By: Rachel Lyle, May 5th, 2017
One of the many courses that I was required to take was Philosophy. In this class we had to write papers arguing against a certain principle or theory. Several of the counterarguments I had to write I did not agree with and because of this every paper I wrote I would add a paragraph at the end explaining my beliefs and if I did or not agree with what I had to write. Here is my paper on Peter Van Inwagen’s No Choice principle and it’s falsity. Any quotes in it I got from the book we used and if there is a citation that says in class then it is something we discussed or learned in class not from the book
In The Powers of Rational Beings: Freedom of the Will, Peter Van Inwagen argues that there is no such thing as free will through a concept called The No Choice Principle. Free will is “When we perform an ordinary act, like drinking a cup of coffee, or going to a movie, or helping a friend, we have a feeling that our action results from our decision and that we could have done otherwise.” In Van Inwagen’s words:
“One of the principles of this logic is, or so it seems, embodied in the following thesis, which I shall refer to as The No Choice Principle: Suppose that p and that no one has (Or ever had) any choice whether p. And suppose also that the following conditional (if-then) statement is true and that no one has (or ever had) any choice about whether it is true: if p, then q. It follows from these two suppositions that q and that no one has (or ever had) any choice about whether q.”
In other words to state this in plain English, no one has or ever had a choice that one thing existed therefore no has or ever had any choice about whether what this one thing entails exists either. According to Van Inwagen you can replace the p and the q with basically anything. He uses the example of Plato,
“We might, for example, replace ‘p’ with ‘Plato died long before I was born’ and ‘q’ with ‘I have never met met Plato’: Suppose that Plato die long before I was born and that no one has (or ever had) any choice about whether Plato died long before I was born. And suppose also that the following conditional statement is true and that no one has (or ever had) any choice about whether it is true: if Plato died long before I was born, then I have never met Plato. It follows that from these two suppositions that I have never met Plato
and that no one has (or ever had) any choice about whether I have never met Plato. The No Choice Principle seems undeniably correct.” In this post I will prove Van Inwagen’s argument of the No Choice Principle to be false.
The no choice principle says we have no choice about p therefore we have no choice about q, meaning we have no choice about p entailing q. This can be countered by the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. According to Harry G. Frankfurt, “A dominant role in nearly all recent inquiries into the free-will problem has been played by a principle which I shall call ‘the principle of alternate possibilities.’ This principle states that a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.” (Pg. 407). If we are to believe the No Choice Principle we have to believe the rule A which says that necessity entails no choice (In Class). This leads to the fact that necessarily given the past and the laws of nature it entails one future, meaning we have no choice about the past and no choice about the laws of nature. Because we have no choice about the past and the laws of nature we have no choice about the future, then there is no free will therefore we are not morally responsible. But we are in many ways morally responsible which entails that we have free will and if we are morally responsible then alternate possibilities exist (In Class).
We are morally responsible because we have counterfactual conditional control over our actions. Counterfactual Conditional Control means that we have control of our actions for can happen, or what would or could happen in certain conditions (In Class). To understand this we can use the idea of the existence of alternate or different worlds. Let’s say you are a woman who has a choice of wearing pants, not wearing pants, or wearing something else. You can imagine world 1 where you choose to wear pants, world 2 where you don’t any pants, world 3 in which you wear a skirt, world 4 in which you wear a dress, etc. and so on and so forth, which means if you can imagine multiple worlds you have a choice between these different worlds to make one of these happen. Because you have the choice between these imagined alternate worlds this entails that you can pick what happens entailing that you can entail what future happens, meaning you have control over the future showing you have free will. (In Class).
According to Van Inwagen the No Choice Principle shows that we do not have free will therefore we truly have no choices in real life, you have no choice whether p exists therefore you have no choice in q existing, so we have no choice that p existing entails q existing (Pg.389). This seems like it is real and seems likely to be true but the Principle of Alternate Possibilities proves that the No Choice Principles is false by showing that we are morally responsible to make the right choice and we are in Counterfactual Conditional Control over our action proving that we have free will. If we can imagine possible alternate worlds than we can make our own choices to create one of these worlds, therefore we have free will.
I personally agree with the fact that the No Choice Principle is proven false with the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. Whether I am arguing against the No Choice Principle or not I will always personally believe that we as human beings have free will to choose the path that we want to take and make the choices that we want to make. I personally believe that the Principle of Alternate Possibilities is true in that we have a moral responsibility to choose actions that are morally right and we have the ability to choose and we can choose to do what is morally right rather than our actions being determined before hand. I believe that our actions are not determined before hand. I believe that our choices are not forced upon as before we make them.