Castle’s Choice: Manipulation, Subversion, and Autonomy


Causal Determinism (CD) entails that all of a person’s choices and actions are nomically related to events in the distant past, the approximate, but lawful, consequences of those occurrences. Assuming that history cannot be undone nor those (natural) relations altered, that whatever results from what is inescapable is itself inescapable, and the contrariety of inevitability and freedom, it follows that we are completely devoid of liberty: our choices are not freely made; our actions are not freely performed. Instead of disputing the soundness of this reasoning, some philosophers prefer to maintain that we could yet have a small measure of freedom were CD true of our world: although being unable to choose or act differently, one could at least under normal circumstances truly claim to be acting ‘on one’s own’, beyond the control of ‘outside forces’, in a word, autonomous. They further argue that being free in this sense suffices for moral responsibility. Call their philosophy ‘Autonomy Compatibilism’ (AC). In adopting here reactive attitudes towards an agent, one is choosing to highlight the fact that the individual in question is of sound mind, reasoning and acting free from the interference of others. These facts alone, the adherent of AC claims, justify his stance, despite the necessity of the agent’s choices. Why would we not regard a sane individual who is not being coerced, intimidated, deceived or unduly put upon as in charge of his life so as to be responsible for his activities? The Manipulation Argument (MA) is supposed to cut off this line of retreat. Its authors hold that, were CD true of our world, we would be no more autonomous than a victim of “covert, non-constraining control” (CNC): manipulation whereby one person causes another, through the use of methods such as brainwashing or circumspect operant conditioning, to ‘do his bidding’ without the latter being aware of his subjugation or feeling in any way coerced. Since a CNC victim obviously lacks autonomy, then so must “persons” living in a deterministic universe. Defenders of AC have, then, the following argument with which to contend: 1. Victims of CNC (obviously) lack autonomy. 2. Thus, AC would be true only if some definition of autonomy succeeds in specifying a freedom relevant difference between victims of CNC and agents whose choices/actions are necessary consequences of prior events. 3. There could be no such definition. 4. Therefore, AC must be false. The challenge issued here is clear: find a way to refute the claim that being subject to natural laws would be tantamount to being a victim of CNC, to show that Nature is no manipulator. Moreover, this challenge cannot be met by responding with a Frankfurt case: a situation in which things have been surreptitiously arranged so that an agent is unable to avoid doing something that he manages to do ‘on his own’, thus, being autonomous despite his inability to act otherwise. For, even if CD is not inconsistent with autonomy because it eliminates the ability to do otherwise per se, it may yet entail that no human agent ever does act of his own accord, an implication of which would be a lack of alternatives on anyone’s part. In other words, the fact that causally determined beings could never act differently than they do does is perhaps only symptomatic of the reason why such beings would lack autonomy: forces beyond their control would have dominion over their psychological development. Thus, AC advocates must show that the way that an agent’s character would be shaped, were she (merely) subject to natural laws, would leave unimpaired an ability that CNC would destroy. What follows is a definition of this ability, which I also use to solve the Problem of Freedom and Foreknowledge.

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Robert Allen
Wayne County Community College District


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