PHIL 2100: Introduction to Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Monday June 28, 2010



[6.3.4.] Determinism vs. Fatalism.


Do not confuse determinism with fatalism:


fatalism (df.): the doctrine that the future is going to be the way it is going to be, no matter what we do or how we deliberate in the present.


Sober cites the story of Oedipus to illustrate fatalism. Oedipus was cursed by the Fates to kill his father and marry his mother—no matter what choices he made or actions he performed, that outcome was going to happen. (301-302)


Another of Sober’s examples: “According to fatalism, there is no point in trying to do something. If it is fated that you will get an A in a course, you will get an A whether you try to get one or not; and if it is fated that you will get a D, you will, whether you try to avoid this fate or not. On the other hand, to think that your efforts influence what happens to you—to think that trying makes a difference to the grade you receive—is to reject fatalism.” (302)


Fatalism is very different from determinism, which implies that the future depends on nothing but past events. Determinism implies that nothing in the future is “fated” to happen no matter what; what will happen in the future depends entirely on what happens earlier. According to determinism, whether Oedipus did those things would depend on what events happened in the past, and whether you get an A or a D depends entirely on events that happen before that grade is assigned, e.g., whether you study a lot.


Fatalism is (almost certainly) false; but determinism may be true. And even if there is indeterminacy at the quantum level, it still may be that determinism is true of macroscopic objects like us human beings. So as we begin to consider different approaches to the issue of free will, the possibility that determinism is true will continue to be important.



[6.4.] A Menu of Positions on Free Will.


[6.4.1.] Compatibilism vs. Incompatibilism.


Remember the notion of compatibility:


compatibility (df.): p and q are compatible if and only if it is possible that p and q both be true at the same time.


The notion of compatibility is used to classify various positions on the free will issue:


Let “D” stand for the claim that determinism is true and “F” stand for the claim that some of our actions are free (i.e., performed of our free will).


There are two attitudes one can take about whether D and F are compatible:



D and F are not compatible.


D and F are compatible.

There are 3 possible positions an incompatibilist can take:


[An incompatibilist cannot claim that both D and F are true.]


D is true; F is false: hard determinism


D is false; F is true: libertarianism


D is false; F is false

There are 4 possible positions a compatibilist can take:


D is true; F is true: soft determinism



D is true; F is false


D is false; F is true


D is false; F is false




[6.4.] Libertarianism.


First note that “libertarianism” is sometimes used to describe a position within political philosophy according to which individual people “initially fully own themselves and have moral powers to acquire property rights in external things under certain conditions.”[1] This is not the sense of “libertarianism” with which we are concerned.


The sense of “libertarianism” with which we are concerned is:


libertarianism (df.): the form of incompatibilism about free will according to which determinism is false and we do in fact have free will.


Of course, even if we were to know for sure that determinism is false, it could still turn out that we do not have free will. So libertarians have to be prepared to give a detailed explanation and defense of their view, i.e., to explain exactly what they think free will is and then to argue that we do in fact have it. [2]



[6.5.] Compatibilism.


At the end of chapter 24, Sober suggested that causation, not determinism, threatens free will:

·         Whether an action is caused deterministically (like one domino being necessitated to fall by another falling just before it) or indeterministically (like a ball in a roulette wheel bouncing around until winding up, completely by chance, at one number rather than at another), it is still the causal result of previous conditions.

·         Therefore, it is hard to see how that action could be under the control of the person who performs it—i.e., hard to see how FW-1 can be true.


Compatibilists try to explain how it can be that we have free will, even though all of our actions are caused deterministically. They do this by giving an account of the way in which an action can be caused that would make that action a free action.


As Sober notes, “[t]he goal of a compatibilist theory is to show that an act is performed freely if it is caused in a particular sort of way; [according to compatibilism,] freedom doesn’t require the absence of causality, but the right sort of causality. The goal is to make room for freedom in a world of causes.” (308)



[6.6.] Hume’s Compatibilism: Soft Determinism.


