Freedom and the Fixity of the Past

Philosophical Review 121 (2):179-207 (2012)
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According to the Principle of the Fixity of the Past (FP), no one can now do anything that would require the past to have unfolded differently than it actually did, for the past is fixed, over and done with. Why might doing something in the future require the past to be different? Because if determinism is true—if the laws of nature and the initial conditions of the Big Bang determined a unique future for our universe—then doing anything other than what you are determined to do would require one of two things: either a miracle, a violation of the actual laws of nature, or a different past, all the way back to the Big Bang or beyond. Which would it be? Those who reject miracles accept a Backtracking Principle (BT), according to which the past would (have to) be different. If this is correct, then it follows by (FP) that you cannot now do anything other than what you are determined to do. The conclusion of this much-discussed argument is that the freedom to do otherwise is incompatible with determinism. In order to break a stalemate between incompatibilists and compatibilists in the debate over (FP), this article presents a new Action-Type Argument for (FP). The aim is to refute Backtracking Compatibilism, the view that (BT) is true and yet the freedom to do otherwise is compatible with determinism. The form of the Action-Type Argument for (FP) also leads to a Simple Argument for incompatibilism, which does not assume (BT). What the Simple Argument does assume is a “governing” view of laws of nature, a view of laws as more than mere regularities that turn out to be exceptionless over all time. Incompatibilism follows.



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Wesley H. Holliday
University of California, Berkeley

Citations of this work

Against Counterfactual Miracles.Cian Dorr - 2016 - Philosophical Review 125 (2):241-286.
Able to Do the Impossible.Jack Spencer - 2017 - Mind 126 (502):466-497.
A puzzle about the fixity of the past.Fabio Lampert - 2022 - Analysis 82 (3):426-434.
Arguments for incompatibilism.Kadri Vihvelin - 2003/2017 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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