Monday, January 15, 2018

Natural event kinds and Frankfurt cases

Choices are transitions from an undecided to a decided state. Suppose choices are a natural kind of event. Then only the right sort of transition from an undecided to a decided state will be a choice.

Here, then, is something that is epistemically possible. It could be that a choice is a kind of thing that can only be produced in only one way, namely by the agent freely choosing. Compare essentiality of evolutionary origins for biological kinds: no animal that isn’t the product of evolution could be a lion. Of course, one can have something internally just like a lion arising from lightning hitting a swamp and one can have a transition from an undecided to a decided state arising from a neuroscientist’s manipulation, but these won’t be a lion or a choice, respectively.

If this is right, then it seems no Frankfurt story can make a choice unavoidable. For to make a choice unavoidable, an intervener would have to be able to cause a choice in case the agent wasn’t going to do it. In other words, there will be no Frankfurt argument against principle of alternate possibilities:

  • If x chose A, then it was causally possible for x not to have chosen A.

This is rather flickery, though: it doesn’t require that x could have chosen non-A.


Angra Mainyu said...


Why do you think that it wouldn't be a lion, in the colloquial sense of the term?
My impression is that it would be. For example, I can consider a hypothetical scenarios in which there are Boltzmann planets with Boltzmann people and Boltzmann lions, etc., but they're not the products of evolution. Even if no such planets are actual, I don't see why they wouldn't be possible. In any case, my intuitive understanding of the word "lion" does not conflict with their possibility. Similarly, I can consider a hypothetical scenario in which God creates more lions out of assorted particles (or even out of nothing). Now, I don't think this one is possible because I don't think God is (assuming omnipotence implies that God is either necessary or impossible), but still, the difficulty is not with the lion part. If, instead of God, one considers a very powerful being, I don't see why that would be impossible, even assuming that (as is the case) all of the lions we've seen are the product of evolution.

Granted, there is a technical sense in which a lion is a descendant of some animals in the past on Earth, so the examples above would not be lions. But for that matter, neither would be entities that evolved on distant planets but are genetically, morphologically, psychologically, etc., indistinguishable from lions. But whether to call them "lions" seems to be a terminological issue, and the choice not to call them so seems to me not aligned with common usage of the words. Assuming natural kinds go beyond terminological choices, I don't see why they wouldn't all of them (evolved on other planets or not evolved at all, as in the previous examples) be lions.

Martin Cooke said...

If a lion was transported, in the trekky sense, then it would be made out of energy patterned by the original lion's pattern; so it would be a lot like a copy of a lion. If the transported lion is a lion, then it does seem as though an exact copy made by God would be a lion. But I guess that biologists would ignore that objection!

Are choices a natural kind? I make decisions, sometimes as a result of subconscious forces making themselves felt, sometimes by deliberating logically (which seems deterministic), and so on. When I decide in a deliberate way, I think of it as my choice.

Martin Cooke said...

Furthermore, choices seem to be a kind of thing in the world because people with power give them to other people. Suppose my team leader decides that we are all having lemon ice cream, and I like lemon ice cream. I'm glad she didn't give us all our own choice of flavor, now that I've tried lemon ice cream. Choice is over-rated, I think. Then my team goes out and does evil stuff in the world (just the usual). I'm only following orders. I guess I have an abstract choice not to just run off, but I'm kind of loyal, and not a wild animal, so I don't even think about it. Now, is it really a lot worse to do a little naughty thing that I personally chose to do? You know who would think so? My team leader! Choices may well be important, but, insofar as they are, they seem to be an unnatural kind! (Just kidding ;-)