Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories Author(s): Derk Pereboom Source: Noûs, Vol.

34, Supplement: Philosophical Perspectives, 14, Action and Freedom (2000), pp. 119-137 Published by: Blackwell Publishing Stable URL: . Accessed: 14/06/2011 12:39
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Philosophical Perspectives, Actionand Freedom, 14, 2000


Derk Pereboom University of Vermont

1. Two libertarian attempts to revitalize a principle of alternative possibilities. Two kinds of objections against Frankfurt-styleargumentshave recently received significant attention.A first sort, advocated by Robert Kane and systematically formulatedby David Widerker,has the following structure.For any Frankfurt-stylecase, if causal determinismis assumed, the libertarianwill not have and cannot be expected to have the intuition that the agent is morally responsible.l If, the other hand, libertarianindeterminism is presupposed, an effective Frankfurt-stylescenario cannot be devised, for any such case will fall to a dilemma. In Frankfurt-stylecases, in the actual situation there is always a prior sign by which the intervener can know that the agent will perform the action she does, and which signals the fact that interventionis not necessary. If in the proposed case the sign causally determines the action, or if it is associated with something that does so, then the intervener'spredictive ability can be explained, but then the libertarianwould not have the intuition that the agent is morally responsible. If the relationship between the sign and the action is not causally deterministicin such ways, then the libertariancan claim that the agent could have done otherwise despite the occurrenceof the prior sign. Either way, some principle of alternativepossibilities emerges unscathed. The second type of objection to Frankfurt-styleargumentshas been developed by Michael Otsuka, Keith Wyma, and Michael McKenna.2The main idea behind this approachis to propose an alternative-possibilitiesrequirementdistinct from the more common sort, one which can withstand argumentsof the sort that Frankfurtdeveloped.3 Abstracting away from the details of specific proposals, this strategy claims that for an agent to be morally responsible for an action what is requiredis that she could have avoided the moral responsibility she actually has for her action, and that, further,no Frankfurt-style case can falsify this requirement.For Frankfurt-stylecases all involve some alternative possibility that would serve as the trigger for intervention, and if the interven-

Suppose that Jones acts without intervention. The first objection against Frankfurt-style arguments.For if Jones had failed to blush.5 . However. a robust sort of alternative possibility would involve willingto do otherwise than to perform the action the agent in fact wills to perform. for example. it would have to be robust in the sense that as a result of securing that alternativepossibility. The currentdiscussion of each of the two objections prominentlyfeatures the notion of a robustalternativepossibility.and I shall contendthatit avoids difficulties that threatenthese other cases. Imagine a Frankfurtscenario in which Jones very much wants to kill Smith. Wyma.4The intuition underlying the alternative-possibilitiesrequirementis that if.120 / Derk Pereboom tion had occurredthe agent would have avoided the moral responsibilitythat in the actual situation she has for her action. This example differs in importantrespects from othersrecentlydevised to answerthis objection. which I acknowledge. the kinds of alternative possibilities that it specifies must be robust. but it turns out that he will kill Smith only if he in fact blushes beforehand. an agent is to be blameworthy for an action. A libertarianmight respond that there was an alternativepossibility available to Jones after all: he could have failed to blush.Then we might well have the intuition that he is morally responsible. he would not thereby have avoided responsibility for evading killing Smith it would not be the failure to blush per se that would explain why Jones would not be blameworthy.Following Fischer. it is crucial that she could have done something to avoid being blameworthy that she could have done something to get herself off the hook. who wants to ensure that Jones kills Smith. Moreover. here is an example of the non-robust sort of alternative possibility. failing to blush does not meet our criterionof robustness. against the second objection I will argue that any alternative-possibilitiescondition of the sort that Otsuka. the agent would thereby have avoided the responsibility she has for the action she performed it would be her securing of that alternativepossibility per se that would explain why the agent would have avoided the responsibility. despite the fact that (as it appears) he could not have done otherwise. If having an alternative possibility does in fact play a role in explaining an agent's moral responsibility for an action. that there is an alternativepossibilities condition not relevant to explaining why oanagent is morally responsible that is necessary for moral responsibility. (This claim leaves open the prospect. I will present a case that defends Frankfurtagainst the sort of objection that Kane and Widerkerraise. Then Jones's failure to blush might be the sign that would trigger the intervention of Black. and McKenna have proposed that plausibly might explain why an agent is morally responsible falls to this new sort of case as well. I agree with Fischer's claim that for a principle of alternativepossibilities to be plausible.By typical libertarianintuitions.) 2. and indeed the notion of robustness plays a prominentpart in my own account.

