Resisting the epistemic argument for compatibilism

Philosophical Studies 180 (5):1743-1767 (2023)
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In this paper, we clarify, unpack, and ultimately resist what is perhaps the most prominent argument for the compatibility of free will and determinism: the epistemic argument for compatibilism. We focus on one such argument as articulated by David Lewis: (i) we know we are free, (ii) for all we know everything is predetermined, (iii) if we know we are free but for all we know everything is predetermined, then for all we know we are free but everything is predetermined, (iv) if for all we know we are free but predetermined, then it is really possible that we are, so (v) compatibilism. We uncover how the crucial epistemic modality underlying (iv) must be understood, and contend that, understood this way, the libertarian can resist (iv). Importantly, however, resisting the argument does commit the libertarian to what has been called “flip-flopping”—but we argue that this is perfectly coherent. We conclude by articulating two crucially ways the libertarian can resist the argument, by saying that we can know that determinism is false "from the armchair".

Author Profiles

Patrick Todd
University of Edinburgh
Brian Rabern
University of Edinburgh


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