Today’s word — velleity

So next time you’re late in fil­ing your tax return and the tax depart­ment sends a reminder, just send them a polite let­ter vouch­ing for your velle­ity. The tax­man will think the check (or cheque, as our Cana­di­an gram­mar guru Car­olanne Reynolds would write) is com­ing soon and you’ve been com­plete­ly forthright.

-Anu Garg

deliberation and the belief in freedom

On The Gar­den of Fork­ing Paths, Niel Levy, in response to Coffman’s and Warfield’s paper, ‘Delib­er­a­tion and Meat­phys­i­cal Free­dom’ presents a coun­terex­am­ple to the Belief in Abil­i­ty The­sis (BAT), which states the fol­low­ing: “If S tries to decide which of (mutu­al­ly exclud­ing actions A1 …An to per­form, then S dis­po­si­tion­al­ly believes of each of A1 …An that he is meta­phys­i­cal­ly free to per­form it.” The coun­terex­am­ple is as follows:

Sup­pose that Sal­ly finds her­self in a room with two doors. She knows that one of the doors is locked and the oth­er unlocked, but she doesn’t know which is which. She also knows that the unlocked door is the door that an alien super­sci­en­tist, who has a per­fect record at pre­dict­ing the deci­sions of human beings, has pre­dict­ed that Sal­ly will choose. 

He claims that BAT is false, since, although Sal­ly knows that she is not meta­phys­i­cal­ly free to open either door, “she seems free to delib­er­ate about which door to pass through”.

Per­haps I can be fault­ed for not feel­ing the force of this coun­terex­am­ple, but I sim­ply don’t share this intu­ition. Even if Sal­ly knows that she will choose the open door, since Sal­ly knows that one door will remain locked, whichev­er she choos­es, then any act of delib­er­a­tion is causal­ly inef­fi­ca­cious (i.e., it won’t have any effect on what door she even­tu­al­ly walks through). If Sal­ly gen­uine­ly under­stands that think­ing about which door to choose is futile, then it does­n’t seem that she could ratio­nal­ly delib­er­ate about her action. Per­haps I am miss­ing some­thing here, but this just does­n’t seem to be a gen­uine coun­terex­am­ple to BAT.

Philosophy Compass

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