AuthorThomas, Jan Lawrence.
Committee ChairLehrer, Keith
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractRegnant astronomical theory maintains the likelihood of a black hole at the center of our galaxy; an impenetrably dark hub to our Ferris-wheel of suns. Given the centrality of the concept of free will to our understanding of ourselves and our world, and the difficulty of explicating this concept, our philosophic glue is apparently as enigmatic, and hence worthy of investigation, as is our galactic glue. In this essay, I examine three fundamental approaches to the problem of free will: the metaphysical, pragmatic, and linguistic approach. I characterize these approaches in terms of the priority each gives to providing an account of the value, existence and nature of free will. After arguing that the persuasiveness of the metaphysical approach relies on an equivocation between senses of necessity or freedom, and that the ambiguities inherent in the pragmatic approach (with respect to either the appropriateness of moral attitudes or the recognition of persons) cannot be resolved from within a pragmatic framework, I claim that the linguistic approach is the most promising. Specifically, I develop an indexical, conditional analysis of 'can', and argue that we use the term 'free will' (characterized in terms of what an agent can will) to express unarticulated sets of conditions that are demarcated by conversational implicature. In the final section, however, I argue that there can be no single correct approach to the problem of free will since, for the same reasons that there is no neutral approach to the free will problem, there is no unique set of criteria by which to evaluate the correct approach. I conclude that any adequate answer to one of the three questions above--the value, existence or nature of free will--is incommensurable with adequate answers to the other two questions; viz., that the free will problem cannot be resolved in a way that is both complete and consistent. Nevertheless, I suggest that this conclusion does not entail that the concept of free will is incoherent, but rather than there is an intrinsic limit on what we can say about what we can do.