The Rational Human Condition 3, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, Section 4.0–Introduction, and Section 4.1–The Intuitive Definition of Free Will.

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition

THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:

PART 1: Preface and General Introduction

PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge

PART 3: Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics

PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy

PART 5: Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise

Its author is ROBERT HANNA:




Section 1.0 What It Is

Section 1.1 Bounded in a Nutshell

Section 1.2 Rational Anthropology vs. Analytic Metaphysics, the Standard Picture, and Scientific Naturalism

Section 1.3 Philosophy and Its History: No Deep Difference

Section 1.4 Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

Section 1.5 Analytic Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, and Rational Anthropology

Section 1.6 What is a Rational Human Animal?

Section 1.7 An Important Worry and a Preliminary Reply

Section 1.8 The Biggest Windmills


The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 1




The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 2





A Note on References

1. Introduction: Freedom, Life, and Persons’ Lives

1.0 Natural Libertarianism and Minded Animalism

1.1 Incompatibilistic Compatibilism

1.2 Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity

1.3 The Central Claim of this Book, and Previews

2. Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Immanent Structuralism

2.2 Natural Mechanism, Computability, and Anti-Mechanism

2.3 Kant’s Anti-Mechanism, Kantian Anti-Mechanism, Vitalism, and Emergentism

2.4 On the Representation of Life

2.5 Kantian Non-Conceptualism and the Dynamicist Model of Life

2.6 Inverted Life, Suspended Life, and Non-Local Life: How LifeDoes Not Strongly Supervene on the Physical, and Why

2.7 Conclusion

3. From Biology to Agency

3.0 Introduction

3.1 Two-Dimensional Rational Normativity

3.2 Kant’s Biological Theory of Freedom

3.3 Practical-Freedom-in-Life: Kantian Non-Intellectualism

3.4 The Rationality of the Heart: Principled Authenticity

3.5 Conclusion

4. Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism

4.0 Introduction

4.1 The Intuitive Definition of Free Will

4.2 The Four Metaphysical Horsemen of the Apocalypse

4.3 The Three Standard Options, Natural Mechanism, and The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency

4.4 Three Arguments for Classical Incompatibilism, and In-the-Zone Compatibilism

4.5 Three Arguments for Local Incompatibilism with Respect to Natural Mechanism

4.6 Sympathy for the Devil: Compatibilism Reconsidered

4.7 Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death?

4.8 Too Hard to Live With: Strawson’s Basic Argument, Hard Determinism, and Hard Incompatibilism

4.9 Conclusion

5. Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity

5.0 Introduction

5.1 The Internal Structure of Deep Freedom

5.2 From Frankfurt Back to Kierkegaard: How to Have a Live Option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, Without Alternative Possibilities

5.3 Psychological Freedom, Deep Freedom, and Principled Authenticity

5.4 Conclusion

6. Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are

6.0 Introduction

6.1 From Deep Freedom to Real Persons

6.2 Real Persons

6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood

6.4 Conclusion

7. Minded Animalism II: From Parfit to Real Personal Identity

7.0 Introduction

7.1 Parfit’s Theory: Six Basic Claims

7.2 Against and Beyond Parfit 1: Two Reasons, and The Minded Animalist Criterion of Personal Identity

7.3 Against and Beyond Parfit 2: Four More Reasons

7.4 Conclusion


Next Installment


In the fullness of time, the complete, downloadable text of each part of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION will also be made available on Medium.



For convenience, throughout the five-part four book series, The Rational Human Condition — comprising 1. the Preface and General Introduction, 2. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, 3. Deep Freedom and Real Persons, 4. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, and 5. Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism — I refer to Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). I generally follow the standard English translations, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations:

BL “The Blomberg Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 5–246.

C Immanuel Kant: Correspondence, 1759–99. Trans. A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.

CPJ Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

CPR Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

CPrR Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 139–271.

DiS “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 365–372.

DSS “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Pp. 301–359.

EAT “The End of All Things.” Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 221–231.

