It’s often assumed, especially in discussions of free will and moral responsibility, that unavoidable actions are possible. In recent years, however, several philosophers have questioned that assumption. Their views are considered here, and the possibility of unavoidable actions is defended and then applied to issues in action theory and in the literature on moral responsibility.
Consider cases in which an agent simply doesn’t think to do a certain thing, or doesn’t think of a crucial consideration favoring doing a certain thing, or intends to do a certain thing but forgets to do so. In such a case, is the agent able to do the thing that she fails to do? Assume that commonly we all-in can do things that we do not do. Here I argue that, given this assumption, in the cases under consideration, too, (...) commonly agents all-in can do the things they fail to do. (shrink)
I examine two related arguments for the claim that if God is omnipotent, God cannot lack abilities such as the ability to do evil or to act irrationally. Both arguments concern the idea that omnipotence is inconsistent with being dominated with respect to abilities. I raise new issues in the formulation of such dominance principles about ability, and attempt to solve them. I also discuss and reject existing objections to these arguments. I conclude that these arguments are promising but not (...) conclusive, and that important work remains to be done in formulating the relevant dominance principles. (shrink)
Agency often consists in performing actions and engaging in activities that are successful. We pour glasses, catch objects, carry things, recite poems, and play instruments. It has therefore seemed tempting in recent philosophical thinking to conceptualise the relationship between our agentive abilities and our successes as follows: (Success) S is exercising their ability to ϕ only if S successfully ϕ-s. This paper argues that (Success) is false based on the observation that agency also often consists in making mistakes. We bungle (...) things. We spill water, we miss objects thrown at us, we drop things, misremember lines, and mess up songs. I argue that these mistakes, doings that fall short of being a φ-ing, can only be understood as subpar exercises of the ability to φ. Since this understanding is incompatible with (Success), the thesis should be given up. (shrink)
In this paper, we consider recent attempts to metaphysically explain agentive modality in terms of conditionals. We suggest that the best recent accounts face counterexamples, and more worryingly, they take some agentive modality for granted. In particular, the ability to perform basic actions features as a primitive in these theories. While it is perfectly acceptable for a semantics of agentive modal claims to take some modality for granted in getting the extension of action claims correct, a metaphysical explanation of agentive (...) modality cannot, at least not in the way that conditional approaches to agentive modality do. We argue that this problem was present even in the classical conditional analysis. By a pessimistic induction, we suggest that, probably, no conditional approach to agentive modality will succeed. (shrink)
My aim in this paper is to sketch, with a broad brush and in bare outlines, an approach to modal epistemology that is characterized by three distinctive features. First, the approach is agency-based: it locates the roots of our modal thought and knowledge in our experience of our own agency. Second, the approach is ambitious in that it takes the experience of certain modal properties in agency to be the sole distinctive feature of specifically modal thought and knowledge; everything that (...) we know about modality beyond the experience of agency is a matter of applying standard methods of inquiry such as deduction, induction and abductive methods for choosing between theories. Third, the account holds that modal thought and knowledge is, first and foremost, about modal properties that are sufficiently like those encountered in agency. (shrink)
I examine issues in the philosophy of religion at the intersection of what possibilities there are and what a God, as classically conceived in the theistic philosophical tradition, would be able to do. The discussion is centered around arguing for an incompatibility between theism and two principles about possibility and ability, and exploring what theists should say about these incompatibilities. -/- I argue that theism entails that certain kinds and amounts of evil are impossible. This puts theism in conflict with (...) popular principles of modal recombination. However, theists have plausible explanations for the violations of recombination that they posit, and can suitably amend these principles without giving up their usefulness in accounting for what possibilities there are. -/- I also argue that despite the impossibility of these evils, God is able to bring these evils about. This puts theism in conflict with the principle that no one is able to do the impossible. However, theists can give a plausible account of why God is unique in being able to do the impossible, and have distinctive resources to address the arguments in favor of the idea that no one is able to do the impossible. And by denying this principle, theists are able to resolve several otherwise difficult puzzles, including reconciling conflicts between the divine attributes. (shrink)
