Essay on Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person by Harry Frankfurt

Essay on Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person by Harry Frankfurt

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In “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person”, Harry Frankfurt illustrates the concepts of freedom of will and freedom of action, but more importantly, Frankfurt has refined the compatibilism theory. Compatibilism allows the freedom of will to exist in the deterministic world. According to determinism theory, the future state of worlds is determined by some events in the distant past (E) and the laws of nature (L). More specifically, E refers to the history, such as experiences or states whereas L refers to scientific or physical law like gravity. For example, an alcoholic’s action is determined that he will not stop drinking. Here E is that he had been drinking in the past, and L is the physiological addiction effect caused by alcohol. As we can control neither E nor L, then it follows that we can never act free. The thesis of compatibilist, however, states that we may have free will, even if all of our actions are determined by forces beyond our controls.
Frankfurtean compatibilism provides a more refined model than Humean compatibilism. Humean compatibilism has denied the deterministic notion of freedom-the ability to have chosen otherwise. Hume then provides a new definition of freedom, as “a power of acting or not acting, according to the determinations of the will” (“Of Liberty and Necessity”, 23). In Hume’s view, as long as we act according to our desires and belief, we are exercising freedom of will and freedom of action. Frankfurt adds a further distinction within our desires, and concludes that our will is free if and only if we act on a first-order desire determined by our second-order desire. An agent’s will, defined by Frankfurt, is “the notion of an effective desire-one that moves (or will or would move) a ...


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...pulated. Brainwashing is analogous to forces beyond our control. Frankfurt’s theory still holds, since we do not concern the origin of Sam’s second order desire. When he has a free will, it implies that he acts freely by selling out his company. In fact, Frankfurt seems to weaken the theory of determinism. If some external forces causally determine Sam’s the second order desire, then Sam cannot have desired otherwise. That is to say, he cannot have two versions of second order desire, neither of which allows him to have freedom of will or freedom of action. That is, Frankfurt’s theory leads to a totally different conclusion when Frankfurtean compatibilism does not agree with determinism.




Works Cited

Frankfurt, Harry. “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person”. Web.
Hume, David. “Of Liberty and Necessity”. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Web.

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