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JASON TURNER AND EDDY NAHMIAS
Abstract: Experimental examination of how the folk conceptualize certain philosophically loaded notions can provide information useful for philosophical theorizing. In this paper, we explore issues raised in Shaun Nichols’ (2004) studies involving people’s conception of free will, focusing on his claim that this conception ﬁts best with the philosophical theory of agent-causation. We argue that his data do not support this conclusion, highlighting along the way certain considerations that ought to be taken into account when probing the folk conception of free will.
1. Introduction In ‘The folk psychology of free will: ﬁts and starts’ (2004), Shaun Nichols employs some novel approaches in investigating the philosophical problem of free will. First, he suggests using experimental methods—rather than just armchair speculation—to understand ordinary people’s conceptions of free will. Second, he presents experiments designed to elucidate these conceptions, and he suggests that the results indicate that the folk conception of free will ﬁts the philosophical theory of agent-causation. And ﬁnally, he discusses how this conception of agent-causation may develop in children. We applaud each of these approaches and agree that it is important to understand what people think about free will, and why they think it, if we are to determine whether philosophical analyses of the concept actually accord with and account for ordinary conceptions and folk theories. Having tried this sort of experimental work ourselves (Nahmias et al., 2005), we also realize how difﬁcult it is to effectively probe ordinary people’s views about complex topics. Nonetheless, we do think, and will argue here, that Nichols should not yet draw the conclusion that children (or adults) have a conception of free will that ﬁts best with the philosophical theory of agent-causation. Our critiques should be understood as attempts to advance Nichols’ project, not to tear down what he has done so far. We hope implementing his methodology will eventually shed light on how the folk conceptualize free will; and we hope our comments here will be useful in improving this methodology and the way it is applied to the free will debate.
Thanks to Al Mele, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Shaun Nichols for helpful comments and discussions. Address for correspondence: Department of Philosophy, 26 Nichols Ave., New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1411; Department of Philosophy, P.O. Box 4089, Atlanta, GA 30302-4089. Email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Mind & Language, Vol. 21 No. 5 November 2006, pp. 597–609. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
The ﬁrst. Furthermore. Nichols intends his use of ‘agent-causation’ to embody the minimal requirements of the philosophical theory of agent-causation.3 Nichols explains that the essential characteristics of this folk conception of agent-causation are the following: 1. For any given action of an agent. the agent could have done otherwise (p. but some might wonder whether children. Among incompatibilists. explicitly noted by Nichols. In this case. 2. have the cognitive and conceptual resources to have even an implicit conception of anything as complicated as agent-causation. these agent-causal libertarians argue that for agents to act freely they must participate in a special sort of relation. We will not take issue with Nichols on this point. the agent could have not caused it. van Inwagen. ch. Nahmias 2. (It is possible to hold that the special agent-causal relation is necessary for free will but the ability to do otherwise is not—cf. The Substance of Agent-Causation As the terms are used in the philosophical literature. An agent is a causal factor in the production of an action. or whether they have speciﬁc intuitions relevant to the complex modal issues involved in the philosophical debates about the appropriate notion of the ability to do otherwise (see below). has 1 2 3 By ‘determinism’. libertarians believe that (at least some) human agents have free will. Turner and E. other libertarians do not. or even many adults. Rather.598 J. Markosian (1999)—but such a view is highly unorthodox. 3). and skeptics hold that no one ever acts freely. Rather. Where ‘doing otherwise’ may include not doing anything at all. For recent discussions of agent-causation. Roughly.) We will follow Nichols’ convention of using the hyphenated ‘agent-causation’ to refer to the technical philosophical notion. while event-causal libertarians hold that indeterministic processes at the appropriate place in human decision-making are enough to secure free will. As we understand him. if an agent S freely performs an action A. 475). Furthermore. the agent-causal relation that holds between S and A must be such that S could have done other than A. it means that their use of the relevant concepts and their intuitions about cases involving free action and the ability to do otherwise best ﬁt an agent-causal theory as opposed to any alternative theory. This does not mean that they have an explicit acceptance or representation of the theory of agent-causation.2 Nichols’ thesis is that children—and for that matter adults—have and employ an implicit conception of free will that accords with this philosophical theory of agent-causation. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . which holds between a substance (the agent) and an event (the action) and which is not further reducible to a causal relation that holds between mental states of the agent and the action. agentcausation. 1983. incompatibilists believe that free will requires the absence of determinism1 and compatibilists believe that free will is compatible with determinism. we mean the thesis that a complete description of the laws of nature conjoined with a complete description of the state of the world at a given time entails any truth about the future (cf. see O’Connor (2000) and Clarke (2003). two clariﬁcations need to be made.
