Human Freedom And The Self Chisholm Analysis Essay


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Roderick M. Chisholm, "Human Freedom and the Self"

Peter van Inwagen, "The Powers of Rational Beings: Freedom of the Will"

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Harry G. Frankfurt, "Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility"

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Reading Questions for

“Human Freedom and the Self”

Roderick Chisholm

Due Date: Mon, Nov 28

Chisholm claims that for a person to be responsible for a particular event it must be the case that the event was “brought about by some act of his, and the act was something it was in his power either to perform or not to perform” (144)—i.e., it must result from an act of his and he could have acted otherwise. He then goes on (in the next paragraph) to explain/argue that this is not consistent with determinism, even if we assume that the act was a result of his beliefs and desires. Why does he think this?

  1. As carefully as you can, explain Chisholm’s objection to the following compatibilist argument:
  1. To say that

        (a) He could have done otherwise

    is equivalent to saying that

        (b) If he had chosen to do otherwise, then he would have done otherwise
  2. (b) is consistent with determinism
  3. So, responsibility is consistent with determinism

Note that (b) is supposedly consistent with determinism in the following way: even if all of a person's actions are causally determined, it can still be the case that, if he had chosen otherwise (e.g., if certain of the antecedent environmental or mental conditions were different), then he would have done otherwise. Note that the compatibilist will suppose this not to be the case when certain kinds of constraint are involved. Anyhow, explain Chisholm’s rejection of this compatibilist argument.

  1. Explain Chisholm’s notions of transeunt and immanent causation, and give your own example of a string of causes which includes at least one immanent and one transeunt cause.

One objection to the idea of immanent causation is that most people know nothing of their brains and so cannot plausibly be said to do anything to their brains when, e.g., making a decision to act. How does Chisholm respond to this objection?

  1. The second objection he considers may be phrased something like this: Normally we think of causation as involving two events in succession such that when B causes A, B precedes A; but, Chisholm, with this idea of immanent causation, you say that no event causes A (rather an agent causes A); yet this seems to say precious little more than that A just happened—introducing a supposed agent really makes no difference. How does Chisholm respond (in Sections 8. and 9.) to this objection? Evaluate his response.

The view he has developed implies that our decisions and actions, while influenced by our beliefs and desires, are not caused by our beliefs and desires. Why does this imply that there can be no “science of man”?

  1. Chisholm recognizes that, in order to say that sometimes our desires influence our decisions/actions without necessitating particular actions, he needs some notion of inclining without necessitating. In the final section, 13., Chisholm tries to explain such a notion. Try to explain the conclusion he draws in the final paragraph, how is it supposed to support/elucidate the notion of inclining without necessitating?
  2. Remember to include one or two questions you had while reading. Include your thoughts on possible answers.

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