This post is part of my series on free will.
Having solved the problem of free will, I would like to test and broaden my understanding of the issue. I am reading Free Will, by Laura Waddell Ekstrom, and I will be blogging about the issues she raises.
Ekstrom is an incompatibilist. That is, she believes that free will is incompatible with a deterministic universe. After some preliminary remarks in Chapter 1, she sets out several arguments to this effect in Chapter 2. She starts with the Consequence Argument, which I have discussed before. She then presents several more rigorous versions of this argument.
For example, there is the question of whether someone "could have done otherwise." (This is due to Van Inwagen.) Suppose that at time t I did not raise my hand. If the universe is deterministic, then the state of the universe at some remote past time, together with the laws of nature, imply the fact that I did not raise my hand at time t. Yet I claim that I could have raised my hand at time t had I chosen to do so. But I can't claim that I could have done anything about the state of the universe at some time before I was born. Nor can I claim to be able to change the laws of nature. (No magic allowed!) Either I am wrong in thinking I could have done otherwise, or the universe is not deterministic.
Now, I have already explained that (according to quantum mechanics) the universe is not deterministic. So these arguments don't bother me all that much. Yet I have difficulty seeing how an indeterministic universe helps with free will. Well, this is just what Ekstrom is going to show - so she says. We'll have to wait and see.
There are several ways of responding to the "could not have done otherwise" argument. (One of the great strengths of Ekstrom's book is the way she consistently presents responses and counter-arguments to her points - very impressive in a book only 236 pages long!) One way out is to assert that I could have done something else if something had been different. If what had been different? Well, there are several routes one can take.
One route is to say I could have done something different if my mental state had been different. I could have raised my hand at time t if I had felt like doing so, for instance.
Another route is to say I could have done otherwise if the whole past of the universe had been different - so that I ended up in the state (at time t) of desiring to raise my hand.
Another route is to say (bizarrely, to my mind) that I could have done otherwise if the laws of nature had been different.
Or, one could argue (as Dennett does) that the ability to do otherwise is highly overrated. Dennett cites Martin Luther, who famously said, "Here I stand, I can do no other." Perhaps Luther was exaggerating, but, "Whatever Luther was doing, he was not trying to duck responsibility." (Elbow Room, p.133)
Ekstrom points out difficulties with each of these possible compatibilist replies. She then turns to consideration of libertarian accounts of free will, which I will discuss next time.