Defeating the Whole Purpose: A Critique of Ned Markosian's Agent-Causal Compatibilism


Positions taken in the current debate over free will can be seen as responses to the following conditional: If every action is caused solely by another event and a cause necessitates its effect, then there is no action to which there is an alternative (C). The Libertarian, who believes that alternatives are a requirement of free will, responds by denying the right conjunct of C’s antecedent, maintaining that some actions are caused, either mediately or immediately, by events whose effects could be different, even if they were to recur under identical circumstances. We have here a denial of Laplacian Determinism (LD), according to which the condition of the world at any instant makes only one state possible at any other instant. One prominent defender of this view, Robert Kane, holds that unless an agent’s neural mechanisms operated indeterministicly in forming her character she is not responsible for its manifestations. This requirement is entailed by the principle of “ultimate responsibility” (UR) according to which an act is freely willed only if (a) its agent is personally responsible for its performance in the sense of having caused it to occur by voluntarily doing something that was avoidable and (b) there is no sufficient condition for its performance for which its agent is not personally responsible. The orthodox Compatibilist, adducing counterexamples to UR, argues that even if C and its antecedent are true, free will is possible. Ned Markosian has provided the Compatibilist with yet another response to UR-based objections to her view, wedding it to the notion of agent causation: here the deterministic causing of an act by its agent is necessary and sufficient for its being “morally free.” I criticize this view as inconsistent with the agent causalist's belief that moral responsibility precludes causation of a choice by any power other than the maker thereof: he being its efficient cause.

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Robert Allen
Wayne County Community College District


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