GMM Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43–108.

ID “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755–1770. Pp. 373–416.

IUH “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim.” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Eduction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. 107–120.

JL “The Jäsche Logic.” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 519–640.

LE Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics. Trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

MM Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 365–603.

OP Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans. E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.

OT “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 7–18.

Prol Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

PP “Toward Perpetual Peace.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 317–351.

Rel Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 57–215.

RTL “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 611–615.

VL “The Vienna Logic,” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 251–377.

WE “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 17–22.




Chapter 4 Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism

[B]ecause in self-consciousness the will is known directly and in itself, there also lies in this consciousness the consciousness of freedom. But the fact is overlooked that the individual, the person, is not will as thing-in-itself, but is phenomenon of the will, and is as such determined. It has entered the form of the phenomenon, the principle of sufficient reason. Hence we get the strange fact that everyone considers himself to be a priori quite free, even in his individual actions, and imagines he can at any moment enter upon a different way of life, which is equivalent to saying that he can become a different person. But a posteriori through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but liable to necessity; that notwithstanding all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning to the end of his life he must bear the same character that he himself condemns, and, as it were, must play to the end the part he has taken upon himself.

— A. Schopenhauer[i]

Section 4.0 Introduction

The very idea of freedom of the will, when taken together with the very idea of the natural or physical world, jointly constitute a problem that is perhaps the deepest and most difficult of all modern metaphysical problems. Pre-theoretically, as Schopenhauer so aptly describes it, on the one hand we strongly believe ourselves to be free and non-determined. But also on the other hand, taking mechanistic natural science seriously — and in particular, taking deterministic versions of contemporary physics seriously — we also strongly believe ourselves to be naturally determined, and unfree. And, to put it mildly, we cannot easily reconcile these two directly contrary doxic attitudes, pre-theoretical and natural-scientific. Now of course there are also indeterministic versions of contemporary physics, and, in view of quantum mechanics, especially including Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and Bohr’s Complementarity Principle, at least micro-level indeterminism seems factually true. But as we have already seen, the thought that we might be indeterministic automata is as apt to violate our fundamental concept of ourselves as deeply free, as the thought that we are deterministic automata. So to put this updated Schopenhauerian worry in the Sellarsian terms I used in the Introduction: According to The Manifest Image, we strongly believe ourselves be deeply free and not naturally mechanized; yet according to The Scientific Image, we also strongly believe ourselves to be really unfree and naturally mechanized, and therefore believe ourselves to be deterministic or indeterministic biochemical puppets and moist robots. But seemingly, it is impossible to fuse the two Images into one. That is the problem of free will in a wordbite.

In this chapter, now re-framing the fundamental metaphysical issues about free agency in terms of the contemporary non-Kantian debate about it, as opposed to framing it in specifically Kantian terms, as I did in the last two chapters, I will re-describe the nature and implications of the problem of free will as compactly, clearly, and distinctly as I can. One main conclusion I shall draw is that the problem of free will is intimately and indeed inseparably intertwined with at least three other fundamental problems of metaphysics. So “the” problem of free will is really four problems about free will. That’s the bad news.

The good news, however, is that when we seriously think about the problem of free will as a single set of four inseparably intertwined free will problems — which I will call The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency — and not just as one independent problem apart from the other three problems, then I think that at least the outlines of an adequate, complete solution to all four of the inseparably intertwined free will problems will emerge. If I am correct about this, then, ironically, one of the biggest problems with the classical problem of free will was our conceptual isolation of it from the other fundamental problems, in a well-intentioned philosophical attempt to solve it by an otherwise perfectly reasonable strategy of conceptually-divide-and-explanatorily-conquer.