there is an agent (p. this counterfactual is true: ‘Had C been the case. The argument that. Libertarians most emphatically do not mean that by ‘could have done otherwise’. that children’s conception complies with the Correlation Principle.Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? 599 to do with what is meant by ‘could have done otherwise’ in condition 2. If condition 1 is supposed to capture the ‘causal’ criteria of agent-causation. desires. where this relation cannot be reduced to causal relations involving sub-agential components of the agent. if an effect only occurs in the presence of a candidate cause. ceteris paribus. we (and Nichols) may remain neutral as to whether this amounts to full acceptance of the principle or not. and it will raise problems for his interpretation of the relevant data. 478). agent-causation requires a special sort of causal relation to hold between the agent as a substance and actions. runs as follows: On the prevailing account of causal induction. at least. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . 478–480). Some compatibilists offer a conditional analysis of ‘could have done otherwise’ according to which ‘S could have done otherwise than A’ is true if and only if. we will talk about children’s ‘acceptance’ of such principles throughout. by reference to what he calls ‘the Correlation Principle’: 3. Rather. then that candidate cause does indeed exert causal powers over the effect…. If there is an action. We turn to that issue now. The 4 Or. which is evidenced by the Correlation Principle.4 Then he argues that either (a) children have a prior belief in the Causal Principle. He ﬁrst describes developmental evidence supporting the conclusion that children accept the Correlation Principle (pp. We will return to this issue in §5. For ease of exposition. The Causal Principle and the Correlation Principle Nichols argues for claim 1 above. S would have done otherwise than A’. they have an unconditional analysis in mind: agents have an ability to do otherwise such that it is possible that they do otherwise while everything (the laws of nature and the complete history of the universe) up until the moment of choice remains exactly as it was. or (b) they infer the former from the latter. regular covariation is used as evidence for causal induction … it is a presupposition of causal attribution that. then an agent’s being a ‘causal factor’ in the production of an action must be understood in a very speciﬁc manner. in the absence of a prior belief in the Causal Principle. In particular. although this should be understood in a way compatible with their not having an explicit representation of the principles in question. and intentions. 3. such as beliefs. for some (particular) condition C. it would be inferred by the Correlation Principle. The second clariﬁcation is not explicitly noted by Nichols. which he calls ‘the Causal Principle’.
that Nichols seems happy to equate a child’s coding of an object as an agent as their coding of the object as one that has mental states (p.600 J. 481). Nahmias Correlation Principle says that effects of the type action never occur in the absence of candidate causes of the type agent. Turner and E. To know whether the Causal Principle suggests a conception of agent-causation. we ought to conclude that children accept the following Modiﬁed Causal Principle: 4. not only that those mental states that cause actions are irreducibly non-physical (another way of being a dualist). it will also be true that. But if children accept both the Causal Principle and the Modiﬁed Causal Principle. what reason do we have to think that the two principles are really distinct at all? If the content of the folk’s implicit conception of the causal power of agents is something reducible to or identical with their conception of the causal power of agents’ mental states. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . Notice. In general. an agent is present. 479. cf. we would need to know whether people consider agents to cause actions in virtue of being a special kind of substance rather than in virtue of having special kinds of internal states. Agents’ mental states are causal factors in the production of their actions. whenever an action is present. cf. As Nichols notes in §2. The problem with this argument is that it fails to show what Nichols needs. lots of research on ‘mindreading’. but note that agent-causation still requires that agents as substances cause their actions. Bloom (2004). whenever an action is present. We do not dispute that children accept the Correlation Principle.5 5 Evidence that children tend to be dualists might help to establish this point. Johnson. what reason do we have to think that the content of the ﬁrst will be fundamentally irreducible to the content of the second? Indeed. In that case. desires. Thus. which is that children’s implicit conception of agent-causation has the substantial philosophical features of agent-causation. given the above presupposition of causal attribution. In this case. the Causal Principle would follow (p. that they ‘treat agents distinctively’ (p. compatibilists should have no problem with the evidence Nichols cites to show that children consider agents to have special causal powers. suggests that children come to recognize internal mental states of agents (beliefs. Agent-causationists maintain that the sort of causation that holds between an agent and an action is fundamentally irreducible to causal relations between mental states of an agent and the action. including his own (2003). then there is no reason to think that the folk conception of agency is tied to the philosophical theory of agent-causation. although it is true that. some mental states are present. by a parallel argument. 22). 479). intentions) as causally inﬂuencing agents’ actions and that people tend not to attribute these mental states and their causal powers to ordinary objects (unless the objects act as if they are goal-directed). 2000. however. p.