or in the for fact thatit is indicative a statethatis causallysufficient thatdecision. in the circumstances. thenJoneswillfreely decideat t2 to kill Smith. it is withinhis powerto refrain at fromdeciding kill Smithat t2. theotherhand. (2) If Jones is not blushing at tl. suppose that Black does not have to show his hand. he will not decide at t2 to kill Smith.and so he is preparedto intervene if Jones fails to show a sign that he will kill Smith. But (la) is compatible withJones'shavingthe powerto decidenot to kill Smith. Finally... provided no one intervenes.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 121 Widerker'sversion of the first objection has the following structure. provided no one intervenes. The sign that he will kill Smith is his blushing at tl. at [in a sensethatallowsthatthe agentcouldhavedecidedotherwise] 8 in whichcasethelibertarian againclaimthatin theactual may situation whenJones is blushing tl. Widerkerclaims that this conclusion is not forced on the libertarian: Note thatthe truth (1) cannotbe grounded the fact thatJones'sblushing tl of in at is.. then he does nothing.. The importantfeatures of the scenario are these: (1) If Jones is blushing at tl.. [not by On if (1) is not thusgrounded. the followingtwo optionsareavailable the libthen to ertarian resistthe contention Jones'sdecisionto kill Smithis unavoidable. (3) If Black sees that Jones shows signs that he will not decide at t2 to kill Smith. then. but Black is afraid that Jones might become fainthearted. because (4) Jones is blushing at tl. claiming the mostthathe wouldbe prepared allow that to iS (la) If Jonesis blushingat tl. sees that Jones is not blushing at tl. but if he sees that he is blushing at tl. to that He mayeitherreject(1).7 Although the case is meant to show that Jones is morally responsible despite the fact that he could not have done otherwise. be] accepted thelibertarian. and decides at t2 to kill Smith for reasons of his own..that as is. (lb) If Jonesis blushing tl. thenJoneswill probably decideat t2 to kill Smith. since thereis the possibilityof Jones'sactingout of character. that is.since of for suchan assumption which Jones wants to kill Smith. causallysufficient his decisionto kill Smith. the libertarian Or mayconstrue as a conditional freedom Plantinga's (1) of in sense. then. Jones will decide at t2 to kill Smith.9 to .6 The case at issue is the one we have just encountered. then Black forces Jones to decide at t2 to kill Smith.

Problems for recent attempts to answer Widerker. the cases that have been devised in each of these categories face significant problems. y. and z does not constitute a decision. 3.l° while David Hunt. Grey finds that every time Jones decides to vote for Republicans. the device activates a coercive mechanism that makes Jones vote Republican.wants to ensure that Jones will vote for Reagan. the neuroscope detects the firing of a.ll In my view. EleonoreStumpand IshtiyaqueHaji have constructedexamples in categoly (a). b. The kinds of cases that have been used in these arguments can be divided into two categories: (a) those in which the relationshipbetween the prior sign and the action is causally deterministic.122 / Derk Pereboom Widerker'sis a very importantobjection.and the indeterminismthat makes for the agent's libertarianfreedom is present in the causal history of the action before the prior sign and (b) those in which the prior sign is eliminated altogether. near the beginning. and c.I will proceed with this understanding Widerker'sobjection. the firing of neurons a. First. the neurosurgeon. y. and it serves as a test for the effectiveness of any Frankfurt-styleargument. But Widerker.One point of clarification:If the libmust convince is simply presupposing ertarianthatWiderkersupposes Frankfurt a principleof alternativepossibilities. Jones's deciding to vote for Democratic candidates is correlated with the completion of a neural sequence that always includes. and c. Several critics have attemptedto construct Frankfurt-styleargumentsthat escape this objection.the decision regularlycorrelateswith thecompletion of a sequence of neural firings in Jones's brain that always includes. and z. (a)-type situations are difficult to construct so that they are effective against Widerker'sobjection. it disruptsthat sequence. it allows the sequence to proceed to completion and the . then one could not expect that a Frankfurtstyle argumentwould dislodge his view. Grey.I think.In Stump's case. with the result that this sequence is not brought to completion. and Alfred Mele together with David Robb have devised scenarios in category (b). near the beginning. on the other hand. the firing of neurons x. but ratheronly the claim that moral responsibility is incompatible with an action's having a determinisof tic causal history. b.Stump specifies that the firing of x. Stump's and Haji's examples have serious drawbacks. and in her view the occurrence of this sequence would not count as a robust alternativepossibility. does not intend that his libertariansimply presuppose this principle. If. Instead. Crucially. Whenever Grey's neuroscope detects the firing of x. y. and z.

then the case might well include a robust alternative possibility after all.the challenge for Stumpis to characterizethe agent's causal role so that (i) her action is not causally determined (by factors beyond her control) and (ii) her action does not involve robust alternativepossibilities. to assess this case. So.l5 Note that in Stump's setup. In Haji's example. A case of the sort that Stump devises is subject to the following dilemma: If the indeterminism(whetheror not it is a characteristicof the sort of agent's act she has in mind) that occurs prior to the neural sequence is significant enough to make the action a libertarianfreely-willed action.l3What makes the agent libertarian is thatthe neuralsequenceis not the outcome of a causal chain that originates in a cause outside him. and if the indeterminism of that act allows for the agent also to have avoided intending to make the decision.then he might well have robust alternativepossibilities for action. at least to a significant extent. at the outset of Jones's deliberationit is causally open whether he will kill Smith. But if it is not causally determined. If it is the act of intending to make a decision.l2Stump specifies that the decision is indeed a causal outcome of the neuralsequence. the sort of libertarianagency attributed the agent conto sists in its being undeterminedwhich of various considerations will enter the mind of the agent in deliberation. Perhaps it is possible to embellish Stump's example to answer this objection. wants Jones to . But to me it is not clear that there could be a plausible Frankfurt-style case in which the action is not causally determinedby factors beyond the agent's control (in a way that would satisfy the libertarian) and she lacks robust alternative possibilities if the intervention would occur after the crucial indeterministicjuncture. Here Stump suggests the Aquinas-inspiredview that the neural sequence is the outcome of a causal chain that originates in the agent's intellect and will.Black.l4 But as Stewart Goetz points out.l6 More generally. Black. then it has not been ruled out thatthe indeterministic juncturefeaturesa is the outcome of a causal chain that originates. because it is causally undetermined whether various considerationswill enter his mind at the onset of his musings. in an act of the agent whichis not the outcomeof a causal chain thatoriginatesin a cause outsidethe agent. The infallible predictor. one needs to know more about the psychological features of the act performed by the agent to cause the neural process. then it would remain open to a libertarian(like Widerker)to deny that the agent has genuine libertarianfree will.then Stump's agent would appear not to be free in the libertariansense. for example. intervenes if and only if he believes that Jones will not make the decisive best judgment that favors the decision to kill Smith which he.If Stump were to reject the claim that there is a robust alternativepossibility at this point. the agent's performance of that actwhich constitutes the agent's crucial libertariancausal role precedes the possible intervention. Rather.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 123 decision to vote Republicanto occur. If this act is causally determined.

he is dead at t2).would seem to exhibit no more control by him than a situation in which such considerations deterministically enter the mind of the agent. For it appears plausible that if Jones had made the decisive best judgmentthathe ought not to kill Smith he would thereby have avoided the responsibility he has for the action he actually performed it would be his securing of this alternativepossibility per se that would explain why he would have avoided this responsibility. t2 Bobdecideson his own to stealthecar. Mele and Robb claim that Bob is plausibly morally responsible for his decision. Frankfurt-style scenarios without prior signs. and this alternativepossibility seems robust. Another difficulty for Haji's example is that many libertarianswould not allow that the sort of indeterminacy he specifies could be significant for moral responsibility because it fails to provide the agent with enhanced control.. Blackinitiatesa certaindeterministic processP in Bob'sbrainwith the intention thereby of causingBobto decideat t2 (anhourlater. The processis in no way sensitiveto any"sign" whatBob will decide." and one's intuition is that Jones could be morally responsible for his decision.l9 The example features Bob. Mele and Robb .124 / Derk Pereboom make. Cases in category (b) exemplify a different of strategy for opposing alternative-possibility conditions. Restassured P in to that no way influences indeterministic the decision-making processthatactually issues in Bob'sdecision. at a e. shouldJonesmakethejudgment he oughtnotto kill Smith. deterministiwill cally culminate Bob'sdecidingat t2 to stealAnn'scarunlesshe decideson his in own to stealit or is incapable t2 of making decision(because.say)to stealAnn'scar. However. that then(andonly then)will Blackintervene causeJonesto t2. P would havedeterministically issued. whereuponhis judgment and decision are determined.whichis screenedoff from Bob's consciousness. of As it happens.. whereupon the agent's judgment and decision are causally determined. A case in which the relevant considerationsindeterministicallyenter the mind of the agent.g.. not even non-robustflickers of freedom. but that their development of the case raises one problem that could undermineit. in his deciding stealit. andhis decisionhasno deterto ministiccause.l7 and There is no need for Black to intervene "as Jones decides appropriatelyon his own. one problem for Haji's case is that it was open to Jones to have made the decisive best judgment that he ought not to kill Smith.l 8 4.But if he hadnotjust thendecidedon his own to stealit.on thebasisof his own at indeterministic deliberation aboutwhether stealit.Specifically. The process.. I think that their argumentmay in fact be successful. In these cases there are no prior signs to guide intervention. who inhabits a world in which determinism is false: At tl. One ingenious scenario in this category is presented by Mele and Robb.

g." Bear in mind that all we need is a conceptually possible scenario. what would happen if the two processes were to "diverge"in this way? And why? We extend Bob's story as follows. SituationA: Ms. .20Two different "decision nodes" in Bob's brain are directly relevant. P were to hit N1 and x were to hit N2.21More fully. Bob's indeterministic deliberative process. By t2. by t2 P has neutralizedN2 and all its "cognate decision nodes. The present question is this. one of which is whether we can make sense of what would happen at t2 if P and Bob's indeterministic deliberativeprocess were to diverge at t2. P would prevail over x in the latter. Of course. P were to hit N1 and x were to hit N2? That is. a process's "hitting"a decision node in Bob "lights up" that node. That is why. x. at t2. N2 would not light up. In the lattercase. Bob's indeterministicdeliberative process. it is also the case that if. There are no causal factors that would preventher from not making the choice to kill Colonel Mustard. a decision at t2 not to steal anyone's car and a decision at t2 never to steal anything). For he might be tempted to claim that P's neutralizingprocedureis equivalent to P's causal determination of Bob's decision to steal the car. If both processes were to hit N1 at t2. N2 Here is one story. then P would light up N1. would preempt P and light up N1. and the "lighting up" of node N2 representshis deciding not to steal the car. x. readerswould like a story about why it is that although x would preempt P in the former situation. Mele and Robb do specify that P's neutralizingactivity does not affect what goes on in Bob's indeterministic decision making process. On the other hand. as follows. Under normal circumstancesand in the absence of preemption. and this certainly looks like one. at t2. Considertwo situations. and so it would seem that P would not causally determinethe decision. by t2 P has neutralizedall of the nodes in Bob for decisions that are contraryto a decision at t2 to steal Ann's car (e. P has "neutralized" (but without affecting what goes on in x).fancifully. P would prevail. if x were to hit N2 at t2." and has been developed by David Hunt.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 125 discuss several potential problems for their scenario. The "lighting up" of node N1 represents his deciding to steal the car. she could have chosen not to kill him. What would happen if. and there are no factors beyond her control that deterministicallyproduce her choice.24Here is a way of presenting this sort of approachthat I think is especially powerful. P would light up N1 and the indeterministicprocess would not light up N2. How can we shed light on this difficulty? Let us examine an approachin category (b) that more vigorously exploits the neutralizationidea.23 The aspect of this story that might raise the libertarian'seyebrows is P's neutralizationof N2 and all its cognate decision nodes. Here is how they handlethe difficulty: The issue may be pictured. If it were to be the case both that P hits N1 at t2 and that x does not hit N 1 at t2.22In convenient shorthand. When she chooses to kill the Colonel. Although if both processes were to hit N1 at t2. Scarlet deliberatelychooses to kill Colonel Mustardat tl. would light up N1 and P would not.. A strategy of this type has become known as "blockage.

