What is Frankfurt's account of free will? Is it successful? Essay

What is Frankfurt's account of free will? Is it successful? Essay

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In this essay, I shall argue that Frankfurt’s account of free will is unsuccessful. I shall begin by outlining Frankfurt’s account of free will before highlighting an objection and showing that despite it’s attractions Frankfurt’s account of free will is ultimately unsuccessful.

In his paper Freedom of the will and the concept of a person Frankfurt lays out his account of free will, in doing so he draws several distinctions which I shall now explain before outlining his account. To begin with Frankfurt distinguishes between first order and second order desires. First order desires are desires of the form ‘I want to x’ and second order desires are of the form ‘I want to want to x’. Thus, second order desires are desires concerning first order desires. This is unobjectionable, I may, for instance, have a first order desire for chocolate but I may also have a second order desire to not want to want chocolate because it’s bad for my health. However, these distinctions alone are not enough to understand free will and Frankfurt makes a further distinction between standard second order desires and a subset of second order desires that he calls second order volitions. When an agent has a second order volition they have a second order desire except they want their first order desire to be effective, that is, to move them to action. Frankfurt then uses these distinctions to define free will as follows, an agent is free if he acts on the desires he wants to be effective – if he is free to have the will he wants to have. To illustrate this Frankfurt asks us to consider the case of the unwilling addict and the case of the wanton. The unwilling addict is an addict who has a first order desire to take a drug but a second order volition to ref...


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...flective capacity is constrained by external forces then they are not free. So, Frankfurt’s account of free will is unsatisfactory because it misses out something important – an agent’s reflective ability.

In conclusion, Frankfurt’s account of free will is, despite it’s initial attractions, ultimately unsuccessful. I have argued that when we consider the case of a brainwashed agent we see that Frankfurt’s account is missing something important – a consideration of the agent’s reflective capacity. There is, therefore, more to free will than Frankfurt’s account suggests and it is, consequently, unsuccessful.



Works Cited

Double, R., (1991). The non-reality of free will. New York: Oxford University Press.
Frankfurt, H.G., (2003). Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. In G. Watson, ed. Free Will, 2nd ed., New York: Oxford University Press, pp.322-336.

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