that the agent-causal relation holds between a substance and an event. however. perhaps the idea is just that children think of human agents as acting in an indeterministic way that is importantly different than the way physical objects behave. this evidence is entirely consistent with a compatibilist view that says agents’ ability to do otherwise derives from their ability to act on certain mental states. However.2 are designed to provide evidence supporting the claim that agents cause actions in a fundamentally different way than ordinary physical events cause other ordinary physical events.g. a girl’s choosing to have vanilla ice cream).g. We argue below that the experiment fails in this aim. Experiment 1 (pp. and a moral choice (e. However. then it would suggests that children’s conception of how agents cause actions is incompatible with a theory that takes those causal relations to be physical relations of event-causation. a girl’s choosing to steal a candy bar). and second. 483–486). which we will not discuss in any detail. The experiments Nichols presents in his §3.6 Nichols’ Experiment 2 (pp.Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? 4. 6 Again. Nichols has a simpler argument in mind for the claim that the folk conception of free will best ﬁts the theory of agent-causation. then an argument to the effect that agent-causal accounts best capture children’s conception could be made. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .g. two features distinguish agent-causal from event-causal libertarianism: ﬁrst. Determinism. In the previous section we pointed out that Nichols’ data does not support the claim that children’s conception of free will incorporates the ﬁrst feature. As we described it. if it could be shown that children’s conception of free will incorporates at least the second feature. In Nichols’ Experiment 2. After a series of comprehension questions about the conditions leading up to the crucial event. 486–489) is supposed to establish that children’s conception of the ability to do otherwise cannot be captured by any conditional analysis. the experiment might be seen as providing support for the claim that children’s conception of free action differs fundamentally from their conception of ordinary physical causal processes. at least) that children conceive of an agent’s causal powers as being different than an object’s causal powers in that an agent’s ability to do otherwise is not reducible to Hume’s simple criterion of the agent’s being free of constraints. and Complexity: An Experiment 601 Perhaps. however. participants (nine children around 5 years of age) were presented with several scenarios involving a physical event (e. thus requiring an agent-causal account to accurately capture the conception. water coming to boil). a non-moral choice (e. If this is right. so long as this ability is interpreted in line with a conditional analysis (see §5 below). Indeterminism. that this relation is fundamentally different than those ordinary causal relations that hold between ordinary physical events—different in a way that precludes its being reduced to mere physical event-causation. Rather than saddling children with (even implicit) conceptions of agents as substance-causes. establishes (to our minds.
for the present. however. given the same prior circumstances.602 J. along with Nichols. 488): for instance.e. the event had to happen. did Mary have to choose to steal? (p. we have reason to think that only a description of choice that satisﬁes the second. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . They may think some simple processes. People may conceive of human choices as indeterministic not because they are choices. we will grant the conclusion and assume. We will discuss this in the following section. rather than stemming from a fundamental difference in people’s conceptions of choices and physical processes. then we seem to have good evidence that choices are conceived of as fundamentally different than physical processes—i. and some participants responded that the agent did have to choose as she did. an alternative explanation for the asymmetrical responses. then the asymmetry between responses in the moral choice and physical event cases may suggest that people’s conception of choosing really is fundamentally different than their conception of physical causation. If this is correct. now imagine that all of that was exactly the same and that what Mary wanted was exactly the same. anti-reductive feature of agent-causation can capture the way most people conceive of human choice. that does not suggest that they think it occurs in all causal processes. are deterministic in that certain conditions (e. Nichols found a signiﬁcant difference between children’s responses to this question regarding the cases of moral choices and their responses regarding the cases of physical events (he also found such differences in pilot studies with adults. that a response to the effect that Mary did not have to choose to steal is evidence that the respondent’s conception of choosing is one that requires indeterminism in order to be satisﬁed. If choices have to be indeterministic but physical causal processes do not.7 One conclusion the data appear to support is that children’s conception of human choice is not readily captured by a conditional analysis. In the moral choice case. Turner and E.g. If people think that indeterminism occurs in some causal processes. they are asked: Okay. Mary did not have to steal than they were to say that. If everything in the world was the same right up until she chose to steal. see note 7. There is. Perhaps. even though they conceive of certain simple processes as deterministic. the water did not have to boil. but because they are complex and people conceive of complex processes (including both some human choices and some physical processes) as being indeterministic. for instance. p. children were more likely to say that. Indeed. the water’s reaching the right temperature) always produce the 7 As Nichols notes. 487). however. given the same prior circumstances. these results are tentative (in part because they use a small sample size). Nahmias children are asked whether. such as water boiling. the asymmetry stems from a difference in people’s conceptions of certain complex processes and simple processes. if all these prior conditions were the same. even these results are rather mixed: about half the responses were that the water did not have to boil.
Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? 603 same outcome (e. They had an opportunity to explain their answers on the back of the survey. We developed an experiment to further test Nichols’ claim that people are signiﬁcantly more likely to be indeterminists about human choices than about physical events. starting from the exact same initial conditions (and with all the same laws of nature). Alternatively. ‘No’. including the lightning bolt’s hitting the tree at that time? Scenario I: Imagine a woman is trying to decide between ordering vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream.g. If that were the case. If that were the case.8 And our participants were not children but 99 introductory philosophy students at Florida State University. it may be more difﬁcult for people to properly imagine in the case of such complex processes all of the conditions that would have to be identical so as to produce the exact same outcome. do you think that every time the universe is re-created everything would happen the exact same way. including the woman’s deciding to order vanilla at that time? Scenario S: Imagine a woman is trying to decide whether or not to steal a necklace. and at a particular time she decides on vanilla. We also used a roll-back paradigm that is different than the one Nichols employed. starting from the exact same initial conditions 8 We broke company with Nichols’ methodology in part because we have concerns about how participants will understand questions involving practical modalities like ‘had to’. Now imagine that the universe is re-created over and over again. Now imagine that the universe is re-created over and over again. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . Now imagine that the universe is re-created over and over again. such as human decision-making—but also perhaps complex physical processes such as those involved in weather—may be considered indeterministic in a way that allows the same conditions to produce different outcomes. That is. But more complex processes. do you think that every time the universe is re-created everything would happen the exact same way. Each participant read three scenarios (counterbalanced for order) and answered one question about each (circling either ‘Yes’. they may be sensitive to the fact that just one tiny little difference in the initial conditions of a complex process can produce different outcomes and this may lead them to respond that the outcome did not have to occur. starting from the exact same initial conditions (and with all the same laws of nature). but we used a more complex physical event (lightning striking). and at a particular time she decides to steal it. in which case participants may fail to reason counterfactually from an acceptance of the stipulated condition. or ‘I don’t know’). see §5 below. Either of the above explanations might even explain why some of the participants in Nichols’ study did not respond that the water had to boil. Scenario L: Imagine that a lightning bolt hits a particular tree at a particular time. despite what the scenario says. the water’s boiling).