a controller would have predeterminedexactly what the agent would do (and when). and hence. every one is blocked except the agent's choosing A at t. Scarlet is blocked except the one that realizes her choice to kill the Colonel. of course. the blockage does not seem to affect the actual causal history of the action. some neural pathway has to be used. Scarletretainslibertarian freedom. Blockage by a controllerthat rules out all relevant alternativepossibilities is simply predestination. there still may be alternativepossibilities for the agent. But then. why aren't the neuralevents causally determinedpartly by virtue of the blockage? Kane's response to blockage cases reflects this worry: In [a case in which every other alternativeis blocked except the agent's making A at t]. By implanting the mechanism in this fashion. there are no alternativepossibilities left to the agent. against an alternative-possibilitiesprincipleone might employ a counterfactualversion of this situation: Situation B: Ms.and on my view at least. But if not. But before she even started to think about killing Colonel Mustard. so to speak. predestinationruns afoul of ultimate responsibility. One might.126 / Derk Pereboom In these circumstances. Yet for an incompatibilist this intuition might well be underminedupon more careful reflection on whetherin B Ms. Scarlet's choice to kill Colonel Mustard has precisely the same actual causal history as in A. the controller. the action's being inevitable need not make it the case that it is causally determined. so that no neural pathway other than the one employed in that situation could be used.26 In response. Scarlet could be morally responsible for her choice in B as well. have the intuition that Ms.not the agent. and if she remains a living agent. at least initially. . would be ultimately responsible for the outcome.Ms. and. Scarlet'schoice. What makes the action inevitable is rathersome fact about the situation that is not a feature of its actual causal history. But now we seem to have determinism pure and simple.But how is the blockage case differentfrom the standardFrankfurtstyle cases? After all. but the intuition that the agent is morally responsible for it depends on the fact that it does not have an actual causal history by means of which it is made inevitable. Thus every alternative for Ms. the blockage?25If so. But the blockage does not affect the actual causal history of Ms. a neurophysiologist had blocked all the neural pathways not used in Situation A. one might claim that in the standardFrankfurt-stylecases the relevant action is inevitable. because the blocked pathwayswould have remained dormant. Let us suppose that it is causally determined that she remain a living agent. Scarlet could be morally responsiblefor her choice.One important questionaboutsuch blockage cases is one Fischer asks: Could neuralevents bump up against. as a consequence.

with a certain velocity and acceleration. except that the atom is falling downward through a straight and vertically oriented tube whose interior surface is made of frictionless material.and whose interioris precisely wide enough to accommodatethe atom. Its actual causal history is indeterministic because at any time the atom can be subject to an uncaused swerve.could be relevant to the nature of the actual causal history of an action after all. A counterfactualsituationdiverges from C only by virtue of a device that eliminates alternativepossibilities and all differences thereby entailed: Situation D: The case is the identical to C.For since the tube prevents any alternative motion. one's intuitions about whether the agent is morally responsible might become unstable. but neither is it obviously implausible. But consider a simple two-situation case modelled on a reflection of Hunt's.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 127 Nevertheless.velocity. My own view is not that actual . in a scenario in which such restrictions. And if the tube precludes indeterminism in this causal history.Whether this line of argumentis plausible is difficult to ascertain. In actual fact. to which restrictionsthat exist but would seem to play no actual causal role are irrelevant. Suppose that the atom can swerve in any direction other than upwards. and acceleration of the atom from tl to t2 are precisely what they are in C. Situation C: A spherical atom is falling downward through space.perhapsKane'sresponsecan be defended.However. this intuition could be challenged by the fact that the restrictionspresent in D but not in C may change this causal history from one that is essentially indeterministicto one that is essentially deterministic. it would appearto make the causal history deterministic.27 Imagine a universe correctly described by Epicurean physics: what exists at the most fundamentallevel is atoms and the frictionless void. and the trajectory. from tl to t2 it does not swerve. despite initial appearances. The atom would not have swerved during this time interval. and there is a determinatedownwardsdirectionin which all atoms naturallyfall except if they undergo uncaused swerves. This problem could make it hardto assess moral responsibility in blockage cases. it would seem that it precludes any indeterminismin the atom's causal history from tl to t2. given that the only difference between them is a restriction that would seem to have no actual effect on the event. Sympathy for Frankfurt-styleargumentsis generated by the sense that moral responsibility is very much a function of the features of the actual causal history of an action. One might initially have the intuition that the causal history of the atom from tl to t2 in these two situations is in essence the same. However.Two-situationcases of the above sort might be misleading just because it is naturalto assume that the actual causal history of an event is essentially the same in each.

