Philosophy Ability
by
Evan Butts
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0377

Introduction

Ability attribution is a common and important feature of both everyday and theoretical discourse. People are given jobs, picked for teams, and so forth on the basis of their possession (or lack of possession) of some ability. More theoretically, whether or not humans have free will is often thought to hinge upon what we are able to do given certain facts. What are abilities, then, and when does an agent have them? Agents have the ability to do something when, in some sense, they can do that thing. Likewise, agents lack the ability to do something when, in some sense, they cannot do that thing. However simple these statements may seem, there is a great deal of literature attempting to make precise their full meaning. This entry will provide references to some of the most accessible and directly relevant resources concerning the concept “ability” and its primary uses in major philosophical literature.

General Overviews

Despite the prevalence of ability talk in a variety of domains, there is little in the way of a general overview of the different accounts of ability. For a general introduction to philosophical accounts of ability, there is Maier, a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry. A slightly narrower, but still general, overview can be found in Small 2017.

  • Maier, John. “Abilities.” Rev. ed. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2014.

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    Maier gives brief yet informative coverage of the major philosophical accounts of ability, along with a discussion of what general considerations are taken to constrain such theories. There is also a section dealing with the domain in which ability talk most often appears: the debates concerning free will.

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    • Small, Will. “Agency and Practical Abilities.” Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 80 (2017): 235–264.

      DOI: 10.1017/S1358246117000133Save Citation »Export Citation »

      The aim of this paper is to argue that philosophers who deploy accounts of ability in their work often pay insufficient and superficial attention to mundane abilities (e.g., the abilities to walk, eat with a fork, speak a language, etc.) Small claims that serious attention to these everyday abilities requires a new general theory of ability, and he sets out to begin giving such an account by detailing how ability talk in the discussions on free will and the nature of knowledge go awry.

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      Historical Perspectives

      Much of the historical literature discusses abilities in the service of addressing other issues. Just as in the contemporary era, ability is often used to discuss the issue of free will. This is true particularly of the medieval and modern periods.

      Ancient

      There is some direct discussion of ability in ancient Greek philosophy. In both Plato 1994 and Aristotle 1998, there is discussion of both the nature and possession of abilities. Plato 1994 discusses the connection of ability to professional performance in different occupations, while Aristotle mentions ability briefly in the context of discussing views opposed to his own.

      • Aristotle. Metaphysics. Translated by Hugh Lawson-Tancred. London: Penguin, 1998.

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        Aristotle briefly touches upon the subject of ability possession in discussing potentialities versus actualities. He dismisses the position that an agent only has an ability when they are actually exercising it, but lacks it at all other times.

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        • Plato. Ion. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Internet Classic Archive, 1994.

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          A short dialogue in which Socrates asks whether the titular character, a poet, performs adeptly through his own skill/ability, or through being possessed by a divine power. The thrust of the dialogue is that skill/ability must be the accomplishment of goals appropriate to a role through a person’s own efforts, rather than divine possession.

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          Medieval

          Medieval accounts of ability are articulated almost exclusively in the context of discussing free will and moral responsibility. Treatments of ability stem from various authors’ attempts to support their particular theory of free will on the basis of certain theological assumptions. Anselm of Canterbury 1998 discusses the nature of ability as it pertains to whether divine beings are free despite being unable to do evil. Aquinas 2006 distinguishes between the powers of the intellect and will, focusing on intellect in Aquinas’s account of free will. Wolter 1986 demonstrates John Duns Scotus’s view of free will, which directly addresses and objects to Aquinas’s arguments.

          • Anselm of Canterbury. Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works. Edited by Brian Davies and G. R. Evans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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            In the sections “On Free Will” and “The Fall of the Devil,” Anselm argues that beings can be free even when lacking the ability to do otherwise—or, more specifically, the ability to sin rather than do right. Indeed, beings that cannot sin are more free, according to Anselm: God (the being than which nothing greater can be conceived) is perfectly free while being entirely unable to sin.

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            • Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Edited by Brian Davies and Brian Leftow. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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              Aquinas discusses the process of human decision making in the first sections of Part II of Summa Theologica (roughly, Questions 1–89). He identifies the deliberative abilities of the intellect as the seat of free will, rather than the selection abilities of the will. For Aquinas, the deliberations of the intellect largely determine the selections of the will.