According to (our old friend) David Hume[3], having free will amounts to having one’s actions be caused in a particular way. His definition of free will is as follows:


S has free will if and only if two conditions are met

(H-1) some of S’s actions are under the causal control of S’s beliefs and desires, and

(H-2) S could have done otherwise, if S had wanted to do otherwise.[4]


Examples of a free action:

(a)    You’re getting dressed in the morning and you select your blue shirt to wear. Your selection was caused (in part) by your desire to wear your blue shirt; but you could have done otherwise, if your desires had been different (e.g., if you had wanted to wear your plaid shirt).

(b)   You are mugged, and you hand over your wallet to the mugger who is demanding it. Your handing over your wallet was caused (in part) by your desire to stay alive; but you could have done otherwise, if your desires had been different (e.g., if you had wanted to die).


Examples of an non-free action:

(a)    You are handcuffed to the floor and cannot leave the room. Your staying put is not under the control of your desires: you have the desire to leave, but you cannot.

(b)   An evil neurosurgeon implants a radio transmitter in your brain so that he can control your behavior. Everything you do is the result of his beliefs and desires, not yours. Once again, your actions are not under the causal control of your own desires—they are instead under the control of the neurosurgeon’s.


Hume’s position amounts to a modification of the Ordinary Conception of human nature. Compare Hume’s two conditions to the Ordinary Conception’s:


(FW-1) Some of our actions are such that whether we perform them is under our control.

(FW-2) Some actions that we do perform could have been different, even given no difference in preceding conditions.


So one way of thinking of Hume’s strategy is this:

·         he recognizes that the Ordinary Conception of human nature leads inevitably to the conclusion that we do not have free will;

·         but he rejects the Ordinary Conception and says that we DO have free will, in the sense spelled out by (H-1) and (H-2).



[6.6.1.] Sober’s Counterexamples.


Sober gives two counterexamples to Hume’s definition of freedom (examples that are supposed to show that Hume’s definition is mistaken):


COUNTEREXAMPLE #1: a kleptomaniac.[5]

·         Such a person fulfills both (H-1) and (H-2), and so on Hume’s account, she is acting freely. But in fact she is not acting freely, according to Sober. Her actions are under the causal control of her desires, and she could have done differently had she had different desires. But she is, in some sense, a slave to her desires: she “want[s] to steal though [she] may be completely convinced that [she] will be caught and punished.”

·         This is supposed to show that Hume’s definition of free will is too broad, in that it “lets in” behaviors that in fact are not performed freely.


COUNTEREXAMPLE #2: Locke’s Room.

·         In the 17th century, the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704)[6] described a situation that serves as a counterexample to Hume’s account: a man who stays in a room because he wants to talk to a friend. He is there voluntarily—he does want to be there. However, he could not leave even if he wanted to, because (unbeknownst to him) the room is locked. He performs the action of staying in the room freely, even though he was not free to act any other way. This man has free will, even though he does not fulfill condition (H-2): he could not have done otherwise if he had wanted to.

·         Such a person does not fulfill (H-2), and so on Hume’s account, he is not acting freely. But in fact he is acting freely.

·         Sober offers an analogous example: Joe goes to a concert because he wants to. But (unbeknownst to him) had he decided to stay home, he would have been kidnapped and taken to the concert against his will. Joe’s attending the concert was free, even though he could not have done otherwise had he had different desires. Again, we have a case of someone acting freely, even though he does not meet Hume’s condition H-2.

·         This is supposed to show that Hume’s definition is too narrow, in that it “keeps out” behaviors that in fact are performed freely.


In summary, Sober’s criticism is this:

·         Hume replaces the Ordinary Conception with a different conception of free will, but that conception is inaccurate

·         it is too broad, in that it implies that kleptomaniacs are free (even though they aren’t), and

·         it is too narrow, in that it implies that the man in Locke’s room is not free (even though he is).


break time



[6.7.] The “Weather Vane Conception” of Free Will.


Philosophers Dennis Stampe and Martha Gibson have described a type of soft determinism (and thus a form of compatibilism) that is very different than Hume’s. Sober explains it using the analogy of the weather vane.



[6.7.1.] The Weather Vane Analogy.


A weather vane can be either


If a weather vane is free…

If it is stuck…


It responds to the causal influence of the wind,


e.g., the wind blowing north causes the weather vane to point north.



It does not respond to the causal influence of the wind,

e.g., the wind blowing north has no effect on which way the weather vane points, because its swivel is rusted.