This paper examines what it takes for a state of knowledge-how to be extended (i.e. partly constituted by entities external to the organism) within an anti-intellectualist approach to knowledge- how. I begin by examining an account of extended knowledge- how developed by Carter, J. Adam, and Boleslaw Czarnecki. 2016 [“Extended Knowledge-How.” Erkenntnis 81 (2): 259–273], and argue that it fails to properly distinguish between cognitive outsourcing and extended knowing-how. I then introduce a solution to this problem which rests on the (...) distribution of tasks between agent and non-biological entity. On closer inspection, I show that this solution is ultimately unsatisfactory, though its failure is instructive as it illuminates the important role played by an agent’s skilled interaction with an external entity. Drawing on key anti-intellectualist ideas, as well as on insight from cognitive psychology, I propose an account according to which what ultimately matters for extending knowledge-how is whether a hybrid ability is self-regulated. In closing, I illuminate the practical value of extended knowledge-how vis-à-vis cognitive outsourcing. (shrink)
This book develops an original theory of agentive modality: the kind of modality that is distinctive to agents. The central thesis is that the idea of an option should be taken as primitive, and that other agentive notions - such as ability, skill, and free will - should be understood in terms of options. -/- The main contributions of this book are twofold. First, it resolves many of the outstanding questions in the metaphysics and semantics of agentive modality. In doing (...) so, it develops original accounts of topics that have been central to philosophy since Aristotle. It also contributes to a lively contemporary literature on these topics. Second, it articulates an austere and uncompromising form of compatibilism about free will, termed "simple compatibilism." -/- Simple compatibilism is so-called because it rejects both the reductive theses endorsed by traditional compatibilists and the sophisticated proposals of many contemporary compatibilists. Instead, it turns precisely on insisting that options are analytically simple. Arguments for incompatibilism are shown to rest on auxiliary principles that should, in light of the book's general account of options, be rejected. (shrink)
This paper argues that Frankfurt-style counterexamples (FSCs) do not compromise the agent’s ability to decide otherwise. In his attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities, Frankfurt relied on what Austin called the ‘all-in’ sense of ‘can’, and misconstrued the agent’s inability to do otherwise as an all-in can’t. Like the new dispositionalists, I maintain that the agent’s relevant abilities are ‘masked’ rather than lost in Frankfurt cases. The argument from masked abilities, however, is not confined to a compatibilist construal of (...) the relevant abilities. On a libertarian construal, Black deprives Jones of the opportunity to use his two-way power of choice to a different outcome than he actually uses it. I argue that being deprived of this opportunity is immaterial to what free will requires. In the second half of the paper, I relate my approach to the ‘flicker of freedom’ strategy. On closer look, we do find a residual ability that Jones not only possesses but also exercises in cases where Black intervenes. I argue that Jones tries to decide otherwise in these cases, that Black only thwarts the success of Jones’s attempt, and that being snatched from the wheel at the very last moment does not compromise Jones’s free will. (shrink)
The actions of able agents are often reliably successful. I argue that their success may be modally robust along two dimensions. The first dimension helps distinguish the exercise of abilities, which requires local control, from lucky success. The second concerns the global availability of acts: agents with the ability to φ can φ across a variety of circumstances. I introduce a framework that captures the two dimensions and their interaction, and show how it bears on a disagreement about the modal (...) force the robustness of ability requires: while local control involves a kind of local necessity, global availability does not. (shrink)
This essay is an investigation into the sense of ‘able’ relevant to free will, where free will is understood as requiring the ability to do otherwise. I argue that van Inwagen's recent functional specification of the relevant sense of ‘able’ is flawed, and that explicating the powers involved in free will shall likely require paying detailed attention to the semantics and pragmatics of ‘can’ and ‘able’. Further, I argue that van Inwagen's promise-level ability requirement on free will is too strong. (...) I also argue that Mele's conjecture that the strength of the ability to perform the ‘alternative’ action be no higher than the strength of the ability exercised in performing an action is mistaken. I suggest there is an asymmetry in the strengths of the abilities which make up the n-way power that comprises free will, and that this looks to have some interesting consequences for the connection between the abilities required for free will and, e.g. the ‘up to us’ locution. (shrink)
I distinguish two ways an ability might be general: (i) an ability might be general in that its possession doesn't entail the possession of an opportunity; (ii) an ability might be general in virtue of pertaining to a wide range of circumstances. I argue that these two types of generality – I refer to them with the terms ‘general’ and ‘generic’, respectively – produce two orthogonal distinctions among abilities. I show that the two types of generality are sometimes run together (...) by those writing on free will and argue that both types of generality are relevant to understanding the modality of abilities. (shrink)
2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Harry Frankfurt’s seminal paper ‘Moral responsibility without alternate possibilities’. The paper set an avalanche of research on the role of alternative possibilities for freedom and responsibility in motion which has not abated to this day. A good 50 years later, the debate over Frankfurt’s central argument and its implications is still very much alive. [...].
