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What Is Frankfurt's Account Of Free Will? Is It Successful?

954 words - 4 pages

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 refrain from taking the drug. If the unwilling addict takes the drug then he is not free since he has not acted on the desire he wanted to be effective. A wanton, however, is an agent with no second order volitions and as such lacks free will for a different reason. A wanton cannot have free will because a wanton has no second order volitions, they cannot act in line with the desires they want to be effective because they have no such desires. So, it is the notion of second order volitions that is integral to Frankfurt’s account of free will.

As I have just shown Frankfurt offers a novel solution to the problem of free will. However, it is ultimately unsuccessful a I shall now show. It is when considering the case of a brainwashed, or conditioned, agent Frankfurt’s account proves unsatisfactory. Imagine an agent that has been conditioned (brainwashed) such that he has a first order desire for something and a corresponding second order volition. That is, he has a first order desire such as ‘I want to shoot myself if asked’...

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