Thursday, May 14, 2009

Frankfurt on Freedom of the Will IV

You may well ask how my alternative to Frankfurt's position of second-order desires does not itself posit second-order desires in order to explain free will. After all, haven't I said that one's will is dependent on one's wanting to maximize the net long-term fulfillment of one's first-order desires? That wanting would seem to be a second-order desire.

Not so. A bonafide second-order desire is a normative standard to the the set of first-order desires. It sits in judgment of them. It chooses amongst them based upon criteria other than their relative strength. In contrast, the desire to maximize the fulfillment of the set of first-order desires which I have posited is a servant to those desires themselves. It is like a political mechanism by which they maximize their fulfillment through compromise. Its particular determinations are derived from that set, rather than being independent norms by which the contents of that set are judged. It is a norm to each on of them but only because it is the resultant vector of all of them. Prudence is the servant of desires.

This theory of will avoids Frankfurt's problem with moral and prudential reasons. On my theory, one's reason for acting is always a given first-order desire. On Frankfurt's theory, one's reason for acting, if one has free will, is one's desire to fulfill a given first-order desire. Frankfurt separates the agent from what ought to be his reasons because he thinks we must be rendered wantons if he does not take this drastic step. But on the contrary, such a step isn't necessary in order to distinguish ourselves from wantons, and it makes it impossible to make sense of our reasons for action.