But his psychology is such that the only way that in this situation he could fail to choose to evade taxes is for moral reasons. with the his libertarian free will. In this situation. and no matter whether advancing his self-interestinvolves illegal activity. that a moral reason occur to him with a certain force. Suppose he has a very powerful but not always overriding desire to advance his selfinterest no matter what the cost to others. or by his seeking out a vivid presentationof such a reason). But such a possibility is insufficiently robust to ground his moral responsibility for tax evasion. would electronically stimulate his brain so that he would decide to evade taxes. His psychology is not. one might as a result also be less confident about the ultimate success of their argument. no moral reason occurs to him with such force. A moral reason can occur to him with that force either involuntarily or as a result of his voluntary activity (e. an agent is to be blameworthy for an action. such that he could fail to choose to evade taxes for no reason or simply on a whim. There is indeed an alternativepossibility. Here is my case: Tax evasion. is a libertarian he free agent. Joe could be morally responsible for deciding to evade taxes despite the fact that he could not have chosen otherwise. This type of problem should make one less confident when evaluating these difficult kinds of Frankfurt-stylecases. again. In fact. it is causally necessary for his failing to choose to evade taxes in this situation that a moral reason occur to him with a certain force. that he probablywon't be caught. and that if he is. A new Frankfurt-style scenario. Furthermore. The prior sign does not causally determine his decision. for example. In actual fact. by his willing to consider it. He knows that claiming the deduction is illegal. If a moral reason were to occur to him with that force. But a moral reason occurringto him with such force is not causally sufficient for his failing to choose to evade taxes. were it to sense a moral reason occurringwith the specified force. either choose to act on it or act against it (without the intervener's device in place). it is crucial that . a neuroscientist now implants a device which.g. Since Mele and Robb's developmentof theircase involves somethingvery much like a blockage scenario. he can convincingly plead ignorance. the deeperintuitionunderlyingalternative-possibilities requirement that is if. Part 1: Joe is considering whether to claim a tax deduction for the substantiallocal registrationfee thathe paid when he bought a house.128 / Derk Pereboom causal histories in blockage cases are clearly deterministic. Joe could. But to ensure that he decide to evade taxes. For. and he chooses to evade taxes while the device remains idle.but only that these considerationsshow that they may be. for example. 5.

providedno one intervenes. [in a sense that allows that the agent could have decided otherwise]. . it would be because as a result of securing an alternativepossibility instead. and (lb) If Jones is blushing at tl.Joe will decide to evade taxes. then Jones will [only] probably decide at t2 to kill Smith. (ii) What would triggerthe interventionis a "flicker"that is insufficiently robust to explain the agent's moral responsibility for the decision in question. Rather. he would therebyhave avoided the responsibilityhe has for the action he is a case that has the following features: (i) The agent clearly has free will according to most libertarianviews. If alternative possibilities were to play a role in explaining an agent's moral responsibility for an action (in a way independentof an intuition about its actual causal history). if Joe had made a reason for an alternativeaction occur to him with a certain force. then Jones willfreely decide at t2 to kill Smith. and choosing to evade taxes instead. in causal determinism. (iii) It does not ground the truthof the analogue of Widerker's (1) If Jones is blushing at tl. However.while at the same time not endorsing the analogues of Widerker's (la) If Jones is blushing at tl.Jones will decide at t2 to kill Smith. This example fits neither description (a) or (b). For his making the reason for an alternativeaction occur to him is compatible with his never deciding to perform the alternativeaction. and (lb') If a moral reason does not occur to Joe with a certain force. or even ever being inclined to perform that action. then he will [only] probably decide to evade taxes. he would not thereby have avoided responsibility for evading taxes. which is (1') If a-moral reason does not occur to Joe with a certain force. then. then. then he will freely decide to evade taxes (in a sense that allows that the agent could have decided otherwise). which are (la') If a moral reason does not occur to Joe with a certain force.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 129 she could have done something to avoid this blameworthiness. providedno one intervenes.

Seeing how this example responds to Kane's version of the objection highlights the value of having the cue for interventionbe causally necessary but not sufficient for the action. One might reply that in order for Joe to be responsible for his action."28 tion of the alternative. causally determinethe decision.. then it is also the case that the agent could have done otherHowever. Then if the neuroscientistdoes not intervene. his moral psychology must have been set up by crucial choices of his for which there were robust alternativepossibilities.130 / Derk Pereboom The absence of what would trigger the interventionat some particulartime (the role of this absence is played by Jones's blushing at tl in Widerker'scase.. But if the neuroscientist "does not intervene to predeterminethe outcome and the indeterminacyremains in place until the choice is made so that the outcome is [a"self-forming willing"] then the agent. that supposing the case is to convince the libertarian. His parents. then the agent is not morally responsible.Hence. then this decision must be causally undetermined. and by the non-occurrenceof a moral reason with the requisite force at some particular time in Tax Evasion). But (contrala) the decision will occur (and not just probably occur) in the absence of what would trigger the intervention. even as a result of his own (undetermined) voluntaryactivity. (contralb) there is a libertarian its sense in which the agent canfreelydecide to perform the action.because what would trigger the intervention is causally necessary (but not causally sufficient thus not causally determining) for the decision's not occurring. in our example. let the cue for intervention be a causally necessary condiwise. For at any point in the causal history of the action prior to the choice a moral reason could have occurred to him with sufficient force. the occurrenceto the agent of a moral reason with a certain force. Joe's decision is not causally determined by the non-occurrence at any particulartime of a moral reason with sufficient force. consider: Tax Evasion. it is not the case. Now if the intervention does occur.such as. had this sort of psychological profile. even though it is not causally determined. that the agent could have decided or could have done otherwise. But he was also raised to reflect critically on his values as soon as he was ultimately responsible for it. the agent is not causally determinedto make it.29But to see that this sort of answer is mistaken. and then the device would have been activated. Like most of us. even though the indeterminacyremains in place until the choice is made. while ensuring that up to the time of the decision itself. or a state indicated by this absence. but without being the case that she could have decided otherwise. Kane argues. a moral reason would have had to occur with the requisite force. first of all.then if the agent in the example decides on his own. For in order to decide otherwise. However. will not together with all the other actual facts about the situation. Part 2: Joe was raised in a context in which people are typically self-interestedin the sort of way he is now. he initially . contraryto Kane's supposition.for example.