The other main conclusion I shall draw is that the four free will problems that make up The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency all loosen up quite radically when we take biology at least as seriously as we take physics, and we also treat the phenomenon of life according to the anti-mechanistic, non-reductive, non-dualist, dynamicist model of life, along with its background theory of non-equilibrium/complex systems thermodynamics, as I proposed in chapter 2. Then, for all creatures inherently capable of wholehearted autonomy or principled authenticity, namely rational minded animals like us, there cannot be freedom-in-natural-mechanism, since the far-from-equilibrium, spatiotemporally asymmetric, complex, self-organizing, inherently non-mechanical, naturally purposive or naturally teleological process of organismic life at the source of agency is a necessary condition of free agency. And without it we would be nothing but biochemical puppets and moist robots, necessarily lacking deep freedom and therefore without free agency. Nevertheless, there can be deep freedom, as, precisely, freedom-in-life. That, again, is The Freedom-in-Life Thesis.

Here is the overall plan of this chapter. In section 4.1, I work out a rationally intuitive definition of free will that can be initially and minimally accepted by all contemporary parties to the debate about the problem of free will, in the sense that they can all reasonably agree that if free will really exists, then it will have these definitional features. In section 4.2, I describe four fundamental metaphysical threats to the very idea that free will in this intuitive sense actually does or even really possibly can exist, namely:

(i) Universal Natural Determinism,

(ii) Fatalism,

(iii) Universal Natural Indeterminism, and

(iv) Natural Mechanism.

And in section 4.3, I describe a fivefold array of classical and/or standard metaphysical responses to these four threats, namely:

(i) Hard Determinism,

(ii) Soft Determinism,

(iii) Classical Libertarianism (including its agent causal, non-causal, and event-causal indeterminist sub-kinds),

(iv) classical Compatibilism, and

(v) classical Incompatibilism.

Then I make a step-by-step negative case for Natural Libertarianism, by showing that we have good reasons for rejecting both classical Compatibilism and classical Incompatibilism, as well as good reasons for rejecting each of what I will call “The Three Standard Options” of Hard Determinism, Soft Determinism, and Classical Libertarianism.

The first step, in section 4.4, is to undertake a critical examination of some important arguments for classical Incompatibilism. The second step, in section 4.5, is to work out three different, although obviously not wholly unrelated, arguments for my own non-classical version of Incompatibilism, namely, what I call local incompatibilism with respect to natural mechanism. The third step, in section 4.6, is to reconsider classical Compatibilism, and extract what I take to be its most philosophically plausible features, which then yields my own correspondingly non-classical version of Compatibilism, which I call non-local compatibilism with respect to natural mechanism. And the fourth and final step, in section 4.7, is to examine and then criticize Classical Libertarianism and Hard Determinism alike.

After all that critical negativity, constructive positivity will then make a full reappearance. In the next chapter, chapter 5, I will argue that we have good reasons for retaining some critically qualified features of each of the false classical or standard views — i.e., classical Compatibilism, classical Incompatibilism, Hard Determinism, Soft Determinism, and Classical Libertarianism — by incorporating all of those features into a distinctively and indeed radically different successor doctrine: Natural Libertarianism. Natural Libertarianism is radically different precisely because of its dynamicist freedom-in-life doctrine, which fully embeds freedom in physical nature and is robustly pro-science, but also fully excludes natural mechanism at the source of rational animal agency, yet still fully heeds the epistemic, metaphysical, aesthetic, and ethical counsels of natural piety. More generally, I will argue that Natural Libertarianism offers the best overall explanation of all the relevant empirical and rationally intuitive a priori philosophical data about free agency.

Section 4.1 The Intuitive[ii] Definition of Free Will

But what is the very idea of free will? As I see it, that idea has three basic components.

In my opinion, it is rationally intuitive that free will, if it really exists, first, is a rational animal’s or real person’s choosing or doing things, or refraining from so choosing or so doing, without preventative constraints and without inner or outer compulsion (component 1: negative freedom), second, together with the ability to choose or do what she wants, or to refrain from so choosing or so doing (component 2: positive freedom). Otherwise put, negative freedom is “freedom-from”: if you have negative freedom, then nothing is stopping you from choosing or doing what you want, or refraining from so choosing or so doing — this is sometimes called “the freedom of indifference” — and also nothing is either internally or externally forcing you to choose or do anything, or to refrain from so choosing or so doing. By contrast, positive freedom is “freedom-to”: the ability to choose or do things, or refrain from so choosing or so doing, as a direct expression of your own desires. And in my opinion, it is also rationally intuitive, third, that necessarily a rational animal or real person P can freely choose or do something X if and only if P is causally responsible and also deeply morally responsible for X (component 3: causal responsibility and deep moral responsibility).

