Libertarianism and the Problem of Flip-flopping

In Kevin Timpe & Daniel Speak (eds.), Free Will and Theism: Connections, Contingencies, and Concerns. Oxford: Oxford University Press UK. pp. 48-61 (2016)
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I am going to argue that it is a cost of libertarianism that it holds our status as agents hostage to theoretical physics, but that claim has met with disagreement. Some libertarians regard it as the cost of doing business, not a philosophical liability. By contrast, Peter van Inwagen has addressed the worry head on. He says that if he were to become convinced that causal determinism were true, he would not change his view that humans are free and morally responsible. Rather, he would give up at least one of the formerly-thought-to-be a priori truths that are elements in his argument for the incompatibility of causal determinism and the relevant sort of freedom. Thus, according to van Inwagen, our status as free and morally responsible agents would not be held hostage to the physicists or hang on a thread I think that van Inwagen’s strategy for securing our freedom and responsibility is unattractive. Somewhat tendentiously, I have called the rejection of an a priori ingredient in the incompatibilist’s argument, contingent upon learning that causal determinism is true, ‘metaphysical fip-flopping.’ And it does seem that van Inwagen’s approach is implausible insofar as he is open to such metaphysical fip-fopping. That he is open to it—that he would fip-fop if he became convinced of the truth of causal determinism—is a problem for his actual philosophical position. Or so I will argue.

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John Fischer
University of California, Riverside


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