Freedom to Act

Donald Davidson

in Essays on Actions and Events

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246274
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191715198 | DOI:

Series: The Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson (5 Volumes)

 Freedom to Act

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This Essay defends the view that freedom to act is a causal power. Davidson believes that an agent is free to act if he can act intentionally, and he can so act in virtue of having beliefs and desires that rationalize and cause his action; thus, freedom of act is a causal power necessarily defined in terms of intention, even though the agent could not have caused the causal conditions of so acting viz. his desires and beliefs. Davidson demotes the view that freedom to act requires that one ‘could have done otherwise’: choosing something to do and doing it suffices for the action to be free, no matter what would have happened if we hadn’t chosen (besides, if as Essay 1 argued there are no distinct acts of will, it follows that ‘could have done otherwise’ could not even be analysed as withholding such an act). After addressing various objections to analysing ‘can’ and ‘is free to’ in terms of causal conditionals, Davidson ends on a sceptical note: unless we can spell out the ‘right way’ in which attitudes must cause actions if they are to rationalize them (for beliefs and desires may rationalize an action in one way and cause it in another; see Essay 5) our notions of rationalization and freedom to act must remain programmatic.

Keywords: causal condition; causal power; could have done otherwise; freedom of will; intention; rationalization

Chapter.  8605 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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