one must be careful . it would electronically stimulate his brain to retain his initial moral position. But the neuroscientist.32However. althoughJoe's moral psychology was not set up by crucial choices of his for which there were robust alternativepossibilities. in a similar vein. These philosophers assume that their conditions could not be falsified by Frankfurtcases because the successful versions involve the possibility that the agent could have voluntarilydone. Suppose that for him to abandonhis initial moral view it was causally necessary that a reason for accepting a competing position occur to him with a certain force. the device remains inert. McKenna argues that in all of the successful Frankfurt-stylecases. he rejected them. he could still be morally responsible for evading taxes.30 suka claims that a necessary condition on blameworthinessfor an act of a given type is that the agent. something that would have triggered the intervention. only if she has failed to do something she could have done. Joe then learned about competing positions.knowing all of this about his psychology. in which the agent does not have a voluntary alternativepossibility. B. claims that a person is morally responsible for something she has done.we have not yet encountereda principle of alternativepossibilities that plausibly has a significant role in grounding moral responsibility. but upon serious reflection. Answering the second objection. he could still choose to retain or reject his values (in the absence of the neuroscientist'sdevice). could have instead 8 behaved in a mannerfor which he would have been entirely blameless.this type of objection can be answered. and that it is precisely this sort of alternativepossibility that is significant for moral responsibility. in setting up an involuntaryflicker case. Consequently. Even presupposing libertarianism.3 Wyma. such that doing B would have renderedher not morally responsiblefor A.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 131 accepted his family's values. and he held them very strongly. and this could occur either involuntarily or as a result of his voluntary activity. the second type of attack on Frankfurt-stylestrategies Othas been advanced by Michael Otsuka. the agent has the power either to be the author of his action or not. As we have seen. so that if a reason to accept a competing view were to occur to him with the specified force. Fischer argues that these conditions could be underminedby cases in which interventionwould be triggeredby an involuntaryflicker. Keith Wyma. sets up his device before Joe begins critical reflection on his moral views. 6. Michael McKenna. But in actual fact. for although he considers reasons to accept competing views. Thus. or been the authorof. A. as a result of his voluntaryendeavor. whereupon she would not have been morally responsible for the act in question. these reasons never occur to him with sufficient force to trigger the device. Were such a reason to occur to him with that force.

in turn. then it would directly undermineOtsuka's condition. such that doing it would have renderedhim not morally responsible for evading taxes.. he failed to do something he could have done (i. The relevant facts about the history of his psychology are given by Tax Evasion. have behaved in such a mannerfor which he would not have been entirely blameless. he could not make a moral reason occur to him with the right force voluntarily. have a reason for accepting a competing moral position occur to him with a certain force). such that doing so would have rendered him not morally responsible for making this choice (because then the device would have been activated). and although he could not have chosen otherwise. Part 2. This specification is psychologically plausible there is much that typical agents could not bring themselves to do because of theircommitments. It would show McKenna'sto be mistaken. This claim suggests the following alternative possibility principle: (Z) An agent is morally responsible for something she has done.132 / Derk Pereboom to avoid the problem that Kane and Widerker raise by ensuring that Joe remains a libertarianfree agent. with the power of his libertarianfree will. only if she has failed to do something she could have done. since Joe could not. either decide to act on it or act against it. A. such that . B. results from certain crucial choices that he made that do fulfil conditions of the general sort we are now examining.If Joe could be morally responsible for deciding to evade taxes in this case. We might try to do so by changing Joe's psychology in Part 1 so that in his situation a vivid presentationby an external source would now be requiredfor a moral reason to occur to him with the requisite force.e. Given the strengthof his self-interest and the level of his commitment to morality.and the and extent to which these features of his psychology have become ingrained. since the benefit to himself at stake is significant and the damage to others that would result is not especially great. and he decides without the device intervening.argue that if Joe were morally responsible despite his not meeting these conditions it would be because his not doing so is explained by his moral psychology. with the additionthat he could not make a moral reason occur to him with sufficient force because of the strengthof his self-inteleest the weakness of his moral commitment.But again (without the intervener's device in place). But the advocate of an alternative-possibilitiesrequirementmight. since it is not the case that he failed to do something he could have done. and he could not voluntarily seek the sort of external presentationof moral reasons that would make them occur to him with this force. Joe's inability to make a moral reason occur to him with sufficient force is explained by the fact that he chose to retain the self-interested moral conception that he was raised to hold. and similarly for Wyma's. for Joe lacks the power not to be the authorof the tax evasion. which. The neuroscientist'sdevice is set up so that it senses when a moral reason occurs to him with such force. Joe could. if a moral reason were to occur to him with the specified force. as a resultof his voluntary endeavor.

or if she could not have done something that would have renderedher not morally responsible for A.There many be anotherway to constructa counterexampleto this principle. We might say that despite the fact that Joe could have voluntarily taken a sip from his coffee cup. Suppose that Joe could have voluntarilytaken a sip from his coffee cup priorto his deciding to take the illegal deduction. Consider Wyma's view. B.n.and that therefore (Z) could be an alternative-possibilities conditionthatis necessaryfor moral responsibility. is intuitivelyirrelevantto whether he is morally responsible for tax evasion. this fact is explained by choices this agent made. not understanding that this action would preclude his evading taxes.they can hold by virtue of features of a situation that are explanatorilyirrelevantto what would make an agent morally responsible. and doing so would have renderedhim morally non-responsiblefor evading taxes. such that doing Dl n would have rendered her not morally responsible for C1. but that such a reason could occur to him only involuntarily. First of all. according to which an agent is morally responsible for something she has done. Cl. it may be that a condition is necessary for some phenomenonA but sometimes holds by virtue of features that are irrelevantto explaining the natureof A. But whether he could have voluntarily taken the sip from the coffee cup. n. We might revise Part 2 of Tax Evasion so that for Joe to have abandoned his initial moral view it was causally necessary that a reason for accepting a competing position occur to him with sufficient force. but it is not obvious to me how this might be done. this alter- . I believe that even if it turns out that conditions of the sort at issue are necessary for moral responsibility.. that do not illuminate the natureof A.. such that doing B would have renderedher morally nonresponsible for A. However. and Otsuka a result of which he would have been morally non-responsible for this action. which are such that at the time she made them she could have done something. he could have behaved voluntarilyin such a mannerthat would have precludedthe action for which he was in fact blameworthy. It is not obvious to me that this principle has a counterexample. there is a strong pull to the claim that Joe is not morally responsible in this situation. Dl n. I favor a differentkind of objection to the sort of condition that McKenna. and the sort of explanation that suggests itself is that he has been so thoroughly indoctrinatedby his upbringingthat his ability to evaluate his moral view rationallyhas been impairedby factors beyond his control. and that as a result the condition at issue fails to illuminate the natureof the phenomenon. Wyma. then we would want to know why his psychology has this feature.. In this situation. only if she has failed to do something she could have done. A. taking the sip would have triggereda bomb that would have killed him. not understanding thatit would renderhim blameless in this way. As a result.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 133 doing B would have renderedher not morally responsible for A. and never as a result of his voluntaryactivity. because unbeknownstto him.

