Libertarianism: Free Will and Inner Acts

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 November 2016

Libertarianism: Free Will and Inner Acts

For centuries philosophers have debated over the presence of free will. As a result of these often-heated arguments, many factions have evolved, the two most prominent being the schools of Libertarianism and of Determinism. Within these two schools of thought lies another debate, that of compatibilism, or whether or not the two believes can co-exist. In his essay, Has the Self “Free Will”? , C. A. Campbell, a staunch non-compatiblist and libertarian, attempts to explain the Libertarian argument. To achieve this, Campbell first sets out the two pre-suppositions necessary to the Libertarian argument.

Firstly, he defines which kind of freedom he is discussing when he speaks of free will. Campbell characterizes “the freedom at issue” as one that predominantly concerns a person’s inner acts and decisions (377). A person’s observable acts are important only as they show an inner “life of choice”(377). Therefore the moral freedom assumed is that freedom which concerns inner acts. The second, and more complicated, of Campbell’s requirements is to define what constitutes a “free act. ” There are two parts to this definition.

The first necessitates “that the act must be one of which the person judged can be regarded as the sole author” (378). This point raises the question of how one can determine authorship. For certainly “the raw material of impulses and capacities that constitute [one’s] hereditary endowment” cannot be determined by the individual and surely have an impact on his inner acts (378). Further, the individual cannot control “the material and social environment in which he is destined to live” and these factors must influence his inner acts as well (378).

Campbell allows that, while these aspects do have an impact on one’s inner acts, people in general “make allowances” for them, and still feel morally responsible for one’s self (378). In other words, one recognizes the effects of hereditary and environment on his inner acts, but acknowledges that his self can and should still be held morally responsible, as it can overcome these factors. Thus, Campbell claims, sole authorship of an act is possible. The second part of this definition of a “free act” requires that one could have acted otherwise because one could have chosen otherwise (380).

With this final presupposition, Campbell states that an act is a free act if and only if the agent could have, by his own volition, preformed otherwise, not because his character or environment compelled him to choose otherwise, but because he had chosen to perform otherwise. This is all that is needed to maintain the agent’s moral responsibility. With these definitions in place, Campbell has finally set the stage for his argument. To begin his argument, Campbell attempts to provide sufficient evidence for Libertarianism.

He contends that, from phenomenological analysis, the self is inescapably convinced that it possesses a freedom in the decision to exert or withhold the moral effort needed to rise to duty (389). In laymen’s terms, when one must make a moral choice, one can hear both the call to duty and the desire to do the opposite. This conflict and the opportunity to choose offer proof, as far as Campbell is concerned, of moral freedom. While this may not be concrete proof, he claims that no one in the position of making a moral choice can deny that they are the sole author of that decision, nor can they deny that they could have chosen otherwise.

It is through this experience of making moral choices that one can ascertain one’s moral freedom. Campbell’s next step is disproving the leading arguments and criticisms against Libertarianism, in order to secure its place as the leading philosophical view. If there are no sound arguments against Libertarianism, it must, therefore, be the pre-dominant theory. In order to achieve this Campbell attacks what he believes to be the two strongest criticisms: that of predictability and that of meaninglessness. The advocates of the predictability argument claim that the mere basis of Libertarianism eradicates all ability to predict one’s actions.

Since it is common practice to predict the behavior of friend based on their character, they believe the libertarian, “with [his] doctrine of ? genuinely open possibilities,’ of a free will by which the self can diverge from its own character, remove all rational basis from such prediction” (385). Therefore, if one still has the ability to predict, the “doctrine of ? genuinely open possibilities'”, or Libertarianism, cannot exist. In reply to this charge, Campbell explains that the freedom being discussed is simply the “freedom of decision to make or withhold the effort required,” not the decision of what one does.

The character of the agent presents the choices of what to do, while the agent’s self has the freedom to decide whether or not to put forth the effort. Therefore, it is possible for the action to turn out other than predicted, while still maintaining the ability to predict based on character. With the argument of predictability safely slayed, Campbell moves on to the next dragon: meaninglessness The proponents of the meaninglessness criticism maintain that there is no reason behind the decision to exert or withhold a moral effort, and such has no connection to the self’s character.

If the freedom to make such a decision has not ties to the self, then it is not the self’s moral responsibility (387). In other words the entire Libertarian argument is self-defeating and meaningless. To this argument, Campbell replies that, as the decision is an inner act, it is un-observable from an outside point. Furthermore, “to ? account for’ a ? free’ act is a contradiction in terms,” in that it is a “creative act of moral decision” and is only significant from the inner standpoint (387/389)).

With these criticisms dispelled, Campbell can finally claim Libertarianism as the leading philosophical viewpoint. With Campbell’s argument entirely laid out, the final question remains: is it sound? Based on the premises of his arguments as I see them, I believe I am safe in saying that yes, his argument is sound. Campbell has explained his premises clearly enough to persuade me into his manner of thinking. The only threat to his argument that I see lies in the his rebuttal of the meaninglessness criticism. I feel that he did not respond to this critique head on.

Campbell claims that only the person making the moral choice can be aware of the reasons he made that choice. He, also, claimed that even a Determinist placed in a position of moral choice, has to be aware of his freedom of decision, but, if that is true, how do the advocates of meaninglessness fail to see the reason behind the choices they have made? This is the only point I am aware of that can jeopardize the soundness of Campbell’s argument. If he can explain this, he will have made a libertarian out of me.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 9 November 2016

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