Throughout his theory, Chisholm used a series of arguments to show how he believed determinism was not only false but how it is incompatible with freedom. Determinism is the view that all events are causally determined external to the will. Freedom, on the other hand, is much more subjective and carries a variety of meanings throughout metaphysics, the branch of philosophy that is explicitly concerned with the nature of being. In this paper, I will explain Roderick Chisholm’s freedom and Harry Frankfurt’s compatibilism and go on to argue that compatibilism is a much more plausible and undeniable theory through the arguments of Frankfurt.
Roderick Chisholm was a libertarian, one who believes in freedom and denounces determinism. He thought that moral responsibility was directly linked to freedom and uses this link to disprove determinism. He argues that if determinism were true, there would not be any room for genuine moral responsibility. Chisholm greatly disagrees with compatibilism, the view that both determinism and freedom are true. He uses the example of one man shooting another. Chisholm argues that the man that shot the bullet had the choice and that act was done in his power. If the man had a moral responsibility for this action, he absolutely had to have chosen it. He states that if determinism were true, there is not any room for moral responsibility. The shooter, without freedom, could not have had genuine moral responsibility for his actions because the actions were not his own. Chisholm illustrates this by saying, “…if these beliefs and desires in the particular situation in which he happened to have found himself caused him to do just what it was that we say he did do, then since they (his desires) caused it, he was unable to do anything other than just what it was that he did do,” (Chisholm 393). According to Chisholm, the compatibilist believes that because the shooter had the choice to do otherwise, he was free. However, Chisholm states that if the shooter truly had the choice to do otherwise, then he would have done so. In this case, if the shooter had the stronger desire to not shoot the other man, he would, consequently, not have done so. The freedom that compatibilists offer fails to realize, according to Chisholm, that if determinism were true the shooter could have never chosen to do otherwise because he could not have chosen which desire was stronger and therefore which desire to act upon. Chisholm’s view to this is that we should not say that every event is caused by something external but rather an agent (Chisholm 394). A free agent, according to Chisholm, causes itself by itself. At this point in the argument for freedom, he distinguishes between transeunt causation and immanent causation. Transeunt causation is when an event or state of affairs causes another event or state of affairs. Immanent causation, on the other hand, is when an agent causes an event or state of affairs. Essentially, the agent is always uncaused and in the case of Chisholm’s freedom, all events are the result of immanent causation. In the example of the shooter, if the man were responsible for his actions, he must have had to have been a free agent and therefore the root cause of the events that followed his actions. Furthermore, such actions could not be logically predicted, according to the Kantian approach Chisholm praises, unlike that of the Hobbist (Chisholm 397). The Hobbist approach states that if we knew everything there was to know about a person’s beliefs, experiences, and character, then we could logically deduce what they would do in any situation. Chisholm disagrees with this approach and finds truth in the Kantian that states that even if we knew everything there was to know about said person, we still could not logically deduce what they would do. This is because, with freedom, agents can choose what they do and are not bound or subject to anything including their own beliefs, experiences, or character. Chisholm believes that we are prime movers who have the ability to rise above our desires and that is why we are free. Our agents (who are essentially us), without cause, choose which desire to act upon. The theory Chisholm describes has it that you can choose to do the moral thing because you are free and desires are therefore not determined. Rational capabilities are, consequently, crucial to freedom. Essentially, Chisholm’s incompatibilist argument for freedom rests mainly on his idea of an uncaused agent.
Harry Frankfurt, as a compatibilist, believes that both determinism and freedom are consistent with each other. Frankfurt begins his argument for compatibilism by defining first and second-order desires. First-order desires are when we want or do not want something. Second-order desires are our desires about our desires or, in other words, when we want or do not want to want something. These desires can lead to second-order volitions which are when we want our first-order desires to be our will or our actions. For example, in the case of the shooter, his first-order desire was that he wanted to shoot the other man, his second-order desire was that he wanted to want to shoot the other man, and his second-order volition was that he wanted to make his desire to shoot the man his actual will. According to Frankfurt, second-order volitions are essential to being a person and not a wanton. A person has the ability to reflect and direct their will and a wanton is incapable of doing so and, therefore, has no second-order volition. Frankfurt believes that small children and non-human animals are wantons and not persons because they are not capable of rational thought and therefore directing their will. It is important to note that a person is not synonymous with human being in this context. A person is simply someone who has the ability to make their desire their own desire. Moreover, a person has the ability to form their second-order desires and, in turn, volition through reflection. The example Frankfurt uses to illustrate this is the unwilling addict. The unwilling addict has conflicting first-order desires in which they want the drug but at the same time do not want the drug. What makes them an unwilling addict and a person is their second-order volition. In this case, the unwilling addict wants their desire to not want the drug to be their will. If the addict had the same conflicting desires but instead did not care what desire they acted upon, they would be a wanton because they had no second-order volition. The difference between a person and a wanton is that when a person acts, their desire comes from reflection whereas when a wanton acts, they do not reflect or have the ability to direct their will. Frankfurt argues that second order volitions are connected to the freedom of the will. The freedom of the will