Incompatibilism and the garden of forking paths

Philosophical Issues 33 (1):110-123 (2023)
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Let (leeway) incompatibilism be the thesis that causal determinism is incompatible with the freedom to do otherwise. Several prominent authors have claimed that incompatibilism alone can capture, or at least best captures, the intuitive appeal behind Jorge Luis Borges's famous “Garden of Forking Paths” metaphor. The thought, briefly, is this: the “single path” leading up to one's present decision represents the past; the forking paths that one must decide between represent those possible futures consistent with the past and the laws of nature. But if determinism is true, there is only one possible future consistent with the past and the laws and, hence, only one path to choose from. That is, if determinism is true, then we are not free to do otherwise. In this paper, I argue that this understanding of the Garden of Forking Paths faces a number of problems and ought to be rejected even by incompatibilists. I then present an alternative understanding that not only avoids these problems but still supports incompatibilism. Finally, I consider how various versions of (leeway) compatibilism fit with the Garden of Forking Paths as well as the broader question of whether metaphors, however intuitive, have any dialectical force in the debates over freedom.

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Andrew Law
Universität Hannover


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