If all of our actions had this type of causal history. For a powerful and common incompatibilist intuition is that if all of our behavior was "in the cards" before we were born.) A condition more plausibly relevant to explaining moral responsibility for an action A is that the agent could have willed otherwise in the following more robust sense: she could have willed to refrainfrom doing A. the problem fails to undermine the sort of position he actually holds. for it shows that Joe could be morally responsible despite the fact that this condition is not satisfied. Rather. then we cannot legitimately be blamed for our wrongdoing.but I believe that the most plausible and fundamentallyexplanatoryincompatibilistprinciplesconcern the causal history of an action.134 / Derk Pereboom native possibility is nevertheless insufficiently robust to have an importantrole in grounding moral responsibility. conditions of this sort. Consequently. Because this sort of alternative possibility would renderWyma's proviso satisfied.then it can be shown false.33 . would appearnot to have a significant role in explaining its nature.if Wyma's condition is refined in this way.then he cannot legitimately be blamed for his action. if causal factors existed before a criminal was born that. I favor causal historyincompatibilism leeway over incompatibilism. 7. by way of a deterministic process. But if Joe were voluntarily to make such a moral reason occur to him with this force. Conditions of this sort seem to purchasetechnical indefeasibility at the cost of explanatoryrelevance to moral responsibility. or willed to perform an action that he understood would preclude his evading taxes. inevitably issue in his act of murder. Causal history incompatibilism. Joe could have willed that a moral reason not to evade taxes occur to him with a particularforce.I endorse incompatibilism. The same type of point can be made about Otsuka's and McKenna's provisos. Accordingly. so as to eliminate the factors that make it hold for a situation due to features irrelevantto explaining moral responsibility. However. or she could have willed to perform an action that she understandswould preclude her doing A (or that she understandswould preclude her performing an action of A's general sort). since he resists the claim that an alternative possibilities condition would explain why an agent is morally responsible for an action. Nevertheless. True. For the record. by way of a deterministiccausal process. By this intuition. then it would seem that we lack the kind of control over our actions that moral responsibility requires. Joe is morally responsible for his action. the intervention would take place. However. even if they are necessary for moral responsibility. (In fairness to Otsuka. This intuition does not involve a claim about alternative possibilities. I will not develop my positive proposal here. in the sense that things happenedbefore we came to exist that. and not alternativepossibilities. He could not then have willed to refrain from evading taxes. I do not intend my arguments to support a compatibilist position. inevitably result in our behavior. Tax Evasion does have the right characteristicsto undermine this condition.

"American PhilosophicalQuarterly (1997). Fischer. Michael Otsuka. of 5. IshtiyaqueHaji. pp. 25. Advocates of an alternative-possibilitiesrequirementwould tend to advocate an indeterminist condition on the actual causal history of an action only because it would make the existence of alternativepossibilities a prerequisitefor moral responsibility. 126-7. 1985)." 3. Free Willand Values. Fischer provides a 28 valuable account of these positions in "Recent Work on Moral Responsibility. 142-4. Wyma. 247-61. 57-70." Michael McKenna. "MoralResponsibility and Leeway for Action. 34-5. cf. Nevertheless. 685-701. Wyma."Libertarianism Frankfurt's and Attack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities." forthcoming in Ethics. Keith D. 123141. and TheSignificance FreeWill(New York:OxfordUniversityPress. . and not the alternativepossibilities. the aspect of the action that has the importantrole in explaining why agents would be morally responsible is the natureof the actual causal history. 71-85.who maintainthat even in a blockage case an agent can be morally responsible so long as the actual causal history of the action has the right features. 1998). pp. in "Soft Libertarianism and Frankfurt-StyleScenarios. at pp." Philosophical Topics24 (1996). pp. 2. but that it might well be that alternative possibilities-not necessarilyof the robustsort are entailedby the actualcausal history having these features."Incompatibilism the Avoidabilityof Blame. and pp. 51 n. to the most radicalcausal history incompatibilists. for it is a condition about alternative possibilities that is most significant for explaining why agents would be morally responsible. 6.34 Notes 1. Fischer provides a clear and helpful ac34 count of these views in "Recent Work on Moral Responsibility. (Albany: SUNY Press. "MoralResponsibilityand Leeway for Action. which I endorse. Robert Kane."Ethics108 (1998).(Oxford: Blackwell. see also Keith D." ThePhilosophical Review104 (1995). 131-159. p. Moral Appraisability York:OxfordUniversityPress. pp. of 191-2. 1996). (New pp. See also Mele's characterizationof robustness. "AlternativePossibilities and the Failure of the Counterexample Strategy. pp. TheMetaphysics Free Will. Examples of more common principles of alternativepossibilities are: An action is free in the sense requiredfor moral responsibilityonly if the agent could have done otherwise than she actually did.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 135 One might place incompatibilistson a continuum ranging from those who hold that moral responsibilityrequiresthat an agent could have done or chosen otherwise. My own incompatibilist view is that moral responsibility requiresthat the action's actual causal history have certain indeterministicfeatures. 4. 1994). pp. and An action is free in the sense requiredfor moral responsibilityonly if the agent could have chosen otherwise than she actually did."Journalof Social Philosophy (1997). David Widerker.