There is a very plausible principle linking abilities and possibilities: If S is able to Φ, then it is metaphysically possible that S Φ’s. Jack Spencer recently proposed a class of counterexamples to this principle involving the ability to know certain propositions. I renew an argument against these counterexamples based on the unknowability of Fitch propositions. In doing so, I provide a new argument for the unknowability of Fitch propositions and show that Spencer’s counterexamples are in tension with a principle (...) weaker than the one linking abilities and possibilities. (shrink)
Ralf Stoecker hat argumentiert, dass allein Menschen im strengen Sinne handeln könnten, weil sie allein fähig seien, etwas aus Gründen zu tun und über diese Gründe Rechenschaft abzulegen. In einem weniger strengen Sinn könnten auch Tiere handeln. Ich werde in diesem Beitrag zunächst Stoeckers Begründung seiner zweigeteilten These rekapitulieren (1) und dann zwei Rückfragen dazu stellen: (a) Warum soll es gerade die Praxis des logon didonai sein, die Verhalten zu Handlungen im engen Sinne macht? (b) Warum soll es genau zwei (...) Sinne von ,handeln' geben, einen engen und einen weiten? Handlungsfähigkeit könnte ja auch eine Sache des Grades sein (2). Schon Aristoteles hat einen engen Handlungsbegriff für Menschen reserviert und einen weiteren auf andere Tiere angewandt. Stoecker geht auf Aristoteles nicht ein, doch gibt es interessante Parallelen zwischen beider Ausführungen dazu, welche Fähigkeiten allein Menschen besitzen und warum (3). Im Rest des Beitrags weite ich den Blick und stelle zunächst eigene Überlegungen dazu an, welches die Vorzüge eines gradualistischen Verständnisses von Fähigkeiten sind und welche Rolle die Vagheit fähigkeitszuschreibender Ausdrücke spielt (4). Dann skizziere ich die These, dass die je artspeziﬁschen Fähigkeitsproﬁle von Menschen und anderen Tieren durch „Realisierungslücken“ voneinander getrennt sind (5). Der Beitrag mündet in Metaüberlegungen zum Streit über die „anthropologische Differenz“: Die zwischen „Assimilationisten“ und „Differentialisten“ umstrittene Frage, ob sich Menschen und andere Tiere in ihren mentalen Fähigkeiten qualitativ oder bloß quantitativ unterscheiden, ist schlecht deﬁniert und unfruchtbar. Sie sollte zugunsten gehaltvollerer Fragen zu den Akten gelegt werden (6). (shrink)
This paper warns of two threats to moral responsibility that arise when accounting for omissions, given some plausible assumptions about how abilities are related to responsibility. The first problem threatens the legitimacy of our being responsible by expanding the preexisting tension that luck famously raises for moral responsibility. The second threat to moral responsibility challenges the legitimacy of our practices of holding responsible. Holding others responsible for their omissions requires us to bridge an epistemic gap that does not arise when (...) holding others responsible for their actions—one that we might often fail to cross. (shrink)
The acquisition of a new skill usually proceeds through five stages, from novice to expert, with a sixth stage of mastery available for highly motivated performers. In this chapter, we re-state the six stages of the Dreyfus Skill Model, paying new attention to the transitions and interrelations between them. While discussing the fifth stage, expertise, we unpack the claim that, “when things are proceeding normally, experts don’t solve problems and don’t make decisions; they do what normally works” (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, (...) 1988, pp. 30 – 31). This leads us to offer an account of the “perspectival deliberation” that arises for experts and masters and that is distinct from the calculative deliberation characteristic of the lower stages of skillfulness. (shrink)
Part of our ordinary conception of our freedom is the idea that commonly when we act—and often even when we don’t act—it is up to us whether we do this or that. This paper examines efforts to spell out what must be the case for this idea to be correct. Several claims regarding the basic metaphysics of agential powers are considered; they are found not to shed light on the issue. Thinking about agents’ psychological capacities provides some illumination, though the (...) idea of freedom remains puzzling. (shrink)
