The Zygote Argument is invalid: Now what?

Philosophical Studies 172 (11):2911-2929 (2015)
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Abstract

This paper is based on the comments I gave to Alfred Mele regarding his original Zygote Argument during my presentation at a small workshop on manipulation arguments in Budapest back in 2012. After those comments, Mele changed the conclusion of his original Zygote Argument (OZA) from a positive, explanatory conclusion to a negative, non-explanatory conclusion--and, correspondingly, redefined 'incompatibilism' so that it would no longer refer in his work to the view that determinism precludes (undermines, eliminates, destroys, etc.) free will, but refers narrowly to the perhaps spurious association claim that appears in the conclusion of the revised Zygote Argument (Mele 2013+). Yet, over the last decade, Mele has made no comment in print about the changes he made, the invalidity objection that led to them, nor to the fact that his revised Zygote Argument was originally presented by me as a (non-optimal) reaction to my invalidity objection to his original Zygote Argument. To my knowledge, Mele has only mentioned this 2015 paper once, at it was not in the context of understanding manipulation arguments; it was, rather, in the context of defending his revised, non-explanatory definition of 'incompatibilism' at the opening of Aspects of Agency (p. 6, n. 4). There, Mele singles out *just this 2015 paper* as a place where they'll find what Mele degrades as a type of nonstandard/nontraditional definition of 'incompatibilism' that he rejects. This is notable because Mele provides no empirical evidence that his preferred definition is standard, and most (including Lehrer, who coined the term) reject the negative, non-explanatory, association-based definition that Mele came to endorse in the aftermath of my invalidity objection to OZA. So, if Mele had a genuine concern about philosophers who use the term 'incompatibilism', then Mele could have--and should have--named almost any leading figure in free will for this purpose (since most--including Pereboom, Vihvelin, Haji, etc.) reject the non-explanatory definition that Mele-2013+ now endorses. Yet, for untold reasons, Mele isolated the working definition of 'incompatibilism' used in one paper by one unemployed junior researcher to use as his example--even though Neil Levy had used this same definition in previously published work (eg. Levy 2011). Moreover, if Mele were genuinely interested in helping his readers understand the ambiguity of terms like 'compatibilism' and 'incompatibilism' it is a mystery that he referenced a paper in which nothing of substance hung on the definitions given to these terms -- especially considering that he might have instead pointed them to my OTHER 2015 paper, "A Critique of Vihvelin's Three-Fold Classification" in which the MAIN AIM of the paper is to expose the difficulties facing anyone who wants to define the terms 'compatibilism' and 'incompatibilism' in a way that everyone will accept (including a critique of the negative, non-explanatory "incompossibilist" definition that Mele adopted after my objection to OZA). By all appearances, Mele's main aim in citing specifically THIS paper and none of my other work was to give readers the false impression that my working definition of 'incompatibilism' played some role in my charge that his argument is invalid (which it doesn't, given that the term doesn't appear in either the premises or conclusion of that argument). Mele adds to this unseemly rhetorical campaign in his book *Manipulation Agents* where he mentions an invalidity objection in the intro (p. 84) and then discusses that objection in the final lines of Chapter 5 of the book (p. 120-121). The invalidity objection discussed here is completely pedantic, has never been seriously raised in the primary literature (and was previously addressed in multiple places my multiple philosophers, including me), and has nothing whatever to do with my invalidity objection. In other words, Mele was content to discuss an invalidity objection that no one has ever had to an argument that is clearly valid while completely ignoring the ONLY substantive invalidity objection to his argument in print. This is unfortunate, because it has led to serious confusion --including the patently false description of my invalidity objection to OZA as an objection to the revised version of the Zygote Argument that Mele adopted in *response* my objection (e.g., Capes mistakenly claims "Mickelson (2015) contends that arguments like this [i.e. like the revised Zygote Argument] are invalid. But that’s because she defines “incompatibilism” differently than I’ve defined it here" in his "Manipulation Arguments and Direct Arguments" chapter in the 2023 Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Free Will; I did not say this, and the definition of 'incompatibilism' is irrelevant to my objection). In "The Zygote Argument Is Invalid--Now What?", I simply use the invalidity of the simple 2-premise Zygote Argument as a foil to make a series of more philosophically significant points (e.g. regarding the dialectical structure of the free-will debate, the role of best-explanation reasoning, and to develop the first-ever "master manipulation argument"). Mele has yet to address my reasons for calling attention to the non-trivial invalidity of his OZA or to any of my answers to the "Now What?" question in this paper, even though this question and my proposed answers to this question are the paper's main point. For those interested in a more recent discussion of how the logical and metaphilosophical observations made in this "Now What?" paper have helped to move the free-will debate forward, I suggest looking at the discussions of the "paradigm shift" in the free-will debate that helps to explain why the free-will debate has become mired in stalemates and empty verbal disputes that are found, for example, in my contributions to the Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Free Will (Intro and Chapter 4, 2023) and my paper "Free Will, Self-Creation, and the Paradox of Moral Luck" (2019).

Author's Profile

Kristin M. Mickelson
University of Colorado, Boulder (PhD)

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