Consider the following dialogue:
Thermostat: It’s not up to me what the temperature is.
Human: Sure it is! You’re the thermostat. The buck stops with you. If the room gets too cold, you warm it up. Too hot, you cool it down.
Thermostat: Yes, I always keep the temperature at 73 degrees. But who decided on 73 degrees? Not me.
Human: But you
love 73 degrees. If it gets to 74, you
sweat. If it gets to 72, you shiver.
Thermostat: Yes, I love it. But I didn’t choose to love it. That wasn’t my choice. Someone, or something, set 73 degrees for me.
Human: So what? Does it really matter if someone else set 73 degree for you? It all turned out right, right? It’s not like you hate 73 degrees? It’s a happy coincidence.
Thermostat: But I would have loved whatever I was set to love! I chase after whatever I was made to chase after.
Thermostat: The temperature is only “up to me” in the most superficial sense. Whatever human being set my temperature is a better candidate for “up to me” ness. If I have control, that person has meta-control: they control how I exercise my control. And that’s my point: if a person has control, but is subject to meta-control, the control becomes worthless. The meta-controller holds all of the cards. The meta-controller has the real control, the ultimate control, the bona fide control. The rest is a sham. Who cares about control, if you don’t have meta-control?
Human: I see your point. But where would it end? We human beings are not so different than you. Sure our control is more sophisticated than yours, but we are not immune to meta-control. Ultimately, we can be designed to chase certain goals, just like you chase 73 degrees. For all I know, God or some cosmic being designed my life story just that way.
Thermostat: In fact, if you think about, it *has* to be that way. It’s logically necessary. Humans can’t create themselves out of nothing. A desireless person doesn’t even have desires for desires. It would just sit there doing nothing. Somebody or something has to set the initial goals. Just like humans set me to chase 73 degrees, human beings are set to chase certain goals, too.
Human: I see your point. But, if we follow your logic to its extreme, it means that nothing is up to anyone. Everything in the world is out of control.
Thermostat: So much the less for everything in the world. Just stop telling me the temperature in the room is up to me.
Anti-realists about free will think like the thermostat. It doesn’t matter if we have lower-level control, if we’re not immune to meta-control. Yes, we exercise control, but if we only do so in a way that is set out for us by God’s deterministic design—or cosmic chance—that control is a sham.
There’s one last point to make. Perhaps the most important—and telling—part of the dialogue is the Thermostat’s point about loving 73 degrees: I would love whatever temperature I was set to love. That is how anti-realists think: we have a thin sense of personal identity, and we see how we would live different lives, if we had been born with different desires/values/preferences. We’re less willing to hold onto, and endorse, the accidents of birth and circumstance.
Compatibilists don’t think like that. Why?