These ‘determinists’ did not. No order effects were found. The lightning strike doesn’t ﬁt into this because it was inevitable’). 2005). then there would be no other choice but for [the] occurrence to happen’). do you think that every time the universe is re-created everything would happen the exact same way.9 Yes Lightning (L) Ice Cream (I) Steal necklace (S) 42 36 36 No 49 52 55 I don’t know 8 11 8 Of the 99 participants. and that this is true of human choices too (e. without suggesting any difference between decision-making and natural processes (e. ‘Certain things happen as a result of what happened before it. if reversed. As we have found in other studies. 40 were ‘indeterminists’ who answered ‘no’ to all three. Nahmias (and with all the same laws of nature). our results did not replicate the Nichols’ ﬁnding that there is a signiﬁcant difference in participants’ responses regarding the ‘inevitability’ of physical events and of human choices. suggest that they thought the choices were thereby not free. Most of the determinists offered explanations suggesting that they believed that the same conditions and laws must produce the same outcome. about half offered explanations that suggested there is some randomness or chaos in the universe. If the situations were recreated exactly. overall. Hence. ‘Humans may be able to change their thinking and their ways.10 Of the 40 indeterminists. most ordinary people are not adverse to compatibilist thinking (see Nahmias et al. But. including the woman’s deciding to steal the necklace at that time? Results seem to suggest conﬂicting beliefs among our participants about whether the events would happen every time. would those same random things happen the exact same way?’). the absolute numbers in the table can also be treated as percentages.g.. Turner and E. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . If that were the case. 9 10 Since there happened to be 99 participants. and 29 were ‘complex cases’ who offered different responses to the scenarios. ‘In a universe where things happen randomly all the time why. with 13 suggesting that humans have choice or free will so that they can produce different outcomes (e. Of the remaining indeterminists and the complex cases. only 9 of 99 participants responded that the human choices would not happen the same way every time but that the lightning bolt would. though consistently across the three scenarios over half the participants responded that the events would not happen every time the universe was re-created.g.604 J.g. however. about 20 participants made reference to something speciﬁc regarding human activity. 30 were ‘determinists’ who answered ‘yes’ to all three scenarios.
For it is constitutive of the libertarian viewpoint that agents could have done otherwise in the non-conditional sense described in §1. though they reject the need for the substancecausation of agent-causation. Though further testing is required.g. do not bear out the asymmetry required to establish that people think of actions as fundamentally different than physical processes. simple vs. people might believe that. 1996). for reasons we explain in the next section). However. ‘no’ to the question ‘Did Mary have to choose to steal?’) is supposed to indicate that the participant’s conception of the ability to do otherwise fails to ﬁt with a conditional analysis. Of course. then. is that a negative answer to the crucial question (i. 5. we take it. so they do require this conception of ‘could have done otherwise’. since we did not perform the experiment with young children. if a person has an overwhelming desire to A and a belief that they should A. is supposed to show that children have just such a conception. Could Have Done Otherwise? Our results.Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? 605 We take our results to be unhelpful in sorting out people’s conception of the ability to do otherwise (in part. we cannot claim that their responses would be similar to our adult participants’ responses. that will deterministically cause a choice to A). Up until now we have discussed only those parts of Nichols’ arguments that attempt to establish that people have a conception of agency that satisﬁes the Causal Principle. including both its complex physical processes and human decision-making. complex) and signiﬁcant similarities (regarding the likelihood of occurring otherwise given the same conditions) between certain complex physical processes and human choices. Nonetheless. people seem to have varying views about whether or not the world works deterministically.11 Nichols’ experiment probing children’s responses to different scenarios. if he can show that people have a particular conception of ‘could have done otherwise’ (condition 2 on agent-causation). But our results suggest that most people do not believe that all physical processes are deterministic while human choices are indeterministic.e. then he may at least conclude that they have a conception of agency that is libertarian. Our results suggest an alternative explanation of the divergence Nichols found in children’s responses to physical processes and human choices. discussed above. we think it is fair to say that much more needs to be done if we are to establish that ordinary people (children or adults) conceive of action in a way that accords best with agent-causation. in 11 Some ‘event-causal’ libertarians require only indeterminism at an appropriate place in the event-causal chain of mental states causing actions (see Kane. The idea. even if Nichols cannot show that people have an agent-causal conception of agency. it may be that children see signiﬁcant differences between different types of physical processes (e. even if they might believe that certain simple physical events are deterministic (for that matter. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . Rather.
