On Metaphysics, Free Will and Folk Concepts
Thinking about philosophy is the new hobby for philosophers: what is philosophy about; how should it be done; is there a fact of the matter; can any progress be made; has any progress ever been made; etc?
Chalmers himself has an interesting view on some of these questions. He gave a talk at the Milan conference I attended recently, about what is a terminological dispute and how can we know whether a given philosophical dispute is terminological or not, and why it matters. It was fascinating!
I was thinking a bit about this yesterday at the Graduate Seminar. Jules gave a very interesting talk about Feminist Perspectives on Free Will. Her main aim was to suggest that feminist concerns intersect with the discussion on the metaphysics on free will. She was arguing (if I remember correctly) that some feminists put forward accounts of free agency that are incompatible with the libertarian notion of free will. Jules suggested then that this might motivate an argument against libertarianism.
There was some discussion about whether there were different notions of free agency involved in that argument or not, and about the connection between the "folk" notion of free will and the "metaphysical" notion of free will. I was thinking that if we accept a view of metaphysics such as the one advocated by Frank Jackson in 'From Metaphysics to Ethics' (and elsewhere), then we can maybe answer some of those questions.
Let me explain this a little bit. According to Jackson (and many more, I believe), conceptual analysis is very relevant for metaphysics. In particular, if you want to investigate the metaphysics of X, you have to do two things: (i) you have to offer a conceptual analysis of the concept of X, in terms of, say, the role that X plays (R). Then, you have to (ii) find out what facts about the world, if any, satisfy description R. Then, we can answer questions such as 'are there any Xs in the world?' or 'is entity Y a case of X?'. For instance, if you are a physicalist, and you want to find out whether there is free will, then you have to offer an analysis of 'free will' in terms of D, and find out whether D is satisfied by any physical facts. If you want to find out whether a particular action is free or not, you have to find out whether it satisfies D or not.
Simple enough. So, what is the bearing of this on yesterday's discussion? Well, I think that we can see the metaphysical problem of free will in that way. There are two central questions, then: (I) what is the correct analysis of FREE WILL, and (II), for a given analysis, is it realized in the physical, deterministic world? (if we endorse physicalism and determinism, as we should!) ;-)
So I think it is clear that, if we understand the issue in this guise, Jules was right in that feminists concerns are relevant here. If they are offering a new analysis of the notion of free will, then they are participating in the debate about (I). For instance, Jules said that it follows from some feminist analyses that free agency is not an all or nothing matter, but it comes in degrees. If this is true, then the libertarian analysis of free agency (according to which a free agent is an uncaused cause) has to be wrong, because if it was true, free agency would not come in degrees.
One possibility, though, is that there is nothing such as THE concept of free will. Maybe the term is just used in different, incompatible ways by different users or in different situations. But in any case, it seems that the methodology suggested in (I) and (II) is still going to be very useful here, for each of those different notions.
This is where I thought of Chalmers' proposal. He said that when we do not know whether a dispute about X is terminological or not, maybe we should forget about X for a while, and discuss instead about the other concepts on the vicinity (applying (i) and (ii) to them). If everyone agrees on these other questions, then the former dispute was terminological indeed. However, I think that it is unlikely that such an agreement is forthcoming is this area! Which is good, after all. So, good news for feminists: they have lots of things to say about free will!!