Neither “free” nor “stuck” means uncaused. The difference between a free weather vane and a stuck weather vane is not that the former is uncaused and the latter is caused. Both are subject to causal influences. Each is a physical object that is a part of a larger, causal system.


So why is one free and the other not? After all, the stuck one is free, in one sense… it is free from the causal influence of the wind (the wind cannot move it—cannot make it do anything).


The difference between the free and the stuck is that the free weather vane is functioning properly.

·         When the weather vane is functioning properly, when it is doing what it is supposed to do, its movement is caused by the wind. This is when it is free.

·         When the weather vane is malfunctioning, when it is not doing what it is supposed to do, its movement is not caused by the wind. This is when it is stuck.



[6.7.2.] Proper Functioning and Free Will.


The “weather vane conception” of free will (a form of compatibilism / soft determinism) wants to apply the notion of proper functioning to the problem of free will.


On this view, free will is proper functioning of the mind:


S has free will if and only if S’s mind is functioning properly.


So on this account, a malfunctioning mind means the absence of free will.


But what is it for a mind to function properly? This really splits into two distinct questions:

i)                    What is the structure of the mind, insofar as the will is concerned?

ii)                  What is it for a component of the mind to have a function?

[] The Structure of the Mind.


[See Sober’s diagram on p.314:]





evidence →


?   →
















to act





The mind malfunctions when one or more of its components malfunctions.


BGD = belief generating device (whatever it is in the mind that results in beliefs); it “malfunctions when it isn’t sensitive to evidence—when it outputs beliefs in a way that ignores the evidence at hand.” (314) It may be that psychiatric disorders like paranoid schizophrenia, in which patients end up with beliefs that are in no way supported by the evidence available to them, are examples of malfunctioning BGDs.


DGD = desire generating device (whatever it is in the mind that results in desires); it malfunctions when… ? [we will see one possible answer to this question below]






[] The Function of (Aspects of) the Mind.


The function of a weather vane is easy to understand: it has the function of indicating the direction of the wind, and it has that function because that was the purpose intended for it by the human being(s) who made it.


An analogous sort of explanation of the function of different aspects of the mind, such as BGDs and DGDs, would have to appeal to a creator: those parts of the mind have the functions they have because those were the purposes intended for them by their creators.


But that sort of explanation of the function of BGDs and DGDs is not open to Sober, who is a philosophical naturalist:


naturalism (df.): “A view that locates human beings wholly within nature and takes the results of the natural and human sciences to be our best idea of what there is.”[7]

·         In philosophy, naturalism maintains that we should “do what good scientific practice itself does in deferring to our present background state of general scientific understanding as the best story we now have about the universe and its furnishings. It is no doubt a flawed, imperfect story still very much in progress, but far more to be trusted than the rival guidance we might seek from theology...”[8]


And so he is not going to be satisfied with a theological account of function (an account that refers to an all-PKG creator, God.)


So he gives the following, naturalistic account of the function, one that will apply to man-made objects as well as to naturally occurring things: in general, the meaning of


“The function of O is to do f” =


O is present because Os do f


·         The (intended) function of the weather vane is to indicate the direction of the wind. Someone put it there because it will do that job.

·         The function of the heart is to pump blood. It is there because it pumps blood, not because it makes noise, and not because it takes up space:


The reason hearts evolved is that they provided a benefit to the organisms possessing them. The benefit was that hearts pumped blood. As a side effect of the evolution of such blood pumps, it turned out that organisms had noise makers in their chests. But the heart didn’t evolve because it made noise. Making noise provided no advantage for survival and reproduction. (315)


An analysis of the function of a part of the mind is supposed to work the same way:




“The function of the DGD is to do f” =


The DGD is present because DGDs do f.


So… what is f? Why do we have the part of the mind that generates desires?


We have DGDs because it produces desires for what is good for us, i.e., it produces desires for things that will make it more likely that we survive:


[W]e possess DGDs because, historically, such devices represented what was good for the organisms that possessed them; organisms with such devices did better at surviving and reproducing than ones that lacked them (or had DGDs that were constructed differently). (315-16)


Examples of proper functioning:

·         When an organism becomes dehydrated, its DGD produces a desire for water, and this desire leads it to perform particular behaviors.