By “deep moral responsibility” for any choice or action X, I mean that X flows from the agent herself, i.e., from the real person she self-identically is, and that the normative value of X, especially any moral value of X or of some of X’s consequences that there might be, also attaches to the agent herself. It should be noted, before going on, that, strictly speaking, deep responsibility need not be moral responsibility, if the normative value that attaches to the agent herself is non-moral.[iii] For example, the creator of a beautiful work of art is deeply responsible for the work and its beauty, even if these facts are essentially artistic/aesthetic and non-moral. I will come back to the fundamentally important parallel between artistic creativity on the one hand, and deeply free, deeply responsible agency on the other, in section 4.8 and chapter 5.

In any case, deep moral responsibility should be carefully distinguished from “shallow moral responsibility,” by which I mean second-or-third-person attributions of responsibility, especially including “reactive attitudes,” or judgments, of blame, praise, resentment, punishment, etc., etc., made by other people, for whatever reason. Since second-or-third-person attributions are always only more-or-less warranted, and can even be completely mistaken, then it is clear that someone can be deeply responsible for X, even if she is not shallowly responsible for X, and conversely. Deep moral responsibility is a real-metaphysical fact, whereas shallow moral responsibility, for all its everyday importance, is only a social fact.

It is a striking and indeed passing strange feature of contemporary intellectual life that virtually all recent and contemporary philosophers of free will, agency, and responsibility believe that moral responsibility is essentially shallow.[iv] This consensus, in my opinion, is principally due to two factors:

(i) the exceptional influence of Peter Strawson’s essay, “Freedom and Resentment,” and

(ii) the purely sociological fact that compatibilism/soft determinism about free will and/or responsibility are the default positions in recent and contemporary professional academic philosophy.

But as a defender of Natural Libertarianism, for all the reasons provided in chapters 1–5, I reject those default positions. Correspondingly, I hold that the attribution-theoretic approaches to moral responsibility are not so much outright false, as importantly misguided, since they focus on merely secondary, derivative facts about responsibility, as if they were primary and primitive. On the contrary, the primary, primitive fact is the metaphysical fact of deep (non-)moral responsibility, not the secondary, parasitic social fact of second-or-third-person attributions of responsibility.

Now although deep (non-)moral responsibility normally involves causal responsibility, and although conversely causal responsibility normally involves deep (non-)moral responsibility, nevertheless, strictly speaking, causal responsibility and deep (non-)moral responsibility are logically independent of one another, because:

(i) non-human minded animals, children, non-culpably ignorant people, or temporarily insane people cannot be deeply morally responsible for bad free choices, bad free acts, or bad downstream consequences of their free choices and acts, even though they are causally responsible for those choices, acts, and consequences —

e.g., as in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 psychoanalytic thriller Spellbound, if some innocent child X unintentionally kills another innocent child Y, by intentionally pushing him down a bannister when X and Y are playing together, then X is causally responsible but not deeply morally responsible for Y’s death, and

(ii) a rational animal’s or real person’s intentional use of causal mechanisms beyond the intentional body movements of that real person can involve deep moral responsibility, and a rational animal’s or real person’s unintentional triggering of those causal mechanisms by means of her own intentional body movements can lack deep (non-)moral responsibility —

e.g., as in Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 film The Hurt Locker, if some person X sets a booby-trap, land mine, or radio-controlled bomb, which is then unintentionally triggered by some other person Y’s intentional body movements, and this kills Y, then X is deeply morally responsible but not causally responsible for Y’s death, and Y is causally responsible but not deeply morally responsible for her own death, and

(iii) mutatis mutandis for deep non-moral responsibility —

e.g., a child might skillfully execute the simple instructions of a great artist, and thus be causally responsible, but not deeply non-morally responsible, for the creation of that beautiful artwork; conversely, that great artist would be deeply non-morally responsible for the creation of that beautiful artwork, but not causally responsible for it.

Here, then, is what I call The Intuitive Definition of Free Will:

Free will, if it really exists, is a rational animal’s or real person’s choosing or doing things, or refraining from so choosing or so doing, with negative freedom, positive freedom, causal responsibility, and deep (non-)moral responsibility.

In what follows, I will not challenge this three-component definition.

It should be especially noted, however, that The Intuitive Definition, as I have formulated it, stipulatively rules out correctly applying the label “freedom of the will” to non-rational animals, i.e., non-person animals, and also to rational animals or real persons who are temporarily incapable of being deeply (non-)morally responsible for their choices and acts. Or in other words, I am stipulatively ruling out correctly applying the label “freedom of the will” to most non-human minded animals, and also to any rational animals’, or persons’, choices or acts that are due to their non-culpable ignorance, temporary insanity, manipulation by someone else, or to some other overwhelming compulsive force. I think that all things considered, in most cases, this stipulation will not lead to any conceptual, metaphysical, or moral problems.

But at the same time, independently of that stipulation, it is also extremely important to acknowledge that there are some minded animal intentional agents who can, as a constitutive feature of their agency, choose or do things with negative freedom, positive freedom, and causal responsibility — although never with deep (non-)moral responsibility, just because they are not rational animals or real persons. This class of genuine intentional agents includes cats, dogs, horses, and many other species of minded non-human animals, as well as some minded human animals. Moreover, on my view, not all non-human animals are non-persons, and not all real persons are autonomous persons in the Kantian sense, i.e., morally autonomous persons. Otherwise put, some non-human animals are real persons, and some real persons, althought intentional agents with full moral status, are not morally autonomous intentional agents, and therefore are not capable of deep (non-)moral responsibility. For example, it is arguable that normal third-trimester fetuses, infants, and toddlers are all real persons with full moral status. It is also arguable that Great apes (by which, as I mentioned earlier, I mean non-human members of the biological family Hominidae, including bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans), and perhaps also dolphins, are real persons with the same full moral status.[v] But because they are not morally autonomous persons, neither normal third trimester fetuses, nor infants, nor toddlers, nor other children, nor Great apes, nor dolphins, are deeply (non-)morally responsible for their free actions, even if they are causally responsible. Nevertheless, they are still absolutely, intrinsically, nondenumerably, objectively morally valuable creatures, towards whom morally autonomous persons have certain categorical obligations. By an important contrast, however, some other conscious animals — e.g., bats, cats, dogs, and horses — arguably are non-person intentional agents, fully capable of what I call free volition, yet they do not have absolute, intrinsic, nondenumerable, objective moral value, although they remain subjects of moral value and also proper targets of our moral concern.[vi]

To flag the extremely important point about non-person intentional agents, however, and also for terminological convenience in contexts in which this distinction matters for one reason or another, I will say that such non-rational, non-person, minded non-human or human animal intentional agents have freedom of volition or free volition, although they do not have freedom of the will, free will, practical agency, or free agency. But it remains fundamentally true that all non-human or human non-rational minded animals, other things being equal, really do have freedom of volition and therefore really are intentional agents.[vii]

Please also note that I have not said that only rational human animals, or real human persons, can have free will, practical agency, or free agency. I fully concede and fully recognize not only that it is conceivable, and therefore logically possible, but also really possible, that there are non-human alien rational animals, alien real persons — like, e.g., the sympathetic character of Klaatu in the breakthrough 1950s sci-fi classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still,[viii] or the equally sympathetic character of ET in the eponymous, equally breakthrough 1980s sci-fi classic, ET, The Extra-Terrestrial.[ix] Nevertheless, in order to keep things relatively simple for the purposes of exposition, I will bracket this point and write mostly as if all the actual and really possibly rational animals or real persons are human. Still, wherever the fact that some real persons are non-human plays a salient role in the discussion, I will also be careful to make my formulations reflect that.

