Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Frankfurt on Freedom of the Will II

Frankfurt proposes an ordering of desires as a structure which explains free will. Free will, he says, is the success an agent has in choosing to act on those of his desires which he desires to be the ones he acts on. In other words, to have free will is to desire certain of your desires to determine your actions and to succeed in acting on those and not on the others. The desires for certain desires to be effective are second-order desires. Their objects are first-order desires.

Something is wrong with this picture. I touched upon the problem in the previous post. But let's look at it from a different angle: reasons. (By "reasons" I mean internal reason, or motives, rather than facts external to desires which may be cited as grounds for having those motives.) Your reason for action should be your first order desires, should it not? For instance, if you play tennis or defend justice, it would be fitting if your reasons for doing so were that you most desired to do those things. But we wouldn't want to say that it would be fitting for your reason to be that you desired to desire to do those things, would we? Well, I wouldn't. For instance, I wouldn't like to tell my son that I desired to raise him but my reason for doing so was because I desired that that desire be the one I acted on. It would be better if my reason for raising him were that my desire to raise him was the strongest amongst the competing desires. I call this competitive strength "preference." I assume that reasons for action and will are pretty close to one and the same. So, we shouldn't appeal to second-order desires to explain free will. Preference is what one most desires. It is the resultant vector of all the component vectors which are the set of one's desires. Free will is acting on that resultant vector because one knows it is the resultant vector. Unfree will fails to do so but moves one to do something else.

Frankfurt has will and preference down to second-order desires, rather than the resultant vector of first-order desires. This is too ornate. It may be that sometimes we have to reflect on competing first-order desires and choose which we desire to win the tug of war amongst them, for the most part this does not seem to the best picture of what's most commonly going on in the head. As we noted in the first post, Frankfurt portrays the person most at ease in freedom as not at all undergoing this sort of reflection. This shows that even he can tell that second-order desires are not part of the best picture of things.

More in the next post.