can therefore only be a problem for persons. This is the case due to the fact that freedom of the will is hard because we must be able to direct our desires to our will for us to have the possibility of freedom. The possibility of freedom is only true if one’s desire is linked to one’s volition (Frankfurt 333). Furthermore, Frankfurt argues that there is a distinct difference between the freedom of action and the freedom of the will. Freedom of action is the freedom to do what one wants whereas freedom of the will is the freedom for one to want what one wants to want. In other words, the freedom of the will is when one acts only on the desires that they want to want. Moreover, within the freedom of the will, one is free to have the will that they truly want and they are therefore only free when they act on the will they want to have. According to Frankfurt, the possibility of freedom differs from actual freedom. Take the example of the shooter again. If the shooter wanted to not want to shoot the other man and ended up shooting the other man, he wasn’t free because he was not able to direct his will to reflect upon his desires. If the shooter did not shoot the other man and had the ability to direct his will, he was free. For Frankfurt, freedom is such a problem for persons because it is hard to change one’s desires and in turn, direct one’s will. Frankfurt states that you might have the possibility of freedom but not able to actually obtain it. Take the example of the willing addict who desires the drug and desires to desire the drug. The willing addict’s will is not free because he will take the drug regardless of his will because he is addicted (Frankfurt 335). When he takes the drug he does so at his own inclination so he is therefore morally responsible. It is his want to want to want to take the drug that makes him morally responsible. In the case of the unwilling addict, because they are trying to stop, they are less morally responsible. The unwilling and willing addict is proof that compatibilism is true because the desire for freedom is causally determined. In other words, we did not choose to be the kind of person who wants freedom or even a person who has or does not have it. In conclusion to Frankfurt’s argument for compatibilism, whether or not we have freedom is causally determined and true freedom is the freedom of the will.
Frankfurt explicitly denounced Chisholm’s view of freedom, and for a good reason. Chisholm’s entire idea of freedom is rooted in an intangible idea, the agent. His theory of freedom is way too metaphysically speculative because the initiation of causes is the theoretical uncaused agent. Frankfurt states that according to Chisholm, every performed free action is a miracle because, as Frankfurt quotes Chisholm, “The motion of a person’s hand, when the person moves it, is the outcome of a series of physical causes; but some event in this series, ‘and presumably one of those that took place within the brain, was caused by the agent and not by any other events’,” (Frankfurt 334). In other words, according to Chisholm, the actions of agents are uncaused by anything. However, such an idea is too far removed from tangible experience. No one has ever touched, seen, or heard their “agent” in action so how can we possibly prove it’s existence let alone how it behaves. Such an idea can only be regarded as a mere theory and not truth since it is not rooted in any tangible evidence. Chisholm’s argument for denouncing determinism, and holding freedom as incompatible with it, rests entirely upon the unproven existence of the agent.
Additionally, Frankfurt uses animals in his argument against Chisholm. Chisholm’s theory of freedom leaves substantial room for speculation regarding the correlation of animal and human action. As it is not stated in Chisholm’s freedom, there is no distinction between animals and humans. This leaves one to wonder if animals also hold the same freedom as humans, despite them not being able to direct their will. In this case, Chisholm contradicts himself. His idea of freedom exists solely because a being is able to rise above their desires. Through rational thought, they (the agent) are then able to have freedom. In his opinion, it is because of this that determinism is not only false but incompatible with freedom. Yet, animals cannot rise above their desires. Animals have desires and act upon them without reflecting whether or not such desires are rational. Chisholm’s argument essentially leaves room to, therefore, state that both a rabbit moving its leg and a man moving his hand are both miracles because he fails to distinguish between the two (Frankfurt 334).
Chisholm’s argument against compatibilism, in which he stated that a man could not have had any other choice for his actions if determinism were true, is automatically retaliated by Frankfurt’s explanation of the second-order volition and distinction between the freedom of action and the freedom of the will. Frankfurt, unlike Chisholm, goes further into the truth of freedom. Frankfurt states that “A person’s will is free only if he is free to have the will he wants,” (Frankfurt 335). If such a person has free will, it is then true that his will could have been otherwise because he had the ability to direct it in any way he wanted to. Regardless of there being an alternate possibility in which the shooter in the aforementioned example could not have shot the other man, if he did so because he wanted to, “and that the will by which he was moved when he did it was his will because it was the will he wanted,” (Frankfurt 335), he was, in fact, free. Furthermore, the theoretical ability is not the same as an actual possibility to do otherwise. Determinism comes into this picture of freedom through the endless possibilities of the causally determined fact of whether or not something has free will or not. Regardless of any of our desires, such a thing is not up to us but rather up to determinism alone. If we have free will it is because it was determined for us to have it. The idea that we don’t choose what physical form we come into the earth as, the time or place of our birth, the tribes or cultures or families we are born into, and whether or not we have free will, are all determined and such a fact is undeniably true.
In conclusion, Frankfurt’s compatibilism refutes Chisholm’s incompatibilism with the irrevocable truth that certain things, especially in the case of freedom or lack thereof, are determined external to one’s will. Chisholm’s argument for incompatibilism rests completely on the notion of a free agent, an idea purely intangible and unproven. While Chisholm raised valid points throughout his theory against compatibilism, Frankfurt’s theory unveiled the undeniable truth of how determinism and freedom exist together.