Turner and E. But that does not entail that I could not have won the lottery or that I had to lose. consider a compatibilist who understands the ability to do otherwise in a conditional way. we should not be surprised. had something been different. after all. however. Now. For the purposes of the prior section. it is still true that. they must not be saying that her ability to do otherwise requires different initial conditions’. she would not have stolen the candy bar. everything had to happen as it did. The point can be put another way. When presented with the moral choice scenario. Ergo. Mary did not have to choose to steal because it is not stipulated that the prior conditions themselves had to be as they were. in deterministic universes. nothing could have been different if the past and laws were not different. he might respond: ‘Even if everything was exactly the same up until the moment Mary chose to steal the candy bar. Let’s focus on the moral choice case. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . Children’s responses that Mary did not have to choose to steal are supposed to show that their conception of the ability to do otherwise cannot be captured by any conditional analysis. (Compare: ‘I could win the lottery’ might plausibly be understood as ‘I would win the lottery if and only if my number were picked’. Mary could have chosen otherwise only if she would have chosen otherwise given different initial conditions. from the downright false claim that. Since those conditions could have been otherwise. of course. The view is merely that these counterfactuals give the truth conditions of ordinary people’s usages of ‘could have done otherwise’ and similar locutions. in deterministic universes. she could have avoided stealing the candy bar—or. To see why. Simply saying that a universe is deterministic says nothing about whether its initial conditions or laws had to be as they were. This reasoning is ﬂawed: a negative answer to the question need not indicate that a participant’s conception of the ability to do otherwise is non-conditional. few (if any) people can give informative truth conditions for most of their modal locutions. That is. We suspect the reasoning behind this thought is as follows: ‘According to a conditional analysis. she did not have to choose to steal the candy bar’. Nahmias which case the agent could count as being able to do otherwise only if her action was undetermined. If the truth conditions of these modal terms are opaque to ordinary people.606 J.)12 Of course. a proponent of the conditional analysis will not say that children (or even most adults) have such complex thought processes lying behind their use of practical modal terms. in other words. to distinguish the trivial claim that. Mary could have chosen otherwise. There is a practical modality embedded in the crucial question: the participants are asked whether Mary had to choose to 12 It is important. Therefore. when people say she still could have done otherwise when we‘re holding the initial conditions ﬁxed. My number was not picked. we granted this conclusion. we raise a concern about the relationship between this conclusion and the data advanced to support it. so I did not win the lottery.
water boiling). then Mary would not have chosen to steal’. then they would also do so in the physical event cases. advocates of conditional analyses do have to say that A2 is true. The divergence. it is more likely that they were employing a non-conditional sense of the ability to do otherwise in both cases and that they believe agents have this ability whereas physical events do not’. the question (simpliﬁed) reads: ‘If everything were the same up until her choice. as modal operators often do. But we suspect that children (and adults) are more likely to parse the experimental question in a way consistent with A1 rather than A2 thanks to the surface structure of the question. Do the divergent results between responses to those cases involving human choices (especially moral choices) and those involving physical processes (e. Mary had to: choose to steal given that everything was exactly the same up until the moment of choice. did Mary have to choose to steal?’ rather than: ‘Did Mary have to choose to steal given that everything up until she chose was the same?’. if some relevant condition had been different. Here the holding ﬁxed of conditions is vacuous. ‘Had to’ occurs embedded in a clause preceded by a clause that. because there the holding-ﬁxed of conditions falls within the scope of the practical modal operator. however. (A2 roughly says that Mary could not have done the following: chosen not to steal without anything in the past being different. A1. Since they weren’t. this one gives rise to a scope ambiguity: does the holding ﬁxed of the initial conditions fall under the scope of the operator or not? This ambiguity gives rise to two different readings of a negative response to the question of whether she had to choose to steal: A1. should be understood as follows: given that the initial conditions are just as they were. the truth-value of what falls within that operator can still depend on counterfactual suppositions about the past (or laws of nature) being different. And. according to the conditional analysis. Now. but the divergence in responses involves sensitivity of the conditional to factors other than © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . suggest that children’s conceptions best ﬁt a non-conditional analysis of the ability to do otherwise? Perhaps Nichols has in mind an argument like this: ‘If children were employing a conditional analysis in the moral choice cases. A1 is equivalent to ‘If some relevant condition had been different. We admit that either interpretation of the question (‘had to’ having wide or narrow scope) is consistent with the actual wording in the experiment (and in many ordinary uses of such modal sentences). may best be accounted for in some other way. Given that everything was exactly the same up until the moment of choice: Mary had to choose to steal. Mary would not have chosen to steal. in effect. since the holding-ﬁxed of conditions in A1 happens before the practical modal operator. emphasized by Nichols. That is.g.) However. Perhaps the conception of the ability to do otherwise is conditional. tells us to hold conditions ﬁxed.Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? 607 steal. but then their responses to the two cases should be the same. A2.