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              • Wolter, Allan B. Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1986.

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                Scotus’s discussion of the relation between the intellect and the will reveals a notion of ability as being free to select via their will one of a number of options identified by the intellect. He contrasts this directly to Aquinas’s contention that being free consists in agents’ will being determined by the deliberation of their intellect.

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                Modern

                As with the medieval accounts, modern discussions of ability (or, sketches of a theory of ability) have tended to be part of the discourse on free will. This is the case, for instance, with Hume 1999. Reid 2010 is somewhat more distant from discussions of free will, as it is concerned with a taxonomy of powers.

                • Hume, David. An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Tom L. Beauchamp. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                  Hume’s Enquiry is often cited as the source the conditional analysis approach to abilities, due to his gloss on what it takes to be able to have liberty: viz., choosing to do something if an agent were to desire doing so.

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                  • Reid, Thomas. Essays on the Active Powers of Man. Edited by Knud Haakonssen and James A. Harris. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010.

                    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780748617081.book.1Save Citation »Export Citation »

                    Reid discusses abilities in terms of powers of agents to execute actions. Specifically, he is concerned with powers that involve the exercise of the will, which he terms “active powers.”

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                    Metaphysics of Ability

                    The primary question about abilities is what exactly they are. Theories of ability are rarely given in abstraction from other philosophical issues upon which they bear, such as ability possession and free will. Mostly, theories of ability are given either in terms of conditional analysis over dispositions, or in terms of restrictions of possibility by accessibility relationships.

                    Conditional Analysis

                    A prominent approach to the nature of abilities, conditional analysis construes abilities as dispositions with a certain conditional structure, or tendencies to do a particular thing in specific circumstances. An early attempt at spelling out a conditional analysis of ability is found in Austin 1990. This view has been extensively criticized, leading to the abandonment of its initial versions. However, see Choi 2010 for some resistance to this. Davidson 1980, Lee 2011, and Ginet 1980 all articulate possible alterations to the conditional analysis framework in an attempt to overcome objections to it. Clarke 2009 argues that, in the context of the free will debates, new dispositionalist positions fare no better than old ones.

                    • Austin, J. L. “Ifs and Cans.” In Philosophical Papers. Edited by J. O. Urmson and G. J. Warnock. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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                      An early approach to an explicit conditional analysis of abilities; Austin asks whether there are “ifs” present (albeit implicitly) in any statements containing “can” or “could.”

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                      • Choi, Sungho. “Dispositions and Bogus Counterexamples: A Reply to Lee.” Philosophia 38.3 (2010): 579–588.

                        DOI: 10.1007/s11406-010-9248-7Save Citation »Export Citation »

                        Part of a back-and-forth series between Jaeho Lee and Sungho Choi. Here Choi claims that purported counterexamples to a simple conditional analysis of abilities do not succeed.

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                        • Clarke, Randolph. “Dispositions, Abilities to Act and Free Will: The New Dispositionalism.” Mind 118.470 (2009): 323–351.

                          DOI: 10.1093/mind/fzp034Save Citation »Export Citation »

                          Clarke examines new dispositionalist accounts as they relate to the compatibilism/incompatibilism debate, concluding that ultimately new dispositionalism cannot succeed where its predecessor failed.

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                          • Davidson, Donald. Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980.

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                            An excellent collection of Davidson’s essays. Of particular interest is “Freedom to Act,” in which Davidson collects and discusses critiques of the conditional analysis view of ability, concluding that they are decisive. He presents a modified version of the view in an attempt to overcome these critiques.

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                            • Ginet, Carl. “The Conditional Analysis of Freedom.” In Time and Cause: Essays Presented to Richard Taylor. Edited by Peter van Inwagen, 171–186. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1980.

                              DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-3528-5_10Save Citation »Export Citation »

                              Ginet’s paper argues that the predominant (and correct) conditional to use when thinking about the conditional analysis of abilities is the subjunctive conditional. (Subjunctive conditionals are those like, “If they hadn’t eaten the chips, they would have eaten something else.” These are contrasted with indicative conditionals, like, “If they didn’t eat the chips, then some else ate the chips”.) Ginet also outlines possible responses on behalf of the view to common objections.

