Harry Frankfurt has provided an extremely influential challenge to the principle of alternate possibilities. According to this principle, an agent is morally responsible only if he or she could have acted otherwise. This claim has long served as a central assumption in debates about free will, determinism, and responsibility. Indeed, it seems natural to assume that determinism entails that an agent lacks alternative possibilities (more than one course of action), in which case the agent cannot be held morally responsible. Frankfurt argues this principle is false, thereby opening the door to a new variety of compatibilism. His argument involves a counterexample in which coercive forces remove alternate possibilities, yet the coercive forces to not lead to the action in question. I argue that Frankfurt’s example mischaracterizes the situation because he does not individuate actions finely enough. Once we appreciate that actions should be individuated according to both their causes and effects, it becomes clear that the agent in Frankfurt style examples had alternate possibilities after all. Hence, Frankfurt fails to provide a counterexample to the principle of alternative possibilities.
|Keywords:||Harry Frankfurt, Principle of Alternate Possibilities, Actions, Individuation|
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada