By Pamela Hieronymi

Today, Harry Frankfurt would have turned 95. We lost him last year, a couple of months after his 94th birthday.

It would be hard to underestimate the impact he made on my career and my life. He was my teacher when I was an undergraduate and the second reader of my undergraduate thesis (expertly and generously advised by Elijah Millgram), which included a chapter dedicated to articles from his then recently published collection, The Importance of What We Care about. In our final meeting about my thesis, he encouraged me to go to graduate school. I had other plans, but after two years I relented. I am sure I owe my admission to the letter of recommendation he wrote for me, which people embarrassed me about for years. Decades later, he and Joan moved into our neighborhood —in fact, into the same condo complex where we were living—and I began the awkward process of learning to call him “Harry” instead of “Prof. Frankfurt.” It is a rare and wonderful privilege to have this kind of connection over so many years.

In reflecting on his intellectual influence, I have come to think that my entire research career could be understood as a response to the title paper of that collection, “The Importance of What We Care about.” It is, hands down, my favorite of his papers. Once I asked him about it. We disagreed. He liked “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person” better. But here is how I see my favorite Frankfurt paper in relation to his other work and to my own:

In 1969, Frankfurt published the article that launched a thousand replies, “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility,” in which he presents the now-famous purported counter-example to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. For my part, I think the counter-example unsuccessful, for reasons made clear by John Martin Fischer, but I also, like Fischer, find its lack of success relatively unimportant. [1]

What is important about this early article is not the counter-example, as such, but rather the intuition that motivates it, which I would put like this: If you wouldn’t have done otherwise, even if you could have, then why should the fact that you couldn’t have done otherwise matter for moral responsibility? If Jones would make the same decision even without Black there to ensure it, why should Black’s mere presence make any difference to Jones’ responsibility? And that question (an ethical question, notice) survives the technical failure qua counter-example.

This underlying intuition led Frankfurt to a positive proposal: What matters for moral responsibility is not whether you could have done otherwise, but rather whether you did what you really wanted to do. He then, in a series of papers, went to work sorting out what that “really” means. The first of these was his favorite, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” where Black’s role (eliminating alternatives by overdetermining the outcome) is now played by an addiction and “really wanting” is understood in terms of the relation between one’s highest-order, unconflicted volition and one’s effective first-order desire (or one’s “will”). [2] Questions left open by this landmark paper are further pursued in “Identification and Externality” and “Identification and Wholeheartedness.” These four papers are each reprinted in that first collection. Frankfurt then returns to the theme much later in “The Faintest Passion.”

But, as a fifth member of this same series (I believe), Frankfurt also publishes my favorite, the too-often-overlooked title essay, “The Importance of What We Care about.” It opens boldly, with a call for an entirely new branch of philosophy: In addition to epistemology, which investigates what we should believe, and ethics, which investigates what we should do, there should be a branch of philosophy dedicated to the question of what we should care about. I take it this call was the starting point for Frankfurt’s subsequent work on necessity and love (thus, the title paper of his first collection marks the transition to his later work). But the paper also provides, without fanfare, a different sort of counter-example to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities in the person of Martin Luther, who stands there unable to do otherwise yet fully responsible. In fact, Luther stands as an exemplar of the glories of individual freedom and autonomy, a lone individual successfully confronting the most powerful political and intellectual institution of his time. Yet, he professes— and I believe we should take him at his word—that he cannot do otherwise.

When teaching this paper, I prefer to elaborate on a different character who also appears in it, namely, Sartre’s young man. Frankfurt plays out the story line, as it were—not explicitly, but we can play screenwriter and fill in the details: The young man, torn up, finally loses all patience with his own indecision and, in a fit of anxiety, packs his bag and heads for the train station, ready to go fight with the Free French. But then, as he stands on the platform, as the doors to the train open, he realizes—he can’t go through with it. What is more, this realization comes to him, not as a defeat, not as plunging him back into anxiety and indecision, but rather as a moment of clarity. Like Luther, he now knows what he has to do. Resolved, he returns to home to care for his mother, at last at peace with himself.

Frankfurt points out that, in such a case, our young man will experience a sense of freedom. He adds:

This would hardly be worth pointing out except that an exaggerated significance is sometimes ascribed to decisions, as well as to choices and to other similar “acts of will.” If we consider that a person’s will is that by which he moves himself, then what he cares about is far more germane to the character of his will than the decisions or choices he makes. The latter may pertain to what he intends to be his will, but not necessarily to what his will truly is.

The young man in Sartre’s famous example is sometimes understood to have resolved his dilemma… by making a radically free choice… [But] The resolution of the young man’s dilemma does not merely require… that he decide what to do. It requires that he really care more about one of the alternatives confronting him than about the other; and it requires, further, that he understand which… it is that he really cares about more. The difficulty he is in is due either to his not knowing which of the alternatives he cares about more, or to his caring equally about each. It is clear that in neither case is his difficulty reliably to be overcome by making a decision.

The fact that someone cares about a certain thing is constituted by a complex set of cognitive, affective, and volitional dispositions and states. It may sometimes be possible for a person, by making a certain choice or decision, effectively to bring it about that he cares about a certain thing or that he cares about one thing more than about another. But that depends upon conditions which do not always prevail. It certainly cannot be assumed that what a person cares about is generally under his immediate voluntary control. (84–85)

Frankfurt notes that the young man’s dilemma is, at bottom, due to either ignorance or ambivalence. Neither can be eliminated simply by making a decision. Admittedly, sometimes making a decision will bring it about that you care more about one thing rather than another. But, as with anything we bring about, this “depends on conditions that do not always prevail.”

Frankfurt’s lesson: One’s own will sometimes lies beyond one’s “immediate voluntary control.”

More, this sometimes enhances one’s freedom. As he puts it,

The suggestion that a person may be in some sense liberated through acceding to a power which is not subject to his immediate voluntary control is among the most ancient and persistent themes of our moral and religious tradition. … The idea that being rational and loving are ways of achieving freedom ought to puzzle us more than it does, given that both require a person to submit to something which is beyond his voluntary control and which may be indifferent to his desires. (89)

Like so much of Frankfurt’s work, he here puts in front of us something utterly familiar, intensely relevant to philosophical discussion, and yet also entirely overlooked. And he does so with concision and style. His work has stood, throughout my career, as an exemplar.

After drinking deeply of this lesson, I went on to argue, years later, not only that we cannot believe at will, but that we also cannot—for exactly the same reasons—intend at will. Actions are voluntary, but decisions, acts of will, are not. [3] So taught me Harry. More, it is these non-voluntary expressions of our will—in Harry’s sense, of “that by which we move ourselves”—that matter for moral responsibility. Our will, in this sense, is not an isolated power of choice, nor is it that which translates judgments about what we ought to do into action. [4] Rather, “that by which we move ourselves” includes the items in what Bernard Williams calls one’s “subjective motivational set:” one’s cares, desires, beliefs, values, concerns. [5] That entire mess explains our decision. More, that mess, messy as it is, includes only things that are, in T. M. Scanlon’s sense, “judgment sensitive” or, as I would put it, “commitment-constituted” [6] and, therefore, both “essentially contestable” and “up to you.” I argue that it is the essential contestability of these states, that is to say, the kind of things they are—rather than their causal origins, the existence of alternative possible worlds, or (now parting ways from Harry) their place in one’s psychological hierarchy—that secures the relevant sense of alternative possibility. [7] Black’s presence or absence is indeed unimportant, but so is one’s own higher-order endorsement. [8] My thoughts grow from Harry’s insights in my favorite of his articles. I only wish I could express them with his concision and style.

I will close with a different story, in honor of Harry’s power of expression. As a graduate student at Harvard in the 90’s, I was well indoctrinated into the orthodoxy that human action must be chosen for a reason. Harry later undid my conviction, as he could, in two short sentences. Considering the orthodoxy, he said,

This strikes me as quite implausible. I do not see why it should be impossible for a person to make a choice or a decision even when he does not think that he has a good reason, or even when it is clear to him that he has no reason whatever for choosing or deciding as he does. That may not be a sensible way to go about things. Nevertheless, it can be done (“Disengaging Reason,” 122).

Indeed: It may not be sensible. Nonetheless, it can be done.

[1] My reason for thinking the counter-example unsuccessful is flat-footed and well-known; I hope it will engender neither discussion nor controversy. It is this: The PAP is a conditional: “a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise.” (829) (If P then Q) A successful counter-example will be such that all agree that the person is morally responsible and yet the person could not have done otherwise. (P and ~Q) In Frankfurt’s original example, even though Jones could not do other than to kill Smith, there still remains, to Jones, the possibility of doing other than he did: Instead of killing Smith without Black’s interference, Jones could instead change his mind and end up killing Smith with Black’s interference. Fischer calls this remaining possibility a “flicker of freedom.” That flicker renders the case unsuccessful, strictly speaking. (The example does not establish ~Q.).

One might try to amend the case so that Black’s potential interference would ensure, not just that Jones kills Smith, but also that Jones decides to kill Smith. But in such a case, though Jones’ flicker of freedom is indeed eliminated (we have secured ~Q), it is no longer true that all will agree that Jones is morally responsible (we have lost agreement about P). Worse, logical space has been exhausted: either Black’s potential, alternative-eliminating interference would occur after the decision, leaving a flicker of freedom at the point of decision, or it would occur either before or during the decision, calling into question Jones’ moral responsibility. So, strictly speaking, the case is not a successful counter-example.

[2] I will pause, here, to note something that may aid in understanding this landmark paper. Towards its end, Frankfurt distinguishes between what he calls “freedom of the will,” on the one hand, and acting “of your own free will,” on the other. He does so by providing a case (the willing addict) in which a person acts “of his own free will” without enjoying “freedom of the will.” But this is very confusing: How can you act of your own free will if you do not enjoy freedom of the will? How can you act of your own free will if your will is not free? I believe the difficulty is simply due to Harry’s insistence on using natural English (and perhaps his overly optimistic view of his reader’s ability to follow that usage). Confusion can be eliminated by mentally (or actually) striking “free” and emphasizing “own” in the locution “acting of your own free will.” Your “own free will” is the will you have, so to speak, made your own by endorsing it from the highest order. And you can, indeed, act on your own free will without enjoying freedom of the will: see the willing addict.

In a similar choice about usage, Frankfurt uses “will” in two very different ways in this article, counting on his reader to track the difference: Sometimes the “will” is the entire hierarchical structure of a person’s desires, while at other times the “will” is one item within that hierarchy, namely, the effective (or, sometimes, strongest) first-order desire.

Finally, I would point out what is often overlooked: this paper spends relatively little time on questions of moral responsibility. It is, instead, centrally dedicated to the two ideas in its title: freedom of the will and the concept of a person.

[3] I argue this, first, in “Controlling Attitudes.” I restate the argument, with an emphasis on “voluntary,” and defend it against objections in “Believing at Will.”

[4] I argue against these alternative views of the will in “The Will as Reason.”

[5] See “Internal and External Reasons.”

[6] I explain my disagreement with Scanlon’s characterization in “The Will as Reason” at 214–15.

[7] I elaborate on the way in which these non-voluntary attitudes are nonetheless in your control or “up to you” in “No Inertia in Consciousness.”

[8] The inadequacy of higher-order endorsement can be seen by considering cases of culpable weakness of will, in which you are responsible even though you do not want, from the highest order, to do what you do.

12 Replies to “Pamela Hieronymi on Harry Frankfurt’s “The Importance of What We Care About”

  1. This is a lovely remembrance and discussion, Pamela. I too have been deeply influenced by this paper, and it is likely my favorite of his papers as well. I remember the first time I read it, out of curiosity while engaged in an independent study with Gary Watson, one which focused on the hierarchical self back and forth he and Harry had had (sometimes obliquely) throughout the eighties. We weren’t going to read it for the indy study, but I figured, “Hey, it’s the title of the volume, and Frankfurt must have really liked it himself, so I should check it out.” Were it possible to have a sharp intake of breath and gasp that lasted over the course of reading those packed fifteen pages, then that’s what I’d have been best described as having. Volitional necessity, in particular, was a phenomenon with which I’d already had a deep familiarity throughout my young life, without having had a name for it, and without understanding how powerfully important it was to understanding the complexity of real-life human agency and responsibility. Indeed, it was my overenthusiasm about this paper that likely led to my overstatements (in “Caring, Identification, and Agency”) about the completely dominant role of volitional necessity in our psychic lives (in contrast with the more evaluative/rationalistic view defended by my mentor). I eventually gravitated to a much more ecumenical view officially, but in my heart of hearts, I was still on Team Frankfurt.

    One tiny quibble here: I suspect you and Harry had a chance to talk this out, but describing the “messy mess” of psychic elements making up our Williamsian S as “judgment-sensitive” would, I’d have thought, be something Frankfurt would have pushed back against, or outright rejected (as he seemed to do in *Contours of Agency*). I may, after all, identify with psychic elements of which I don’t approve, or indeed judge to be bad. Perhaps these are the sorts of psychic elements that would be sensitive to evaluative judgment (or commitments, on your label) in those who are ideally rational? Perhaps, but we ain’t. I also wonder about pre-judgment (but quite non-voluntary) perceptions, the way in which we simply see certain facts as “reasonish,” as putative reasons, that we may then come to judge as being (or not being) reasons (whereas what we see as “reasonish” isn’t judgment-sensitive).

    It’s our human messiness that Frankfurt took so seriously. Indeed, I have always loved his description of what he was doing during this period, as “philosophical anthropology” (in the Preface of *Necessity, Volition, and Love*). It is, I suppose, the best label for what many of us following in his wake have been trying to do as well (although not nearly as succinctly and chippily).

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  3. Thanks for the beautiful tribute to Harry and the incisive discussion of ‘The Importance of What We Care About’. That essay is also one of my very favorites. The collection came out in 1988, the year before Harry and I came to Princeton. We were both new there, but of course Harry was famous and I was just out of graduate school. But to my surprise we became good friends almost immediately. In part it was just both of us being new and getting used to the place. And of course we had a good measure of overlapping philosophical interests. But it was also very much his menschlichkeit and his sense of fun. He was a broad intellectual and a great conversationalist. He was simply great to hang out with, and was free of the embarrassment so many philosophers seem to have moving in conversation between the abstract and the more personal. I shared much of my life with him in those years. I learned a lot from him and I miss him very much.
    Pamela, your piece here is beautiful and insightful and I can’t reply with anything like the same care. But, perhaps to get the discussion going, I have a few questions. I’ll begin with a quotation from ‘Importance’: “The young man in Sartre’s famous example is sometimes understood to have resolved his dilemma… by making a radically free choice… [But] The resolution of the young man’s dilemma does not merely require… that he decide what to do. It requires that he really care more about one of the alternatives confronting him than about the other; and it requires, further, that he understand which… it is that he really cares about more. The difficulty he is in is due either to his not knowing which of the alternatives he cares about more, or to his caring equally about each. It is clear that in neither case is his difficulty reliably to be overcome by making a decision.”
    He says that the young man’s dilemma stems from his either not knowing which he cares about more or from caring about each equally. And he says that a decision cannot solve this problem for him. It is true that a decision cannot itself either bring him to know which he cares about more or make it the case that he cares more about one than the other. But it’s not clear to me that any philosophers believe otherwise. What Harry says here is reminiscent of his case against ambivalence in ‘Reasons of Love’ and elsewhere. He speaks of ambivalence as though it were a failure of the will, in something like the way that contradiction is a failure of reason. But I think ambivalence is often an accurate response to our situation in the world, and we often have to decide what to do without resolving our ambivalence. Sartre describes the situation of the young man so that it makes sense, it is easy to understand, how he could fundamentally care equally about both options, even though the contingencies of his situation will make it impossible for him to act on both of them. This is not a failure on his part akin to having contradictory beliefs. He may be quite right to care equally even though he will have to act in a way that sacrifices one of the things he cares about. As I see his dilemma, resolving it doesn’t require overcoming his ambivalence such that now it is clear to him which option he cares about more. That doesn’t seem realistic or desirable to me. True, no ‘decision’ can make it the case that he cares more about one than the other. But he has to act. (Not that he has to choose between just these options. He could abandon both and just go to the beach, but we are assuming that the situation is serious enough that he feels he MUST do one of them if he can. Perhaps a kind of ‘volitional necessity’ at the level of what options are in play for him.) And the question of action is different from the question of resolving the question of what he cares about most. It’s built into the example that if he acts on one of them he will be sacrificing the other. The young man shouldn’t even expect that he could reach a state of mind such that, e.g., in choosing to join the Free French he will realize that this is what he cares about most and that therefore he is not wracked by regret and self-doubt when he thinks about his mother. Hence a decision is called for, which will be grounded in what he cares about, but not answered by what he cares about because the things he cares about (and they are the RIGHT things to care about) pull him in incompatible directions, given the personal and historical situation he is in.

  4. Thanks so much for the terrific post Pamela. I never had the chance to meet Frankfurt, and it’s really nice to hear more about him and the influence he had on others. His work had a big influence on me too.

    Near the start, you suggest an initial intuition that we are supposed to get from Frankfurt cases, what we can call:
    Irrelevance: the fact that Black deprives Jones of an option not to v is irrelevant to moral responsibility if Black would not have selected that option had it been available.
    This then grounds a positive view:
    Attribution: moral responsibility depends on whether the person did what they really wanted to do.

    I wonder what you thought about this objection to Irrelevance: the fact that a person lacks control over their conduct is decisive in showing that they lack moral responsibility for their action, even if they would have done what they did without control if they’d had control. And that is so even if the person does what they really want to do.

    Here’s a reverse Frankfurt case to bring out the point:

    Hypnotist: Jones goes into a bar and sees Smith, his sworn enemy. He forms the intention to punch Smith in the face. Black, Jones’s friend, wrongly thinks Jones won’t go through with this, even though Jones wants to. He thinks Jones lacks the courage. He wants to ensure that Jones does what Jones most wants to do. So, after accurately reflecting on Jones’s motivational set, Black hypnotises Jones to get Jones to punch Smith in the face, just as Jones would have done had Black not intervened.

    In this case, Jones does what Jones most wants to do. And, had Black not deprived Jones of the ability not to punch Jones in the face, Jones would have still done it. So Irrelevance is satisfied. But Jones isn’t morally responsible for punching Smith. It also seems unfair to blame or sanction Jones for punching Smith.

    One reaction to this case might be that although Jones’s actions are caused by Jones’s motivational set, they aren’t caused in the right way for moral responsibility. What is needed is attribution, and attribution depends not just on the person doing what they really want to do (as Attribution, above, suggests) but on the appropriate causal relationship between the person’s motivations and their conduct – through the person’s will, for example. And blame and sanctions are fair only if attribution in this richer sense is satisfied.

    But that reaction doesn’t fully capture Jones’s complaint, I think. Even though he would have acted similarly with control had Black not intervened, his conduct wasn’t under his control. And that is problematic not just because the conduct is not ‘his’ but because he lacks the ability to refrain from acting on his motivational set (the kind of ability Jones retains, as you rightly suggest, in the original example). And that makes it unfair to blame or sanction him.

  5. I’ll share a somewhat tentative thought I had when reading Victor’s comment. Perhaps we could think of the situation of Hypnotized Jones in Victor’s reverse Frankfurt case as analogous to the situation of Frankfurt’s Jones(4) in the alternative sequence where Black intervenes and compels Jones(4) to act as Black wants him to act.

    If we were to blame Jones(4) for his action in the alternative sequence, Jones(4) might consider two possible grounds for his complaint that we’re wrong to blame him (in line with what Victor suggested above):
    (A) His motivational set did not cause his action in the right way.
    (B) He was unable to avoid acting as he did.

    Now if Jones(4) in the alternative sequence were to go with (B) as his grounds for complaint, and if (B) gave him sufficient grounds, the same complaint on the same grounds would also be available to Jones(4) in the _actual sequence_, where the action he’s blamed for is one he performs entirely on his own. Since it seems clear that this complaint isn’t available to Jones(4) in the actual sequence, I submit that (B) isn’t sufficient to ground Jones(4)’s complaint in the _alternative sequence_, and that it’s not sufficient to ground Hypnotized Jones’s complaint, either.

    Now having said all that, I do also feel the pull of Victor’s thought (if I’ve understood it correctly) that (A) alone doesn’t seem to do justice to Hypnotized Jones’s complaint. It might well seem to Hypnotized Jones—and to us—that (B) contributes to the inappropriateness of blaming him.

    Putting these tentative thoughts together, we get a puzzling result: (B) isn’t sufficient to ground Hypnotized Jones’s complaint. I construe this to mean that if Hypnotized Jones had only (B) to lean on, he would have no legitimate complaint at all. At the same time, (A) without (B) doesn’t do justice to the complaint he has.

  6. I applaud Prof. Hieronymi’s intellectually delicious (and relevantly autobiographical) essay on H. Frankfurt. Moving and challenging.

    That said, I find myself uneasy with what could be an implication of his & her views, namely, that each of us has privileged access to our intentions. I think I often (but not always) know my own intentions better than others do. But the extent to which I do, it is not because only I can see images dancing on my internal screen, but because a) I am around myself more than others are, and b) I am fairly observant. What I know in knowing my intentions is how I regularly and predictively act — my habits, in the Deweyian sense.

    A tangent. I adore autobiographical accounts of how people slid into the profession. It is interesting and revealing. Routes to the profession are myriad, and these both reflect and shape what we value and how we conduct ourselves as professionals.

  7. Thanks for this beautiful remembrance of HF. I’ve always had trouble reconciling two views by Frankfurt: the view motivated by the discussion of Frankfurt cases and the identification view in terms of doing what you really wanted to do.

    As far as I can see, there’s two possible ways of understanding the Irrelevance claim:
    1. Black is irrelevant to Jones’ freedom because he doesn’t actually intervene in the causal chain.
    2. Black is irrelevant to Jones’s freedom because he doesn’t eliminate any alternatives that Jones would have (really?) wanted to take.

    Although Pamela suggests interpretation 2 as the right interpretation, to me 1 seems to be more in line with what Frankfurt says in the alternative possibilities paper. (Plus, it can be used to explain why Jones isn’t responsible in Victor’s Hypnotist case…)

    On the other hand, it’s hard to make 1 consistent with Frankfurt’s take on the willing addict and his identification view more generally. The willing addict’s higher-order desire (the desire to want to take the drug) is like Black in that (at least in some possible versions of the case) it doesn’t play any actual causal role. So, if 1 is true, it cannot be relevant to the willing addict’s freedom. I would suggest that’s the right result (the willing addict doesn’t act freely after all), but that’s not what Frankfurt wanted to say.

  8. Thanks everyone! I’m really grateful for the chance to remember and honor Harry by sharing my love for this paper and his work. I’ll respond in pieces (it is still morning out here on the far coast!).

    Dave: I love the idea of an article-long gasp. That was my experience too! To your point: Yes, definitely Harry was not a friend of Scanlon’s do-everything-with-reasons approach, and in identifying “that by which we move ourselves” as “judgement sensitive” (or even “commitment-constituted”) I am surely moving from Harry’s view to my own, without adequately marking it. I also think you are right about a role for “perceptions” of reasons that do not amount to judgments (though I am not sure I’d call them perceptions, exactly), and I am confident Harry would welcome that.

    But two further thoughts: First, as I understand it, for Harry, in FWCP your “will” (in one sense) is the entire hierarchical structure of desires, not just those you identify with (this is crucial, because to be a person is to be such that the freedom of your will can be a problem for you — for you to be able to be such that what you want your “will” (now, your effective first-order desire) to be is not what your will (effective first-order-desire) is). So the fact that an attitude is not in fact sensitive to your judgment or not endorsed from a higher order is no reason to think it is not part of your will (first sense), or of that by which you move yourself. Similarly, for Scanlon, an attitude is “judgment sensitive” if it *ought to be* sensitive to a judgment about the reasons for it. It need not in fact be.

    Second (relatedly), I’d mark some interesting similarities: Both Frankfurt and Scanlon appeal to higher-order attitudes (attitudes that take other attitudes as their object) (and so appeal to what Harry called “reflexivity”); both see something important about the alignment of the two; and, in both cases, it seems to me that the alignment is assumed to obtain because of the effectiveness of (or explanatory priority of?) the higher-order attitude: For Scanlon, insofar as your judgment-sensitive attitudes and the judgments to which they ought to be sensitive align, you are rational, but it seems to be assumed that, if you are rational, the attitude comes into alignment with the judgment and not the other way around. For Frankfurt, if you enjoy freedom of the will, when highest-order volition changes, your will would also change. Again, the higher-order attitude runs the show, as it were. This assumption of the effectiveness of the higher-order desire seems to me to sneak in a sense of control. (But I think it is misleading to do so.)

  9. Now onto Dick’s thoughts. I love that you highlight Harry’s sense of fun. He is often thought of as formidable, and he played up the curmudgeonly, but his sense of fun was so wonderful and so central.

    Onto the young man: One small issue may be merely terminological, namely, what counts as “resolving” the dilemma — one might think that simply making a decision that you are unable (due to external circumstances) to reverse could *end* your dilemma without having *resolved* it. That is to say, we could stipulate that the young man will “resolve” his dilemma only if he eliminates his ambivalence, or at least lowers it to a point of comfort.

    Re: whether other philosopher’s believe otherwise: I do think that it is sometimes thought that *Sartre* thought that by making a “radical choice” the young man can change his “values” and so what he cares about — I think Taylor has that interpretation of Sartre. (I disagree with this reading, as do you.) And I think Harry wants to allow that it sometimes does happen that, by making a choice, you find your resolve (that would be the inverse of the story I told, in which, standing at the train station, the young man finds he could not return home), but, he wants to point out, that depends on conditions that do not always prevail (not only must “the world cooperate,” as with all action, but so must your own will!)

    But I want to think about what you say about belief; I don’t have it under control. It seems to me an important asymmetry between practical and theoretical reason that, when you (believe you) have equally good reasons for incompatible beliefs, you can suspend judgment — in fact, you must, to be rational; but there is no similar option for action, and (therefore?), when you have equally good reasons for each of two incompatible actions, you can “just pick” one, without any failure of rationality.

    And, it also seems right that, as you say, “ambivalence is often an accurate response to our situation in the world,” and yet we have to act. But suppose we don’t *have to* act — wouldn’t remaining in ambivalence be the analog of suspending judgment? And might not “just picking,” when you don’t yet *have to*, be… a kind of betrayal of the importance of the thing you chose against? (And so, I suppose, in a way, a betrayal of himself — Harry would certainly emphasis that point.)

    That is to say, pointing out (1) that ambivalence is accurate and (2) that picking is both possible and no failure of rationality doesn’t seem to me to help, unless external circumstances force a choice (the last train is leaving, now or never!). Then, you pick, and you live with it, understanding your ambivalence as forced upon you, given your accurate understanding. But, if nothing is forcing the picking, then it is hard, it seems, to avoid the sense of betrayal. (Why should that be? Why should the external forcing absolve one of betrayal? I don’t know…)

    Super interesting, as always, Dick! (And, how many years have you and I been talking about this poor guy, and there’s still stuff to say!)

  10. Onto the thread about the Jones cases: I’m going to give some initial thoughts and then take a break and think some more. My initial thought is this: Carolina’s two interpretations seems correct to me (as the two possible ways to understand Irrelevance) and I do think 1 is the one that is at work in the cases, while 2 is what you would get if you added in Harry’s positive proposal about what does matter (what one really wants). I don’t, myself, think that positive proposal will get us what we want for responsibility — most flatly, due to culpable weakness of will.

    Getting into variations on cases gets us into the usual mess of intuitions about responsibility, and I think the terrain here is complex. So, for example, it matters that there is another person involved, *manipulating* Jones (whether or not it is in line with Jones’ wishes). That, by itself, is sufficient to make it the case that Jones does not act freely. It also matters for Jones’ responsibility. (What if Jones had arranged for the hypnosis? I think our intuitions about responsibility shift.)

    Victor brings up the idea of control. I think that is a crucial idea, and it plays a big role in *my* thinking, but it is not as crucial for Harry. I have tried to show that there is a big difference between, on the one hand, the sort of control we enjoy over our own actions and over other events, objects, and states of affairs, and, on the other, the control we enjoy with respect to our own decisions and conclusions. For us to be “free” requires us not only to exercise our control with respect to our own decisions and conclusions (and then, if we are considering action, to act), but also to do so without interference, manipulation, constraint, damage or defect. Various ways of lacking freedom appear.

    Likewise, I think we mean many things by “responsibility,” and responsibility can be eliminated or mitigated for lots of different kinds of reasons — but one is, if you are being manipulated by another person.

    So, my general tendency is to think that the cases need to be set into a larger picture of both agency and responsibility, before we can really diagnosis why our intuitions go one way rather than another (or, putting it the other way, the cases are not merely testing a single principle about responsibility and agency, but rather would reveal a quite set of facts about both).

    Okay, I need some lunch!

  11. Thanks so much for the comment, Hugh. I agree that the biographies are often really interesting.

    I’m not sure why you think that either Harry’s view or mine entails any privileged knowledge of our own intentions? It seems to me both views are compatible with some profound self-deception and opacity.

  12. I said I would return with more thoughts on Victor, Seth, and Carolina’s thoughts, but I think that what I’ve said above puts out the pieces of any further reply. I will say that Seth’s observation seems to me a nice acknowledgement of the complexity that awaits us, as we think through the cases.

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