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                              • Lee, Jaeho. “Genuine Counter Examples to the Simple Conditional Analysis of Disposition.” Philosophia 39.2 (2011): 327–334.

                                DOI: 10.1007/s11406-010-9300-7Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                Lee’s response to Choi’s claims that his counterexamples to the simple conditional analysis of ability fail. Lee defends his counterexamples, and argues that they necessitate the adoption of a reformed conditional analysis.

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                                Possible Worlds Analysis

                                Possible worlds analyses of ability eschew the logic of conditionals for the use of various accessibility relations to determine the range of situations in which agents possess ability. The accessibility relation is used in modal logic to identify which alternative possible worlds are possible given some set of facts about a specific world under discussion. Lehrer 1976 is an oft-cited example of such an analysis, leveraging a notion of world-relative advantage to analyze ability. Kratzer 1977 ties the metaphysical analysis of ability to linguistics-specific analysis of the words used to express ability. In Kenny 1975, we get a thorough treatment of possible worlds analyses of ability, including extensive critiques. A history of possible worlds analyses in general is given in Copeland 2002. For concerns as to whether possible worlds analyses can deal with counterfactuals in general (much less abilities in particular), see Barker 2011.

                                • Barker, Stephen. “Can Counterfactuals Really Be about Possible Worlds?” Noûs 45.3 (2011): 557–576.

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                                  Barker examines several problems of conditional analysis strategies for interpreting counterfactual statements, and argues that no extant solutions are satisfactory.

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                                  • Copeland, B. Jack. “The Genesis of Possible Worlds Semantics.” Journal of Philosophical Logic 31.2 (2002): 99–137.

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                                    Copeland thoroughly traces the development of possible worlds semantics, arguing that it begins in the work of Wittgenstein.

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                                    • Kenny, Anthony. Will, Freedom, and Power. Oxford: Blackwell, 1975.

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                                      Kenny’s monograph is filled with thorough (and sometimes technical) discussions of the logic involved in possible worlds analyses of abilities. He points out the possible pitfalls of such analyses.

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                                      • Kratzer, Angelika. “What ‘Must’ and ‘Can’ Must and Can Mean.” Linguistics and Philosophy 1 (1977): 337–355.

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                                        Kratzer argues that linguistic analysis of so-called modal auxiliaries like “can” suggests that they all express variously restricted ranges of possibility for what they modify, depending on context. Thus, insofar as “can” and “ability” are linked, there is reason to talk of abilities in the sense of restricted possibilities expressed in spaces of possible worlds.

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                                        • Lehrer, Keith. “‘Can’ in Theory and Practice: A Possible World Analysis.” In Action Theory: Proceedings of the Winnipeg Conference on Human Action, Held at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 9–11 May 1975. Edited by Myles Brand and Douglas Walton, 241–270. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1976.

                                          DOI: 10.1007/978-94-010-9074-2_14Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                          Lehrer’s account of ability uses an accessibility relation between possible worlds. According to Lehrer, an agent has an ability to do something in the actual world if there are no accessible possible worlds in which she or he has an advantage relative to the actual world.

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                                          Ability Possession

                                          It is not sufficient to give an account of what abilities are in the abstract; it is also important to illuminate under what conditions agents possess abilities, whatever they are. Much early work on this topic was done in the ordinary language mode, as in Honoré 1964 and von Wright 1963. Epistemologists have done a good amount of work analyzing ability for their own purposes, with Greco 2010 giving a specific possible worlds type of account. Butts 2014 collects various prominent treatments of ability in epistemology and compares them in terms of how well they extrapolate to general talk of abilities. Mele 2002 argues that most talk of abilities overlooks several important distinctions among types of ability and their different possession conditions. Locke 1973 explores whether agents can be said to possess abilities (or powers) when they do not exercise them.

                                          • Butts, Evan. “Slim Is In: An Argument for a Narrow Conception of Abilities in Epistemology.” Journal of Philosophical Research (Online First, 5 August 2014).

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                                            In this paper, Butts compares the various accounts of ability possession suggested by the work of epistemologists, arguing in favor of a “narrow conception” on the basis of its being more satisfactorily generalized to all abilities. Available online by subscription.

