Compatabilism is one approach to the problem of freewill in a casually closed world. If a person is free to choose among several possible courses of action, doesn't this violate the laws of causality?
The compatibilist response is to state that we have a problem with our definition of freewill: Freewill is not the ability to choose among multiple possible courses of action, it is instead the ability to act freely according to one's own motivations. Once we have refined our definition of freewill, then causal determinism and freewill are compatible, hence the name of this position.
Compatibilists consider an agent to have freewill if such an agent is able to act according to her/his own desires and motivations. But it seems to me that this definition is problematic, because what constitutes a person's own motivations is problematic.
Consider the following scenarios:
- A person doesn't move because they're in shackles.
- A person doesn't move because they've been injected with a drug that paralyzes them, but they are fully conscious and in control of their thoughts.
- A person doesn't move because they've been injected with a drug that has removed their desire to move.
- A person doesn't move because they have been hypnotized.
- A person doesn't move because at a young age they have been taught that moving in that particular time and place is evil and they will go to hell for doing so.
- A person doesn't move because someone has threatened to harm their loved ones if they move.
Clearly the person in (6) is moving because of their own motivation, while the person (1) is not. But the cases in the middle show that the boundary between what constitutes one's own motivations and what doesn't is arbitrary.
There are real world cases were the boundary is fuzzy as well: At what age are children considered to start acting according to their own motivations? Are people in excrutiating pain acting according to their own motivations? Are people under the influence of drugs acting according to their own motivations? What about people with psychiatric conditions? And what about people who are targeted by subliminal marketing and advertising techniques? Followers of a charismatic cult leader? The legal and social definitions seem to me very arbitrary (18 or 21? - above x grams of blood/alcohol - courtroom definitions of competent and incompetent).
It seems to me for a compatibilist definition of freewill to hold, there has to be a clear boundary between acting according to one's own motivation and acting under coercion, otherwise the compatibilist approach fails.
- How do compatibilists address the borderline cases that I described?
- For a compatibilist, is there a precise boundary between what constitutes an agent's own motivations and what constitutes physical coercion?
- This is especially a problem for physicalists: Since mind and body are one and the same, there is no difference between manipulating the body and manipulating the mind, and so physical coercion and psychological coercion are no different from each other. How then can we define free agency?