Incompatibilism and the Fixity of the Past

In John Keller (ed.), Being, Freedom, and Method: Themes From the Philosophy of Peter van Inwagen. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 140-148 (2017)
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A style of argument that calls into question our freedom (in the sense that involves freedom to do otherwise) has been around for millennia; it can be traced back to Origen. The argument-form makes use of the crucial idea that the past is over-and-done-with and thus fixed; we cannot now do anything about the distant past (or, for that matter, the recent past)—it is now too late. Peter van Inwagen has presented this argument (what he calls the Consequence Argument) in perhaps its clearest and most forceful way, but debate over the argument has arguably reached a stalemate. Recently, however, Wes Holliday has attempted to break this seeming stalemate by presenting a new argument for the Principle of the Fixity of the Past. Holliday’s argument is subtle and ingenious, and worthy of serious consideration, especially given the promise it holds for genuinely advancing this old debate. In what follows, however, we argue that despite its considerable ingenuity, Holliday’s argument fails to convince, and the stalemate appears to remain.

Author Profiles

John Fischer
University of California, Riverside
Neal Tognazzini
Western Washington University


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