11." FaithandPhilosophy (1999). Rowman and Littlefield. Stump. Rationality. 413-22. (Lanham. ertarianismto Mele. 1999. Stump replies to Goetz's objection in "Dust. owing to its relative simplicity P neutralizes N2 as soon as Black initiates P. 10." Haji. (a longer version of this article appearsin PhilosophicalTopics 1996. VT: BradfordBooks. See. 8. Stump. 22. forthcoming. when P hits N1. 27. pp. cited in Fischer's "RecentWork on Moral Responsibility." p."Libertarianismand Frankfurt'sAttack on the Principle-of Alternative Possibilities. Kane." pp." 20. Mele and Robb. 1995). 12. 104-5. 80-5. p. 250. The bracketedphrase does not occur in Widerker'stext. but it is useful nonetheless. 23. and Jeff MD.) The picture obviously is neuro-fictional. 73-88. pp. 1996). Randolph Clarke. Haji attributesthe inspirationfor this sort of libp. ed. "Agent Causation and Event Causation in the Productionof Free Action. Widerker. for example. StewartGoetz. p. Fischer. 79. (Mele and Robb's note. pp.) What would happen if Bob's indeterministicdeliberative process were to hit N2 at some time tn priorto t2? In one version of the story. but it clearly expresses his meaning. of forthcoming in Philosophy Phenomenological and Research. "Rescuing Frankfurt-StyleCases. N2 would light up at tn Bob would decide at tn not to steal the car but then at t2. ["MoralResponsibility and Unavoidable Action"]). Stump. ed. 286. cited by Mele and Robb and by Fischer in "Recent Work on Moral Responsibility". This kind of libertarianismis also suggested by Daniel Dennett."Libertarian Freedomand the Principleof AlternativePossibilities. "Rescuing Frankfurt-StyleCases. "RecentWork on Moral Responsibility. 18. Mele and Robb." pp. David Hunt. 97. pp. In another version the one we prefer. 216." pp. Fischer." forthcomingin Philosophical Studies. Determinism and Frankfurt: Reply A to Goetz."Libertarian Freedomand the Principleof AlternativePossibilities. 249-50. in "Giving LibertariansWhat They Say They Want. 77-8. 14."Libertarian Freedomand the Principleof AlternativePossibilities. "Libertarian Freedom and the Principle of AlternativePossibilities. but in my view. "Rescuing Frankfurt-StyleCases.112. 36." Philosoof phy andPhenomenological Research. 19.Derk Pereboom. pp. 16." in Faith and Philosophy16 (1999)." ThePhilosophical Review107 (January1998)." ."in his Brainstorms (Montgomery. Alfred Mele and David Robb. 36. 21. 83-9."pp. 24. From Hunt's personal correspondencewith Fischer. "Libertarianismand Frankfurt'sAttack on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. 13. Stump. "MoralResponsibility and UnavoidableAction. at p."in Faith. 16 In this article he develops this and other criticisms in furtherdetail. Widerker. MoralAppraisability.(New York: Oxford University Press." Free Will. 25. "Stumpingfor Widerker. contributionto a symposium on TheSignificance Free Will. Haji.48). Bob would change his mind and decide to steal it. 19. (Indianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company.) David Hunt independentlymakes a similar suggestion in a forthcoming article (Hunt. in Autonomous Agents. 1997). 9. 295.136 / Derk Pereboom 7. 24. Moral Appraisability. Jordan and Daniel Howard Snyder. (Mele and Robb's note. 17. 15. p. 1978). Freedom. she does not lay to rest the worry I just described. in his reply to Fischer in a symposium on The Significance Free Will."pp. (Mele and Robb's note.

Otsuka states: When I say that one could instead have behaved in a manner for which one would have been entirely blameless. p." 34. pp." Keith D." 31." Nous 29. I mean that it was within one's voluntary control whether or not one ended up behaving that way."Alternative Possibilities and the Failureof the CounterexampleStrategy. John Fischer. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 64 (1986). I wish to thank David Christensen. "RecentWork on Moral Responsibility. Michael Otsuka. Kane suggests a reply of this sort to a similar case. "LibertarianFreedom and the Principle of Alternative Possibilities." pp. Kane. 21-45. The Significance of Free Will. For similar positions see Robert Heinaman. Wyma. . "MoralResponsibilityand Leeway for Action. 71-85. in correspondence. and Linda Zagzebski for helpful comments and conversations. pp.Alternative Possibilities and Causal Histories / 137 28. "Incompatibilismwithout the Principle of AlternativePossibilities. Hilary Kornblith.Alfred Mele. Fischer."Michael McKenna. By way of clarification. 30. But I need not claim that the behavior itself must have been voluntary ("Incompatibilismand the Avoidability of Blame. 688-9) 32. 142. I argue for this view in "DeterminismAl Dente." 33. pp. and Eleonore Stump."Journal of Social Philosophy. Fischer provides a helpful account of these positions in "Recent Work on Moral Responsibility. 29. March 1995. 26676."Incompatibilismand the Avoidability of Blame.