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                                            • Greco, John. Achieving Knowledge: A Virtue-Theoretic Account of Epistemic Normativity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

                                              DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511844645Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                              Toward the end of his argument for a robust virtue epistemology, Greco provides a clear account of when exactly a subject possesses an ability to do something. Greco’s analysis relies on possible worlds.

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                                              • Honoré, A. M. “Can and Can’t.” Mind 73.292 (1964): 463–479.

                                                DOI: 10.1093/mind/LXXIII.292.463Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                Honoré gives an analysis of ability via the various common language uses of “can” and “can’t,” distinguishing senses that indicate ability or lack thereof from those that do not.

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                                                • Locke, Don. “Natural Powers and Human Abilities.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 74 (1973): 171–187.

                                                  DOI: 10.1093/aristotelian/74.1.171Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                  Locke compares and contrasts powers with abilities in pursuit of sketching an account in which an agent has abilities and powers even when he or she does not exercise them.

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                                                  • Mele, Alfred R. “Agents’ Abilities.” Noûs 37 (2002): 447–470.

                                                    DOI: 10.1111/1468-0068.00446Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                    The various debates that rely on notions of ability generally fail to distinguish among types of ability, according to Mele. In this paper, he differentiates several types of ability, noting the difference in their possession conditions.

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                                                    • von Wright, Georg Henrik. Norm and Action: A Logical Inquiry. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963.

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                                                      Von Wright’s general analysis of ability is similar to Honoré’s, but it is more in-depth and sustained.

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                                                      Omnipotence

                                                      Omnipotence is a special case of ability possession, wherein an agent—in some sense—possesses all abilities. The nature of omnipotence has been an important topic in metaphysics and philosophy of religion due to its relationship to the concept of God. Numerous accounts of omnipotence have arisen in the literature, including those like Conee 1991 and Descartes 1984 which argue that omnipotence entails being able to bring about even impossible states of affairs. In contrast, those like that of Aquinas argue that omnipotence does not require being able to bring about impossible states of affairs (see Aquinas 1993). Maimonides 2004 claims that thinking of God’s power in human terms leads to misunderstanding, and Maimonides opts for a negative definition of divine omnipotence. In the contemporary literature, both Geach 1973 and Swinburne 1973 attempt to offer accounts of omnipotence that avoid the classic problems and paradoxes. Oppy 2005 defends an analysis of omnipotence in terms of ability from alternative analyses in terms of maximal power.

                                                      • Aquinas, Thomas. Selected Philosophical Writings. Edited and translated by Timothy McDermott. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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                                                        Many of Aquinas’s writings are collected here, with those relevant to the nature of God’s omnipotence falling in Part Three.

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                                                        • Conee, Earl. “The Possibility of Power beyond Possibility.” Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991): 447–473.

                                                          DOI: 10.2307/2214105Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                          Conee, contrary to accounts following Aquinas, claims that omnipotence can and does involve the ability to bring about impossible and contradictory states of affairs.

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                                                          • Descartes, René. “Meditations on First Philosophy.” In The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Vol. 2. Translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch, 12–15. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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                                                            Descartes provides an early example of an account that takes being omnipotent to include having the ability to bring about necessary and impossible states of affairs.

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                                                            • Geach, P. T. “Omnipotence.” Philosophy 48.183 (1973): 7–20.

                                                              DOI: 10.1017/S0031819100060381Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                              In this excellent article, Geach describes various conceptions of omnipotence and finds reason to reject each of them. Ultimately, he opts instead for a notion of almightiness, which he identifies as what Anselm actually had in mind.

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                                                              • Maimonides. The Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by M. Freidlander. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004.

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                                                                Maimonides’s account of omnipotence, and of divine attributes in general, is atypical. He urges that God’s power is simply incomparable to any power humans have or experience. Thus, asking questions such as “Can God do X?” will generally not help to understand God’s omnipotence.

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                                                                • Oppy, Graham. “Omnipotence.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71.1 (2005): 58–84.

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                                                                  Oppy argues against the construal of omnipotence as maximal power, claiming that it makes more sense to discuss it in terms of ability possession.