In any case, the stipulative distinction between applications of the label “free volition” on the one hand, and of the labels “free will,” “practical agency,” and “free agency” on the other, is not at all an unfamiliar or unprecedented conceptual and terminological move in the philosophy of free agency. For example, in book iii of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle marks a very similar distinction between:

(i) conscious, desiring non-rational animals, that are capable only of the “voluntary” (hekousia), and

(ii) conscious, desiring rational animals, who are also capable of “decision” (prohairesis).

So in this respect, as in others, my view of free volition, free will, practical agency, and free agency is significantly neo-Aristotelian in its philosophical orientation, as well as being contemporary Kantian.

Before moving on, it is also crucial to distinguish between:

(i) freedom of the will, aka “free will,” and

(ii) freedom of action, aka “free action.”

Free will fundamentally concerns a rational animal’s or real person’s capacity for conscious choosing or willing, or refraining from so choosing or so willing. By contrast, free action concerns not only the capacity for choosing but also a rational animal’s or real person’s ability to move his or her own body, that is, his or her ability to carry out a “basic action” — that is, an action in the doing of which, no other acts are performed[x] — or refraining from so doing. So they can come apart in certain circumstances, and are inherently different. Suppose, for example, that a rational human animal’s will is both negatively and also positively free. As Locke pointed out in the Essay concerning Human Understanding, book II, chapter 21, it is possible for an intentional agent’s will to be free in both of these senses, even if she is unable to carry out a basic act by moving her own body — e.g., if she is paralyzed, tied down, or overwhelmed by some external force. Again, and now appealing to a case of “non-basic action” — that is, an action that is done by means of a basic action involving intentional body-movements — she can freely choose to open a door even if that door is, in fact and unbeknownst to her, locked. So a rational animal or real person can have free will even if she does not have freedom of action, whether basic or non-basic.

On the other hand, however, let us suppose that someone’s consciousness, character, affects, desires, emotions, and thoughts have all been necessitated either by The Big Bang (which would be distal determination) or by a more spatiotemporally local deterministic process or state of the physical world (which would be proximal determination), or that these have all been manipulated by an evil super-scientist — as, e.g., in The Manchurian Candidate. Or suppose, less fancifully but more tragically, that the relevant rational animal or real person is the temporary or permanent victim of an obsessive-compulsive mental disorder. Since in these ways it is possible for a rational animal or real person to be under a psychological compulsion, even though he is able to move his own body without preventative constraint or external compulsion, it is therefore also possible to have freedom of action without free will.

Freedom of action, as opposed to freedom of the will, in the special context of civil society, where the preventatively constraining or compulsive factors are the choices and acts of others, especially including the egoistic, hedonistic, or otherwise consequentialistic choices and acts of others, is also what Kant calls “external freedom” in The Doctrine of Right in The Metaphysics of Morals (MM 6: 237–238). But the more general point is that mere freedom of action is at best an external relation of the intentional agent to her physical and/or social context and environment. It is then clear that free will is more metaphysically basic than free action, precisely because of its direct necessary connections with practical agency, causal responsibility and deep (non-)moral responsibility, personhood, and rationality, hence with free will’s internality to intentional agency. Mere freedom of action or generalized external freedom, without freedom of the will, would be empty and pointless. It would be free action without free agency, and thus free action without any inherent value or inherent meaning. Otherwise put, a life of free action without free agency would be nothing but the so-called life of a mere biochemical puppet or moist robot: the meaningless, zeroed-out existence of a “hollow man,” a “man without qualities.”[xi]

