This will be the first of two posts inspired by my recent perusal of Peter van Inwagen’s article “How to Think about the Problem of Free Will” (forthcoming in The Journal of Ethics). The next post will be more substantive. This one is just for kicks. It also resurrects a discussion started by Neil Levy in the post “How many battalions does incompatibilism have?”
Van Inwagen suggests a “sociological point. Before the Consequence Argument was well known…, almost all philosophers who had a view on the matter were compatibilists. It’s probably still true that most philosophers are compatibilists. But it’s also true that the majority of philosophers who have a specialist’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the free-will problem are incompatibilists. And this change is due entirely to the power, the power to convince, the power to move the intellect, of the Consequence Argument” (p. 15 of version posted at van Inwagen’s homepage).
Now, I agree entirely that the Consequence Argument is a powerful argument that compatibilists need to address, and that it isn’t easy to show what, if anything, is wrong with it (my own attempt remains, perhaps deservedly, unpublished; my personal favorite response is John Perry’s “Compatibilist Options,” because it nicely encapsulates options compatibilists have offered over the years, including Lewis’, which van Inwagen, in his article, praises for talking about the problem of free will in the right way).
But I wonder whether van Inwagen’s sociological claim is accurate and whether the Consequence Argument has in fact convinced many people who were or would otherwise be compatibilists to become incompatibilists. The latter question would be very hard to gauge. The former is at least approachable.
Here’s how I have approached it. I considered everyone I could find who has written articles or books on the free will problem since about 1960 and started listing them (in no particular order). Obviously, I have left off people (I apologize to anyone I forgot!) and I ask others to fill in these lacunae (including confirming whether I have situated people below correctly or arguing about whether I am right to put them where I do). I think everyone I include has at least tried to attain and demonstrate a “specialist’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the free-will problem” (though van Inwagen may disagree since he seems to define the problem in a particular way—see post to come). Some, such as the last few compatibilists mentioned, may have published less on the topic than others, but I still take them to have a specialist’s knowledge (I’m sure I’m neglecting others who have a specialist’s knowledge but haven’t published much). If you disagree about anyone having the knowledge to be included on the list, I think it would be better not to make that claim publicly here at the blog (I suppose you might say something like “well, there are 4 compatibilists I think should not be counted but just 1 incompatibilist…”). I also did not list people who (to my knowledge) are untenured faculty or grad students (such as myself, Vargas, Sommers, Werking, etc.), on the assumption that we are still working to attain specialist’s knowledge! I suspect if we added these people, the proportions would remain similar.
(If nothing else, this exercise may help us come up with a near exhaustive list of the people who specialize in free will.)
David Lewis, John Perry, Bill Lycan, Harry Frankfurt, Daniel Dennett, Michael Bratman, Peter Strawson, Gary Watson, Susan Wolf, Hilary Bok, Michael McKenna, Thomas Scanlon, Bernard Berofsky, Gerald Dworkin, Bruce Waller, Jay Wallace, Dana Nelkin, Joe Campbell, Thomas Kapitan, Keith Lehrer, Paul Russell, David Sanford, Phillip Pettit, Michael Smith, Terry Horgan, David Velleman
I think they count as compatibilists but please confirm: Michael Slote? Kadri Vihvelin? Kai Nielson? David Hunt? Paul Benson? Susan Buss? Ish Haji? David Zimmerman? Gideon Yaffe? Nomy Arpaly? Robert Audi? Mark Ravizza?
John Fischer? Tricky case but I think he should count as a compatibilist.
Al Mele?? (come on, Al, come out of the agnostic camp, though as far as I can tell, if you remain there, you get to be on a list all by yourself!)
Peter Van Inwagen, Fritz Warfield, Tim O’Connor, David Widerker, Randy Clarke, Carl Ginet, Robert Kane, Laura Ekstrom, David Wiggins, William Rowe, Roderick Chisholm, Richard Taylor,
and (the incompatibilist skeptics) Derk Pereboom, Galen Strawson, Saul Smilansky, Richard Double, Ted Honderich, Thomas Nagel
Is Eleanor Stump an incompatibilist?
Now, if I’m right about those marked with ?, it’s 38 compatibilists (not counting Fischer or Mele) to 19 incompatibilists. This a 66%-33% (or 2 to 1) ratio is just the way I predicted (and hoped) it would turn out for reasons I can share later. Despite van Inwagen’s claim that among philosophers in general compatibilism is more common than among specialists, I suspect that the ratio is about 2 to 1 compatibilist to incompatibilist among professional philosophers, too (but I’m not about to try to confirm that empirically!).
In the meantime, please correct my list—perhaps it will move closer to 50-50—I’m open to empirical disconfirmation.)
Let me add, just in case someone misconstrues me, I am not arguing that this head count offers evidence for any philosophical position. Rather, it is (potentially) interesting information. I can imagine some interesting claims one might make with reference to this information, but I won’t make any (yet)—except that, so far, it looks as though van Inwagen’s “sociological point” does not seem to be accurate.