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                                                                  • Swinburne, Richard. “Omnipotence.” American Philosophical Quarterly 10 (1973): 231–237.

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                                                                    Swinburne constructs an account of omnipotence that he argues is immune to the usual problems and paradoxes that historically plague such accounts (e.g., Can an omnipotent being create a stone so large that it cannot be lifted by an omnipotent being?).

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                                                                    Free Will and Ability

                                                                    Debates concerning free will, and its (lack of) compatibility with deterministic and indeterministic views of the universe, are where the notion of ability is most used in philosophical discourse. Determinism is, roughly, the view that every moment is necessitated by a combination of previous moments with the laws of nature. Indeterminism is the denial that the universe is deterministic.

                                                                    Compatibilism

                                                                    Broadly speaking, compatibilist positions state that free will is compatible with some form of determinism. Compatibilist positions are identified in the literature of the modern period, as in Hume 2000. See also Beebee and Mele 2002 for an illumination of Humean compatibilism. However, contemporary compatibilism has diverged from its modern roots. Alternative compatabilist strains can be found in Strawson 1962 and Fischer and Ravizza 1998. Pendergraft 2010 defends local miracle compatibilism, which is more directly descended from the classical compatibilist position. Much of the contemporary literature is influenced by the seminal Frankfurt 1969 and its discussion of the principle of alternate possibilities: the idea that moral responsibility/freedom depends on an ability to do otherwise than one actually does. Experimental philosophy methods have also been brought to bear in generating support for compatibilism, as in Murray and Nahmias 2014.

                                                                    • Beebee, Helen, and Alfred Mele. “Humean Compatibilism.” Mind 111.442 (2002): 201–223.

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                                                                      Beebee and Mele outline a form of compatibilism that they take to have similarities with an incompatibilist position; viz., libertarianism. The Humean flavor of the position they outline comes from taking up Hume’s conception of natural laws.

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                                                                      • Fischer, John Martin, and Mark Ravizza. Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511814594Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                        Fischer and Ravizza develop an account of free will based on a distinction between regulative control over actions and guidance control over actions. For them, regulative control is required for the ability to do otherwise, but is not necessary for free will. Guidance control, which requires that actions result from “internal” (i.e., agent-owned) mechanisms responsive to moral considerations, suffices for free will but does not involve an ability to do otherwise.

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                                                                        • Frankfurt, Harry G. “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.” Journal of Philosophy 66 (1969): 829–839.

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                                                                          This is Frankfurt’s enormously influential paper, wherein the so-called Frankfurt cases originate. He argues that agents can be free—and thus responsible—even when it is not the case that they could have done other than they did.

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                                                                          • Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                            Hume’s discussion of liberty is one of the wellsprings of classical compatibilism.

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                                                                            • Murray, Dylan, and Eddy Nahmias. “Explaining Away Incompatibilist Intuitions.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 88.2 (2014): 434–467.

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                                                                              Part of the extensive experimental philosophy literature on free will; Murray and Nahmias argue that the early experimental philosophy concerning free will done by Shaun Nichols and Joshua Knobe comes to incompatibilist conclusions incorrectly.

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                                                                              • Pendergraft, Garrett. “The Explanatory Power of Local Miracle Compatibilism.” Philosophical Studies 156.2 (2010): 249–266.

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                                                                                Pendergraft defends local miracle compatibilism from objections, arguing that it already has the resources to meet them, and thus remains a viable position in the free will debate. Local miracle compatibilism is the view that acts of free will are small-scale violations of the laws of nature. Hence, while determinism is globally true of the universe, it can be locally false.

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                                                                                • Strawson, Peter F. “Freedom and Resentment.” Proceedings of the British Academy 48 (1962): 187–211.

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                                                                                  Strawson’s treatment of free will has engendered its own branch of compatibilism, which focuses on social/interpersonal relationships and attitudes, rather than abilities to do otherwise.