This metaphysical point indirectly lights up a fundamental flaw in Kant’s political philosophy, namely that according to Kant in the Doctrine of Right, human government, or the State, is fundamentally designed to secure and sustain our mutual freedom of action, or mutual external freedom, by means of its special possession of the power of coercive force. Yet by its very nature, considered on its own, external freedom is meaningless, zeroed-out, hollow, and without qualities. Hence it falls outside the scope of the Categorical Imperative or moral law, and the domain of moral virtue and moral worth. So to the extent that the State and other State-like institutions are specifically designed to secure and sustain, by coercion, what is in-and-of-itself morally worthless, it is directly contrary to the teleology of our moral nature, which is ultimately to exit the “juridico-civil community” in order to belong to a universal “ethical community” (Rel 6: 94–97), and equally to exit our “self-incurred immaturity,” in order to achieve a radical, principled, and authentic version of rational individual and social “enlightenment,” Aufklärung, to the extent that it is humanly possible (WE 8: 35). So, by passively remaining inside the coercive State and other State-like institutions, and in succumbing to our pathological fear, leavened with Stockholm Syndrome — i.e., victims’ pathological identification with their oppressors — of Hobbes’s “war of all against all” in the pre-state or non-state condition, the “state of nature,” then we have in effect sold our priceless practical freedom or autonomy down the river to the State and other State-like institutions for the glittering Mephistophelian promise of “public safety” and external freedom. Indeed, the very idea of the “state of nature,” and, directly corresponding to it, the classical Hobbesian cognitive illusion of our inherent egoism and mutual antagonism, both urgently need to be thoroughly philosophically criticized and debunked: but that thoroughgoing critique-and-debunking is another story for another day.[xii]


[i] A. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, trans. E.F.J. Payne (2 vols., New York: Dover, 1969), vol. 1, §23, pp. 113–114.

[ii] In Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, ch. 7, I distinguish rational intuitions from other things many contemporary philosophers call “intuitions” (e.g., spontaneous mere opinions, aka “armchair judgments,” and “intellectual seemings”), by defining them in a Kantian neo-rationalist way as analytically fallible, non-inferential, active takings of certain statements to be necessary and a priori. Then I divide rational intuitions into three classes: (i) authoritative, intrinsically compelling, or self-evident (essentially reliable), (ii) constructed or derived (fairly reliable), and (iii) prima facie (fairly unreliable). Then I distinguish between (i) basic or fundamental authoritative intuitions, and (ii) non-basic or non-fundamental authoritative intuitions that presuppose the basic ones. I regard the intuitive definition of free will I present here as being, at the very least, the expression of a constructed or derived rational intuition; but I do also think that a case could be made for its being the expression of a non-basic authoritative rational intuition, built up as a conjunction of basic authoritative rational intuitions.

[iii] See also S. Wolf, “Responsibility, Moral and Otherwise,” Inquiry 58 (2015): 127–142. Wolf’s own account of the nature of deep responsibility, however, like virtually all contemporary accounts of responsibility (see note 251 directly below), is attribution-theoretic. Therefore ultimately, what is for her the non-moral fact of deep responsibility would count as “shallow responsibility” in my sense of that term.

[iv] See, e.g., R. Clarke, M. M. McKenna, and A. Smith (eds.), The Nature of Moral Responsibility (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).

[v] See, e.g., C. Siebert, “Should a Chimp Be Able to Sue its Owner?,” New York Times, 23 April 2014, available online at URL = <>.

[vi] See Hanna, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, ch. 4.

[vii] See also, e.g., Steward, A Metaphysics for Freedom.

[viii] Directed by R. Wise (1951).

[ix] Directed by S. Spielberg (1982).

[x] See, e.g., A. Danto, Analytic Philosophy of Action (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1973).

[xi] See T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men,” in T.S. Eliot, Collected Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1974), pp. 89–92; and R. Musil, The Man without Qualities (London: Pan Books, 1979), 3 vols. Significantly, both Eliot and Musil held advanced degrees in philosophy.

[xii] See R. Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017): 167–189, available online at URL = <>.


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