That is. S could have done otherwise than A if and only if. we should add that Nichols’ various explanations for children’s development of the belief in agent-causation. including his favored explanation that it derives from their beliefs about moral obligation. As it stands. raise very interesting questions. it’s true that if S hadn‘t existed. the question remains how that conception develops and © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . (It’s no coincidence that modal claims are notoriously difﬁcult even for philosophers to sort out. children’s conception of the ability to do otherwise might yield to a conditional analysis and be compatible with determinism after all. This alternative interpretation of Nichols’ results suggests that the conditional analysis is correct but that the sorts of variations in initial conditions allowed in the antecedent of the counterfactual are of a sort that will only make a difference to very complex processes.) However.608 J. help to clarify which philosophical theories are actually commonsensical or intuitive. especially in the free will debate. Nichols’ methodology of experimentally testing pretheoretical folk is appropriate (and children will be even more pretheoretical than adults!). If this is correct. remain largely intact even if it turns out that children do not acquire a belief in anything as intricate as agent-causation. coming up with a way to test whether people have a conditional or an unconditional conception of the ability to do otherwise will be extremely difﬁcult. we think. 6. Turner and E. there is some reason to think that. philosophers tend to take their own intuitions to represent those of ordinary folk. in need of further testing with different scenarios and more participants. given the complex issues we raised above regarding practical modal operators and their scope. However. S would not have A-ed. But no fan of the conditional analysis thinks that the ‘something’ ranges over every possible change in initial conditions—after all. which is in turn correlated with sensitivity to small variations in initial conditions. we share Nichols’ hope that empirical tests of ordinary people’s intuitions and concept use will. however tacit. and since their intuitions are likely to be inﬂuenced by their theoretical commitments. As we have seen in §4. But since philosophers’ intuitions often conﬂict. had something been different. we take our conclusions to be tentative. of this sensitivity). According to the conditional analysis. at a minimum. but this shouldn’t be taken as evidence that every agent could have done otherwise than A even by a fan of the conditional analysis. These questions. for any action A and agent S. then the asymmetry in children’s responses to the different cases would reﬂect only the sensitivity of the described processes to minute changes in initial conditions (and children’s recognition. Thus. Further Research and Conclusions Like Nichols. for all Experiment 2 has shown. even if children have a conception of free agency that looks more like certain compatibilist theories. S would not have A-ed. Nahmias indeterminism. Finally. there is good reason to think that people’s judgments in these sorts of cases is correlated with their complexity.
by praising the methodological approach Nichols advocates and by agreeing that the questions he raises are certainly (some of) the right ones to be asking. 257–77. and Turner. Nahmias. P. P. J. S. E. S. R. Kane. Department of Philosophy Rutgers University Department of Philosophy.. 1999: A compatibilist version of the theory of agent causation. Morris.. 19. 2004: The folk psychology of free will. and Stich. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003: Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. Brains & Behavior Program Georgia State University References Bloom. S. 4. S. Philosophical Psychology. Nadelhoffer. R. New York: Oxford University Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2003: Mindreading. 80. O’Connor.Are the Folk Agent-Causationists? 609 whether prior beliefs and practices regarding moral obligation inﬂuence it. 1996: The Signiﬁcance of Free Will. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. New York: Basic Books. 2004: Descartes’ Baby. Markosian. 2000: The recognition of mentalistic agents in infants. We conclude as we began. 18. T. © 2006 The Authors Journal compilation © 2006 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . van Inwagen. 561–584. 1983: An Essay on Free Will. S. Johnson. 22–28.. Clarke. 2005: Surveying freedom: folk intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press. Paciﬁc Philosophical Quarterly. T. New York: Oxford University Press. N. 473–502. Mind & Language. 2000: Persons and Causes. Nichols. Nichols.
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