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                                                                                  Incompatibilism

                                                                                  Incompatibilist positions state that free will is not consistent with determinism. Incompatabilists who nonetheless maintain that free will exists are generally referred to as libertarians. For nonlibertarian compatibilism, the most prominent argument in its favor is the so-called consequence argument. In brief, this argument claims that free will is not consistent with determinism because any putatively free action is part of a causal chain that began before any agents existed, and thus was determined before any agents existed. For an excellent articulation of the consequence argument, see Ginet 1966. Van Inwagen 1983 is a key text on issues concerning free will, and more specifically on arguments for incompatibilism. Shabo 2011 provides a contemporary defense of van Inwagen’s arguments from accumulated objections. Nichols and Knobe 2007 brings the experimental philosophy of methodology to bear on the free will debate. For a distinct take on the consequences of the truth of incompatibilism on moral responsibility, there is Pereboom 2005. Talsma 2013 discusses the relationship between divine foreknowledge and incompatibilism.

                                                                                  • Ginet, Carl. “Might We Have No Choice?” In Freedom and Determinism. Edited by Keith Lehrer, 87–104. New York: Random House, 1966.

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                                                                                    Ginet articulates a version of the consequence argument against compatibilism, which claims that in a deterministic universe, what agents will do was fixed long before those agents existed.

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                                                                                    • Nichols, Shaun, and Joshua Knobe. “Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions.” Noûs 41.4 (2007): 663–685.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2007.00666.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                      Nichols and Knobe bring the experimental philosophy apparatus to bear on the free will debate, arguing that the actual folk conception of free will is not a compatibilist one. More specifically, they argue that folk intuitions about free will are incompatibilist when people think about the issue in an abstract, rather than a concrete, way.

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                                                                                      • Pereboom, Derk. “Defending Hard Incompatibilism.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 29.1 (2005): 228–247.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2005.00114.xSave Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                        Pereboom’s thesis is that moral responsibility is inconsistent with both determinism and indeterminism, arguing that this conclusion should be embraced rather than rejected.

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                                                                                        • Shabo, Seth. “What Must a Proof of Incompatibilism Prove?” Philosophical Studies 154.3 (2011): 361–371.

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                                                                                          Shabo sorts van Inwagen’s strategies for proving incompatibilism into three groups and defends them from various objections. He concludes that none of the objections provides sufficient grounds for doubting van Inwagen’s arguments.

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                                                                                          • Talsma, Tina. “Source Incompatibilism and the Foreknowledge Dilemma.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 73.3 (2013): 209–219.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.1007/s11153-012-9379-9Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                            There is a long tradition of discussion in the literature about what problem divine foreknowledge may cause for free will. Talsma’s paper gives some background on the problem, and evaluates a particular solution to it.

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                                                                                            • van Inwagen, Peter. An Essay on Free Will. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983.

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                                                                                              This work is a comprehensive treatment of various issues concerning free will. Van Inwagen consistently argues in favor of an incompatibilist position.

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                                                                                              Ability and Know-How

                                                                                              Knowledge-that, while it has been the main focus of epistemological discourse, is not remotely the only sort of knowledge discussed. Increasingly, philosophers have become concerned with other forms of knowledge, and with the way they relate to the more thoroughly studied know-that. In particular, there is a great deal of interest in know-how. Broadly, there are two accounts of know-how: intellectualism and anti-intellectualism. The intellectualist position argues that know-how can be fully explained in terms of know-that (i.e., propositional knowledge of facts). On the other hand, anti-intellectualism claims that know-how cannot be explained fully, or perhaps not explained at all, in terms of know-that. Instead, know-how is to be explained in terms of the possession of certain practical abilities. The debate between intellectualist and anti-intellectualist positions about know-how invariably refers to Ryle 1949. Stanley critiques Rylean anti-intellectualism and builds a case for intellectualism. Bengson and Moffett 2007 focuses on establishing the intellectualist position through discussion of ability attributions. For a recent defense of anti-intellectualism, see Noë 2005 or Glick 2012. Bengson, et al. 2009 takes an experimental philosophy approach to settling the debate between intellectualism and anti-intellectualism.

                                                                                              • Bengson, John, and Marc A. Moffett. “Know-How and Concept Possession.” Philosophical Studies 136.1 (2007): 31–57.

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                                                                                                Bengson and Moffett argue that intellectualism, and not anti-intellectualism, can account for why not all attributions of know-how entail attributing abilities to agents.

