Masks, Abilities, and Opportunities: Why the New Dispositionalism Cannot Succeed

Modern Schoolman 88 (1/2):89-103 (2011)
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Abstract

Conditional analyses of ability have been nearly entirely abandoned by philosophers of action as woefully inadequate attempts of analyzing the concept of ability. Recently, however, Vihvelin (2004) and Fara (2008) have appealed to the similarity between dispositions and abilities, as well as recent advances in the metaphysics of dispositions, in order to construct putatively superior conditional analyses of ability. Vihvelin and Fara claim that their revised conditional analyses of ability enable them to show that Frankfurt-style cases fail to sever the connection between freedom and responsibility, and that compatibilism about free will and determinism is true. I argue, however, that even granting the truth of their dispositional analyses, they cannot achieve these aims. Vihvelin and Fara’s fundamental error lies in their failing to appreciate the complex nature of free will and moral responsibility—specifically that agents’ freedom and responsibility depend not only on their abilities, but also their opportunities.

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