·         When an organism feels pain, its DGD produces a desire for the pain to stop, and this desire leads it to perform particular pain-reducing behaviors.


Examples of improper functioning:

·         The DGD of a kleptomaniac produces a desire to steal when stealing is not good for her. Her DGD is “stuck”: “it is malfunctioning because it no longer can represent what would be good for the agent. Kleptomaniacs want to steal even though stealing isn’t good for them; indeed, kleptomaniacs sometimes want to steal even when they know that it isn’t good for them to have this want.” (316)

·         A DGD of a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) produces a desire to wash his hands when washing his hands is not good for him, and even when he knows that doing so isn’t good for him.

·         Brainwashing: “When people are brainwashed, they are given beliefs and desires on which they subsequently act. These beliefs and desires are ‘implanted’ by short-circuiting the normal function of the belief- and desire-generating devices. The process of brainwashing causes the BGD and the DGD to malfunction. This is why individuals who are brainwashed to perform some action don’t perform that action of their own free will.” (316)



[6.7.3.] Disadvantages of the Weather Vane Conception.


The WVC of free will is ambiguous (it can be interpreted in two different ways, and it’s not clear which of the two interpretations is intended). The ambiguity is in the phrase “what is good for the organism.”


Further, no matter how we resolve the ambiguity (no matter which of the interpretations we choose), we get unacceptable consequences. In other words, the WVC faces a dilemma:








what is good for the organism”




what is actually good for the organism



in which case the WVC is

what is good for the organism”




what the organism thinks is good for it, whether or not it actually is


in which case the WVC is


too narrow:

it excludes some genuine cases of free will



too broad:

it allows in actions that are not performed from free will


Imagine a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies. It seems like he can do this of his own free will. But this is excluded by WCV, since throwing himself on the grenade is not actually good for him.


In general, on this interpretation, WCV cannot explain how rational self-sacrifice can ever be free.


Consider the kleptomaniac who believes that stealing really is good for her. According to WCV, when her DGD produces the (compulsive, uncontrollable) desire to steal, which she then acts on, she is acting freely.


So, like Hume’s version of compatibilism, WVC cannot handle all of our pre-philosophical judgments about who does and who does not have free will.


This does not necessarily mean that WVC is false. It might be that some of our pre-philosophical judgments about free will are false!


Still, the WVC does need a better account of what the function of the DGD is.



Stopping point for Monday June 28. No new reading for next time. We will have your final pop quiz, over all of the terms on your final exam study guide. I will then cover a bit of new material to wrap up the semester—that material will not be covered on your final. Then to conclude you will write your evaluations of me. Your final exam is Thursday July 1.


[1] Peter Vallentyne, “Libertarianism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


[2] The only libertarian discussed by Sober is C. A. Campbell (1897-1974). Campbell’s essay “In Defence of Free Will” is available here: . A more recent form of libertarianism was articulated and defended by Robert Kane. Kane defends his position in The Significance of Free Will (1996) and in a follow-up article, “Responsibility, Luck and Chance: Reflections on Free Will and Indeterminism,” Journal of Philosophy (1999).


[3] You should remember Hume from the lectures on epistemology: like Descartes, he was a foundationalist about justification, but unlike Descartes, he argued that generalizations and predictions are never rationally justified. You should also remember him from the lectures on philosophy of religion; he criticized the sort of local design argument put forward by William Paley.


[4] For more information on Hume’s view of free will, see Paul Russell, “Hume on Free Will,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


[5] “Kleptomania is defined by the following diagnostic criteria: 1) recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value; 2) increasing sense of tension immediately before committing the theft; 3) pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of committing the theft; 4) the stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or a hallucination; and 5) the stealing is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.” Jon E. Grant, “Understanding and Treating Kleptomania: New Models and New Treatments,” Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences 43 (2006) 81–87; URL = <>. Grant cites as the source of these criteria the DSM-IV-TR.


[6] For more on Locke, see William Uzgalis, “John Locke,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.  

[7] Norman Melchert, The Great Conversation, glossary, G-4.


[8] James Lenman, "Moral Naturalism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2006 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < >.


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