Paternalism is widely viewed as presumptively justifiable for children but morally problematic for adults. The standard explanation for this distinction is that children lack capacities relevant to the justifiability of paternalism. I argue that this explanation is more difficult to defend than typically assumed. If paternalism is often justified when needed to keep children safe from the negative consequences of their poor choices, then when adults make choices leading to the same negative consequences, what makes paternalism less justified? It seems (...) true that ordinary adults have capacities enabling them to promote their interests in ways most children lack. This can explain why paternalism is more often justified towards children than adults. What is not explained, however, is why paternalism would be justifiable for children, but not adults, when neither possess the relevant interest-promoting capacities—exactly the cases when paternalism towards adults might be considered. I argue that this dilemma undercuts capacities-based explanations for the belief that childhood is distinctively relevant for the permissibility of paternalism. I then address defenses of both consequentialist and deontological versions of the capacities-based explanation. Absent this capacities-based explanation, I argue that the intuition that less demanding justificatory standards apply to paternalism when directed at children than when directed towards adults presents unresolved problems for egalitarians. (shrink)
Positing group level obligations has come under attack from concerns relating to agency as a necessary requirement for obligation bearing. Roughly stated, the worry is that since only agents can have moral obligations, and groups are not agents, groups cannot have moral obligations. The intuition behind this constraint is itself based on the ability requirement of 'ought implies can': in order for a group to have an obligation it must have the ability to perform an action, but only agents can (...) have abilities. This paper argues that from accounts of shared agency we can develop a concept of joint ability, undermining the problem of agency for group obligations. (shrink)
Jack Spencer has recently argued for the striking thesis that, possibly, an agent is able to do the impossible—that is, perform an action that is metaphysically impossible for that person to perform. Spencer bases his argument on (Simple G), a case in which it is impossible for an agent G to perform some action but, according to Spencer, G is still intuitively able to perform that action. I reply that we would have to give up at least four action-theoretical principles (...) if we accept that G is able to do the impossible. We may be best off retaining the principles and thus rejecting Spencer's intuition that G is able to do the impossible. I then consider an argument for the claim that G is able to do the impossible that goes through the Snapshot Principle. I, however, deny that any true variant of the Snapshot Principle shows that G is able to do the impossible. Moreover, the counterexample to the Snapshot Principle that I develop also suggests that G is unable to do the impossible in (Simple G). The most natural explanation for why an agent is unable to perform some action in this counterexample extends to (Simple G). Next, I develop three error theories for why we might initially share Spencer's intuition that G is able to do the impossible in (Simple G). Finally, I consider a couple other "G-cases" of Spencer's and find them all wanting. Perhaps we are unable to do the impossible. (shrink)
According to the classical quantificational analysis of modals, an agent has the ability to perform an act iff relevant facts about the agent and her environment are compatible with her performing the act. The analysis faces a number of problems, many of which can be traced to the fact that it takes even accidental performance of an act as proof of the relevant ability. I argue that ability statements are systematically ambiguous: on one reading, accidental performance really is enough; on (...) another, more is required. The stronger notion of ability plays a central role in normative contexts. Both readings, I argue, can be captured within the classical quantificational framework, provided we allow conversational context to impose restrictions not just on the “accessible worlds”, but also on what counts as a performance of the relevant act among these worlds. (shrink)
According to one prominent view of exercising abilities (e.g., Millar 2009), a subject, S, counts as exercising an ability to ϕ if and only if S successfully ϕs. Such an ‘exercise-success’ thesis looks initially very plausible for abilities, perhaps even obviously or analytically true. In this paper, however, I will be defending the position that one can in fact exercise an ability to do one thing by doing some entirely distinct thing, and in doing so I’ll highlight various reasons (epistemological, (...) metaphysical and linguistic) that favor the alternative approach I develop over views that hold that the exercise of an ability is a success notion in the sense Millar maintains. (shrink)
I focus on problems defining skill and a core theoretical dispute over whether skilled action is largely automatic or consciously controlled. The dominant view in philosophy and psychology has been that skills are automatic, but an emerging body of work suggests that conscious cognition plays a significant role.
