The Kane-Widerker Objection to Frankfurt Examples

Philosophia 42 (4):949-957 (2014)
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I will argue that the Kane-Widerker objection to Frankfurt examples is much weaker than is generally recognized. The Kane-Widerker objection holds that proponents of Frankfurt examples beg the question against incompatibilist accounts of free and responsible action by constructing examples that tacitly assume a compatibilist account of moral responsibility; that is, they assume that one can have non-derivative responsibility for choices that were not undetermined prior to their occurrence. The notion of an event, E, being ‘undetermined prior to its occurrence’ is ambiguous. It can mean either (1) with respect to each time t prior to E’s occurrence, it is not the case that at t E’s occurrence is determined to take place, or it can mean (2) with respect to the whole collection of times prior to E’s occurrence, E’s occurrence is not determined to take place. Kane’s argument shows that (under certain constraints) if a choice is to be undetermined (in the second sense) prior to its occurrence, then a prior-sign Frankfurt example cannot be successful. But he fails to show that prior-sign Frankfurt examples cannot be constructed in which the choice is undetermined (in the first sense) prior to its occurrence, and he would need to do so in order to sustain his charge that those using Frankfurt examples beg the question against traditional incompatibilist accounts of responsibility. Widerker’s argument avoids the above problem, but at the cost of only applying to a rather restricted set of Frankfurt examples
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