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                                                                                                • Bengson, John, Marc A. Moffett, and Jennifer C. Wright. “The Folk on Knowing How.” Philosophical Studies 142.3 (2009): 387–401.

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                                                                                                  Using experimental philosophical methods, Bengson and colleagues defend an intellectualist position on know-how from the oft-leveled charges of over-intellectualization.

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                                                                                                  • Glick, Ephraim. “Abilities and Know-How Attributions.” In Knowledge Ascriptions. Edited by Jessica Brown and Mikkel Gerken, 120–139. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199693702.003.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                    Glick provides a defense of the Rylean anti-intellectualist position on know-how, which links it to practical ability rather than propositional knowledge.

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                                                                                                    • Noë, Alva. “Against Intellectualism.” Analysis 65 (2005): 278–290.

                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/analys/65.4.278Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                      Noë provides a programmatic rebuttal of defenses of intellectualism concerning know-how. He argues that intellectualist accounts of know-how are theoretically aligned with passive, individualist views of the mind, which have been heavily criticized in Noë’s enactivist program.

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                                                                                                      • Ryle, Gilbert. The Concept of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949.

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                                                                                                        This monograph is the locus classicus of the anti-intellectualist view of know-how. Ryle claims that possessing know-how is just having an ability to do something, and may not entail knowledge of any propositions.

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                                                                                                        • Stanley, Jason. Know How. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199695362.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                          This monograph provides a thorough argument for an intellectualist treatment of know-how; that is, a position which links it to knowledge-that rather than practical abilities. Stanley argues largely via considerations of linguistics and philosophy of language.

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                                                                                                          “Ought” Implies “Can”

                                                                                                          The notion of ability is connected to an oft-discussed principle in discourse on normativity; namely, that “ought” implies “can.” This is the principle which claims that having any genuine moral obligation is tied to having, in some sense, the ability to fulfill that obligation in action. Many take this principle to be found first in Kant 2007. A general, contemporary defense can be found in Wedgwood 2013. A straightforward attack on the principle via counterexample is found in Mizrahi 2009. See Mellema 2001 for an article arguing in favor of ought-implies-can, which ties it into debates about free will. Likewise, Fischer 2003 ties discussions of ought-implies-can to issues in the free will debate, but ultimately does not endorse the principle. Graham 2011 attempts to defend the principle from Fischer’s arguments.

                                                                                                          • Fischer, John Martin. “‘Ought Implies Can,’ Causal Determinism and Moral Responsibility.” Analysis 63.279 (2003): 244–250.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1093/analys/63.3.244Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                            Here, an argument against the ought-implies-can principle is developed on the basis of intuitions supporting Frankfurt cases.

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                                                                                                            • Graham, Peter A. “Fischer on Blameworthiness and ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can.’” Social Theory and Practice 37.1 (2011): 63–80.

                                                                                                              DOI: 10.5840/soctheorpract20113715Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                              Graham defends the ought-implies-can principle from the arguments of John Fischer.

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                                                                                                              • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Marcus Weigelt. London: Penguin, 2007.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-10016-0Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                                Many locate the first articulation of the ought-implies-can principle in Kant’s work, wherein he argues that our duties to promote the highest good are legitimate because we have the capacity to fulfill them. First published 1781.

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                                                                                                                • Mellema, Gregory. “Praise, Blame and the Ought Implies Can Principle.” Philosophia 28.1–4 (2001): 425–436.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1007/BF02379791Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                                  In this paper, Mellema elaborates an argument to the effect that the truth of the ought-implies-can principle entails the principle of alternative possibilities, which casts a long shadow in debates concerning free will.

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                                                                                                                  • Mizrahi, Moti. “‘Ought’ Does Not Imply ‘Can.’” Philosophical Frontiers 4.1 (2009): 19–35.

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                                                                                                                    Mizrahi argues that the ought-implies-can principle is false by providing putative counterexamples wherein agents have obligations to do things which they are not able to do.

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                                                                                                                    • Wedgwood, Ralph. “Rational ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can.’” Philosophical Issues 23.1 (2013): 70–92.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/phis.12004Save Citation »Export Citation »

                                                                                                                      On the way to arguing about an ought-implies-can principle for belief revision, Wedgwood claims that a general ought-implies-can principle is true.

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