This paper examines the view of abilities to act advanced by Kadri Vihvelin in Causes, Laws, and Free Will. Vihvelin argues that (i) abilities of an important kind are “structurally” like dispositions such as fragility; (ii) ascriptions of dispositions can be analyzed in terms of counterfactual conditionals; (iii) ascriptions of abilities of the kind in question can be analyzed similarly; and (iv) we have the free will we think we have by having abilities of this kind and being in circumstances (...) that are propitious for their exercise. I raise doubt about each of these claims. Further, I argue that even if abilities of the kind in question are dispositions, and even if determinism is compatible with our commonly having unexercised abilities of this kind, the compatibility of determinism and free will remains in question. (shrink)
It is widely thought that, to be morally responsible for some action or omission, an agent must have had, at the very least, the general ability to do otherwise. As we argue, however, there are counterexamples to the claim that moral responsibility requires the general ability to do otherwise. We present several cases in which agents lack the general ability to do otherwise and yet are intuitively morally responsible for what they do, and we argue that such cases raise problems (...) for various kinds of accounts of moral responsibility. We suggest two alternative approaches to thinking about the connection between moral responsibility and abilities to do otherwise, one of which denies that there is any ability-to-do-otherwise requirement on moral responsibility and the other of which requires only an opportunity to do otherwise. We also argue that a general-ability-to-do-otherwise requirement not only faces counterexamples but also lacks positive motivation. (shrink)
In a recent paper, Romy Jaster and Ansgar Beckermann have added a new twist to the traditional debate about the compatibility of free will with determinism. They wonder whether the abilities required for free will are compatible with determinism. According to a view that Helen Steward dubbed »agency incompatibilism«, there could be no actions and no agential powers if determinism were true. Against my advocacy of agency incompatibilism, Jaster and Beckermann argue that only a very specific kind of abilities is (...) incompatible with determinism, and that the abilities relevant for free will do not belong to that kind. In response, I argue that their appeal to »specific abilities« blurs the crucial distinction between ability and opportunity (2), that their own analysis is ill-suited to capture the power of choosing between alternatives (3), and that libertarians need not deny the difference between a loss of freedom due to determinism and one due to mental disorders (4). I try to explain why, in attributing the abilities that constitute free will, it is impermissible to counterfactually alter the past conditions of the agent’s actual decision (5). Finally, I raise the question of how, if at all, compatibilist analyses of abilities can deal with what have been called two-way powers (6). (shrink)
Christopher Franklin argues that, despite appearances, everyone thinks that the ability to do otherwise is required for free will and moral responsibility. Moreover, he says that the way to decide which ability to do otherwise is required will involve settling the nature of moral responsibility. In this paper I highlight one point on which those usually called leeway theorists - i.e. those who accept the need for alternatives - agree, in contradistinction to those who deny that the ability to do (...) otherwise is needed for free will. And I explain why it falsifies both of Franklin’s claims. (shrink)
Loughlin’s (2018) uses Wittgenstein’s remarks in Philosophical Investigations to motivate his ‘wide’ view of cognition. In opposition to other accounts of extended cognition, his view presents a negative solution to the location problem. Here, I argue that, if we consider Wittgenstein’s remarks on the notion of ability, the support for the wide view is not as straightforward. The criteria for using the concept of ability are highly context-dependent, and there is not a single account for them. This shows that at (...) best, a moderate form of anti-individualism for cognitive capacities can be defended on Wittgensteinian grounds. Furthermore, the suggestion that ontological questions can be bypassed is questioned. (shrink)
Alexander Pruss and I have proposed an analysis of omnipotence which makes no use of the problematic terms 'power' and 'ability'. However, this raises an obvious worry: if our analysis is not related to the notion of power, then how can it count as an analysis of omnipotence, the property of being all-powerful, at all? In this paper, I show how omnipotence can be understood as the possession of infinite power (general, universal, or unlimited power) rather than the possession of (...) particular powers. I then argue that the ordinary notions of particular powers or abilities can be understood as applying vague limitations to the notion of infinite power. The vagueness of these limitations is the source of the well-known difficulties in the analysis of ability. (shrink)
