Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frankfurt on Freedom of the Will I

The essay, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" is chapter 2 of The Importance of What We Care About.

Let's broach the issue by simply laying out two points in the essay which seem to me to be mutually inconsistent:
  1. "[I]t never occurs to him to consider whether he wants the relations among his desires to result in his having the will he has."
  2. [T]he conformity of a person's will to his higher order volitions may be far more thoughtless and spontaneous than this." [Where "this" refers to "formed deliberately and...[with] struggles to ensure that they are satisfied."]
Quote 1 describes the wonton, a non-person with no freedom of the will or even any preference amongst his desires. Quote 2 describes a person to whom the enjoyment of freedom of the will comes easily. I think that if we unpack this in the next post, we will see that 1 and 2 are mutually inconsistent. In brief, Frankfurt loads up his theory of second-order desires (which the wanton lacks) so heavily that it is to blunt an instrument to discern between the wanton and the effortlessly free person. There certainly is a role for 2nd order desires in a theory of personhood and freedom, but not such a heavy role. Something simpler will do and also allow us to make the distinction which Frankfurt's theory cannot make.