and Vaughn 204), which means that it is not only the will that determines whether an action is free but a will that results into action. Otherwise, the word action would not have been mentioned by the traditional compatibilists, and we should bear in mind that free action is predicated in the free will. Locke thought that it is only the will that compatibilism is holding as a basis but he does not realize that it is both action and will that compatibilism emphasizes. Therefore, in Lockes example, the man is not free  not because he cannot get out of the locked door though he may have the will to do so (a problem concerning the first condition of free action, as what Locke says), but because this locked door is an external constraint (a problem concerning the second condition of free actions, as what compatibilism holds).

Locke also fails to notice that the mere act of carrying the man while asleep and without his knowledge already violates the first condition of traditional compatibilism because it was not his will that caused the action, and the second condition as well because while asleep he had no choice to do otherwise. Thus, with only this as a basis (without considering the locked door anymore), the man is already not free even before he had entered the room. Moreover, the person that the man saw upon waking up may not be the only or the best person he would love to be with, therefore the predetermined presence of this desirable company also violates both conditions of free action  it was not the persons own choosing and he could not have done otherwise.

After evaluating Lockes philosophical argument, we can see that it never opposes traditional compatibilism at all.

Taylors Ingenious Physiologist argument is similar in scenario with Lockes. Instead of opposing traditional compatibilism, it rather supports it. The neurophysiologists machinations, aside from the fact that it directs the persons actions through his volitions, and whether known or unknown by the person, are a clear example of an external constraint, or something that prevents doing otherwise. This alone implies that the action is not free, whether or not the volitions behind the actions are pure. Thus, the presence of the neurophysiologist as a director of the persons will violates both conditions of a free action, without any opposition to the compatibilists idea of a free action. One insight that I have personally gotten from Taylors Ingenious Physiologist is that any external constraint may have a twofold purpose  to limit choice of action (Hobbes view) and to direct a persons desires (Taylors argument).

Lastly, Frankfurts Happy Addict argument fails to consider various external constraints in the circumstances surrounding the happy addict. Firstly, the idea that the happy addict cannot stop taking drugs brings us to the concept of helplessness and getting used to it, or liking it mentally. This helplessness, although an abstract idea, is clearly an external constraint in the situation as it is something that limits choice of action. Secondly, the picture of a happy addict shows us the possibility of a chemically-induced happiness. The chemical is another external constraint. Thirdly, lack of knowledge or lack of options is evident in the happy addict. These are also abstract external constraints. All these external constraints tell us that the happy addict is not at all free, no matter how much he seems to like his situation. More importantly, this evaluation tells us that traditional compatibilism is not at all disproved. Frankfurts happy addict is like a happy child who was truly happy with a slice of pizza given to him but he doesnt know that all the rest were given a plate each. The compatibilists are now asking  if the child truly knew about the situation he is in, do you think he would still be as happy Ignorance could indeed be bliss but based on traditional compatibilism, anything that limits choice of action is not free.

Traditional compatibilism is the true basis of freedom of action. No matter how many arguments claim that it lacks logical sense, I personally believe that this theory remains sound not only because it cannot be proven otherwise but that it can be proven by itself. The various philosophical arguments, I believe, have focused too much on the nature of the will that caused the action rather than on the presence or absence of external constraints surrounding this action. They have failed to recognize the fact that anything that may influence or volition to cause a particular action is a possible external constraint, thus making all their claims go back to the two original conditions of the compatibilists idea of a free action. Based on my own evaluation, most of these arguments have not been successful in disproving traditional compatibilism.


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