Pablo Gilabert and Holly Lawford-Smith have, both in collaboration and individually, provided a compelling account of feasibility, which states that feasibility is both ‘binary’ and ‘scalar’, and both ‘synchronic’ and ‘diachronic’. This two-dimensional analysis, however, has been the subject of four major criticisms: it has been argued that it rests upon a false distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ constraints, that it ignores the importance of intentional action, and that diachronic feasibility is incoherent and insensitive to the existence of epistemic limitations. (...) In this paper, I will argue that such objections do not undermine the persuasiveness of Gilabert and Lawford-Smith’s analysis. Nevertheless, I will contend that the latter is susceptible to two other challenges. First, it mistakenly appeals to morality, and, second, it lacks an analysis of ability. I will maintain, however, that such criticisms can be addressed and that a revised version of the account should be adopted. (shrink)
It is a commonplace in philosophy of action that there is and must be teleologically basic action: something done on an occasion without doing it by means of doing anything else. It is widely believed that basic actions are exercises of skill. As the source of the need for basic action is the structure of practical reasoning, this yields a conception of skill and practical reasoning as complementary but mutually exclusive. On this view, practical reasoning and complex intentional action depend (...) on skill and basic action, but the latter pair are not themselves rationally structured: the movements a basic action comprises are not intentional actions, and they are not structured as means to an end. However, Michael Thompson and Douglas Lavin have argued that action that bears no inner rational structure is not intentional action at all, and that therefore there can be no such thing as basic action. In this paper, I argue that their critique shows that standard conceptions of basic action are indeed untenable, but not that we can do without an alternative. I develop an alternative conception of skill and basic action on which their basicness is not to be equated with simplicity: like deliberation and non-basic action, they are teleologically complex, but their complexity takes a different form. On this view, skill contrasts with deliberation—not because it is not a manifestation of practical reason, but because the two are specifically different manifestations of practical reason. (shrink)
Abilities are in many ways central to what being an agent means, and they are appealed to in philosophical accounts of a great many different phenomena. It is often assumed that abilities are some kind of dispositional property, but it is rarely made explicit exactly which dispositional properties are our abilities. Two recent debates provide two different answers to that question: the new dispositionalism in the debate about free will, and virtue reliabilism in epistemology. This paper argues that both answers (...) fail as general accounts of abilities, and discusses the ramifications of this result. (shrink)
Recent experimental studies dispute the position that commonsense morality accepts ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’, the view that, necessarily, if an agent ought to perform some action, then she can perform that action. This paper considers and supports explanations for the results of these studies on the hypothesis that OIC is intuitive and true.
Recently it has been argued that certain neuropsychological findings on the decision-making, instrumental learning, and moral understanding in psychopathic offenders offer reasons to consider them not criminally responsible, due to certain epistemic and volitional impairments. We reply to this family of arguments, that collectively we call the irresponsibility of the psychopath argument. This type of argument has a premise that describes or prescribes the deficiencies that grant or should grant partial or complete criminal exculpation. The other premise contends that neuropsychological (...) evidence shows that psychopaths have incapacitates that are sufficient to ascribe complete or partially exculpatory deficiencies. The focus of our criticism is this latter premise. We argue that it requires that psychopathy should correlate significantly with certain rational incapacities that manifest across contexts. We show that the available neuropsychological data do not support the claim that psychopaths have such general exculpatory incapacities. (shrink)
In defending the view that justice is the advantage of the stronger, Thrasymachus puzzlingly claims that rulers never err and that any practitioner of a skill or expertise (τέχνη) is infallible. In what follows, Socrates offers a number of arguments directed against Thrasymachus’ views concerning the nature of skill, ruling, and justice. Commentators typically take a dim view of both Thrasymachus’ claims about skill (which are dismissed as an ungrounded and purely ad hoc response to Socrates’ initial criticisms) and Socrates’ (...) latter arguments (which are deemed extremely weak). In this paper, I clarify Thrasymachus’ views (and those of several other ancients) concerning qua locutions and the nature of skill and ability and I reconstruct Socrates’ arguments against Thrasymachus’ views concerning skill and justice. I argue that Thrasymachus’ views are not ungrounded or ad hoc and that Socrates’ arguments are rather different (and significantly stronger) than often supposed. (shrink)
