The Zygote Argument Is Still Invalid: So What?

Philosophia 49 (2):705-722 (2020)
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In “The Zygote Argument is Invalid: Now What?” (2015), Kristin Mickelson published an objection to the Zygote Argument that she first presented in 2012 as workshop comments on a draft of Mele's "Manipulation, Moral Responsibility, and Bullet-Biting" (2013). Assuming that the phrase "determinism precludes free will" means something like determinism-related causal factors are what prevent people from acting freely when determinism is true, Mele's original Zygote Argument was invalid. At the workshop, Mickelson presented Mele with two options to address the problem, a premise-preserving option and a conclusion-preserving option. That is, Mele could change the conclusion of the original argument to the negative, non-explanatory thesis entailed by its original two premises, or find a way to add premises that would support the positive, explanatory conclusion of the original argument (which, notably, is the conclusion that Pereboom supports using best-explanation reasoning in his Four-Case Argument). Mickelson used this as an opportunity to explain the key contribution that best-explanation reasoning makes to manipulation arguments -- and why the best variant of the manipulation argument might conclude that incompatibilism is FALSE. In response to Mickelson's objection, Mele changed the conclusion of the argument before "Manipulation, Moral Responsibility, and Bullet-Biting" went to print, choosing Mickelson's proposal to change its conclusion over the suggestion to change its premises. However, Mele failed to mention Mickelson's invalidity objection in print and that he changed the conclusion of his argument as a direct response to it; nor did Mele mention the costs that Mickelson outlined for the premise-preserving solution that he adopted or the benefits of a conclusion-preserving solution. At the same time, Mele began using the term 'incompatibilism' to pick out the negative, non-explanatory claim supported by the newly revised Zygote Argument--and also started to claim (without providing evidence) that those who use the term 'incompatibilism' to denote the explanatory claim deterministic causal factors *make it the case* that no one acts freely when determinism is true" is guilty of using the term in a nonstandard and nontraditional way that he had "never had any use for"--failing to mention that he clearly used the term in this explanatory sense in his 2005 critique of the Four-Case Argument, which is to be expected give that Derk Pereboom uses the explanatory definition (as do Kadri Vihvelin, Carolina Sartorio, and *most* other contributors to the free-will literature). In THIS reply essay, Mickelson responds to an attempt by Gabriel De Marco (FSU, advisor Alfred Mele) to defend the original Zygote Argument from Mickelson's 2012/2015 critique. Unfortunately, both of De Marco's proposed "solutions" are non-starters. The first is a non-starter because De Marco merely repeats the premise-preserving solution that Mickelson offered to Mele in 2012 and that Mele adopted in print in 2013. In other words, De Marco took credit for the premise-preserving solution to the invalidity objection that Mickelson developed (although he does *redescribe* Mickelson's solution in his own idiosyncratic jargon) and Mele had already adopted in print. De Marco's second solution is a non-starter because it is constituted by a patently invalid argument. Contrary to De Marco's proposal, it's not true that the conjunction of possibilism and incompossibilism deductively entails the positive, diagnostic claim that deterministic causal factors beyond one's control preclude (destroy, undermine, is antagonistically relevant to) free will when determinism is true. *My thanks to the editors of Philosophia for publishing this reply when PhilStudies would not.

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


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