One natural way to argue for the existence of some subjective constraint on agents’ obligations is to maintain that without that particular constraint, agents will sometimes be obligated to do that which they lack the ability to do. In this paper, I maintain that while such a strategy appears promising, it is fraught with pitfalls. Specifically, I argue that because the truth of an ability ascription depends on an (almost always implicit) characterization of the relevant possibility space, different metaethical accounts (...) take obligation to be constrained by different senses of ability. As a result, what initially looks to be a point of consensus—that ability constrains obligation—turns out to be a point of contention, and arguments with this at the foundation are much more likely to obscure, rather than resolve, metaethical disputes. Despite this, appeals to ability in metaethics aren’t doomed to be fruitless. On the contrary, if we can independently establish a particular sense of ability as the normatively relevant one, then we have good grounds for ruling out metaethical accounts that are inconsistent with it. In the final section, I make just such an argument. What seems right about the thought that ability constrains obligation is that an agent cannot be obligated to do that which her circumstances prevent her from doing. I argue that only a sense of ability that is both epistemically and motivationally restricted adequately respects the limits of agential control. (shrink)
Recently, John Maier has developed a unified account of various agentive modalities. According to him, however, adopting the account provides an alternative framework for thinking about free will and moral responsibility, one that reveals an unacceptable instability in semicompatibilism. In this paper, I argue that Maier is mistaken about the implications of his account and sketch a semicompatibilist proposal that can, without countenancing any instability, accept Maier’s unified account of the agentive modalities.
In this paper, I argue that it is open to semicompatibilists to maintain that no ability to do otherwise is required for moral responsibility. This is significant for two reasons. First, it undermines Christopher Evan Franklin’s recent claim that everyone thinks that an ability to do otherwise is necessary for free will and moral responsibility. Second, it reveals an important difference between John Martin Fischer’s semicompatibilism and Kadri Vihvelin’s version of classical compatibilism, which shows that the dispute between them is (...) not merely a verbal dispute. Along the way, I give special attention to the notion of general abilities, and, though I defend the distinctiveness of Fischer’s semicompatibilism against the verbal dispute charge, I also use the discussion of the nature of general abilities to argue for the falsity of a certain claim that Fischer and coauthor Mark Ravizza have made about their account. (shrink)
This paper offers a novel interpretation of Descartes's conception of freedom that resolves an important tension at the heart of his view. It does so by appealing to the important but overlooked distinction between possessing a power, exercising a power, and being in a position to exercise a power.
What does it mean to know how to do something? This book develops a comprehensive account of know-how, a crucial epistemic goal for all who care about getting things right, not only with respect to the facts, but also with respect to practice. It proposes a novel interpretation of the seminal work of Gilbert Ryle, according to which know-how is a competence, a complex ability to do well in an activity in virtue of guidance by an understanding of what it (...) takes to do so. This idea is developed into a full-fledged account, Rylean responsibilism, which understands know-how in terms of the normative guidance and responsible control of one's acts. Within the complex current debate about know-how, this view occupies a middle ground position between the intellectualist claim that know-how just is propositional or objectual knowledge and the anti-intellectualist claim that know-how just is ability. In genuine know-how, practical ability and guiding intellect are both necessary, but essentially intertwined. (shrink)
Though everyday life accords a great deal of significance to practical abilities—such as the ability to walk, to speak French, to play the piano—philosophers of action pay surprisingly little attention to them. By contrast, abilities are discussed in various other philosophical projects. From these discussions, a partial theory of abilities emerges. If the partial theory—which is at best adequate only to a few examples of practical abilities—were correct, then philosophers of action would be right to ignore practical abilities, because they (...) could play no fundamental role in an account of human agency. For the idea that practical abilities *do* play a fundamental role in human agency to be worth considering, an alternative conception of them is needed. As a first step, I attempt some of the necessary ground-clearing work. (shrink)