What is this truly the case? Do

What is the
Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP)? Do Frankfurt’s counterexamples to
PAP show that responsibility is compatible with determinism?

Robert Kane was
a libertarian; the belief that man is an autonomous being, operating independently
uncontrolled by outside forces; human actions are freely chosen.  The Principles of Alternative Possibilities is
an argument put forth by Robert Kane which reasons that one is only responsible
for an action if one could have done otherwise. Moreover, it argues that
without options; an action can hold no moral responsibility. This school of
thought is what most people tend to believe in, most people feel free, and
believe they can make whatever decision or action in life that is wholly of
their choosing. But is this truly the case? Do people believe this because they
want it to be true? Do they want to be free but in reality, are not?
On the other hand, determinism does not allow options, arguing that every event
and action taken is preordained and caused by previous events, claiming one is
never free as one can never have done any action, but the action taken.
Determinism can be split into three categories, psychological – all mental events
are the resulted by laws of psychology, theological – all events are preordained
by a divine power, physical determinism – all physical events are caused by laws
of physics.

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Henry Frankfurt
challenges the idea libertarian idea of Principles of Alternative Possibilities
by inventing ‘thought experiments’ which argued that one could be, in some cases,
morally responsible for their actions even when one could not have done
otherwise.  This argument is an example
of semi-compatibilism. These thought experiments examined an agent who is ‘responsible’
for their behaviour despite lacking the freedom to act otherwise. Suppose Paul has
been a life-long Apple user and is likely to buy the newest Apple iPhone; as a
matter of fact, there is only one reason why he would not buy the new iPhone, if
there are no iPhones in the colour white available at the store at the time he
goes to purchase it. Steve Jobs wants to make sure that Paul buys the new iPhone,
and so plants a switch in Paul’s head which, if enabled, will force him to buy
the new iPhone. Steve only plans to use the switch if Paul decides not to buy
the iPhone after all. In actual fact, Paul decides to buy the new iPhone without
influence from the switch. If he decided not to buy phone, in the end, he would’ve
still bought it owing to the use of Steve’s switch. Regardless of his personal
decision, the outcome of the trip to the store would’ve been the same. Was Paul
truly free in deciding to buy the phone? If Paul is forced to buy the phone, surely
there can be no moral responsibility placed on him. Frankfurt makes the point
that if one does not always have to have the freedom to do otherwise but still
hold the moral responsibility in performing the act. One could make argue that
Frankfurt is claiming that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism.
If determinism removes the freedom to do otherwise, there can be no denying
that one can still be morally responsible for the act.

I feel that the
Frankfurt examples do to a large extent show that moral responsibility is held
with determinism. But I’d like to propose an argument against the moral
responsibility held when the intention is made to act a certain way but is forced
by another agent to act a different way. I feel Frankfurt’s attempts to undermine
Principles of Alternative Possibilities come up short because here is rather vague
in the way in which the agent operates, does the agent, Steve Jobs, activate
the button the moment Paul begins to act otherwise than Steve intends him to,
or does Jobs intervene when there are indicators earlier in Paul’s life that strongly
suggests that Paul would act other than Steve intends him to. Philosopher Kadri
Vihvelin defines these types of intervention as conditional and counterfactual
respectively. The difference is that in the case of counterfactual intervention,
the Jobs stops Paul before he even has the chance to act the ‘other’ way. To
strengthen Frankfurt’s argument, he would have to include a mechanism ‘which can
rob Paul of the ability to even begin to choose or decide otherwise’

Should the
assassin of Martin Luther King; James Earl Ray, be pardoned for his crimes if
it was revealed that he was under the influence of another agent during the
murder? James Earl Ray, from the soft determinist point of view, made all
possible steps to put himself in the position of killing MLK, furthermore, the
agent did not put the bullet in James’ gun, the agent simply made sure James
followed through with the action if he hesitated. Given the actions he took and
the life choices he made, he should be held accountable for the murder. Those
who would argue that when the time called, James did not pull the trigger
willingly and should not be held accountable, can be contend. If it is accepted
that a person should be held accountable for his ‘free’ choices throughout
life, James should be held accountable for putting himself in the position of
assassinating MLK. James made the choice to drive to the hotel room of MLK with
the intention to kill. It was James’ choice to bring a gun and load a bullet in
the gun. It was James’ choice to take aim at MLK. It is to be noted that the
agent has no influence on James’ actions up to this point. Suppose Tim, be it
from determinist or libertarian forces, is a child sex offender. He has been
told to declare to everyone in the community that he is a sex offender and he
has been informed that he cannot approach any areas where there may be children
unsupervised. Tim, does not follow any of these declarations and puts himself
in a situation where he can sexually offend a child. At the last minute, he
decides not against any assault and intends to leave, despite this, an outside
force compels him to follow through with the act. Should Tim go unpunished? He
made the choice of not telling the community of his past and he made the choice
of putting himself in a situation where he could sexually offend a child. Even though
he didn’t actually intend to follow through with the assault of the child he should
still be held morally responsible for making the choices to put himself in a
position to do so, particularly because he had the choice to do otherwise in each

To summarise, the
point I’m trying to make is that Frankfurt is rather vague with the true extent
of the interfering agent’s ability to intervene. If the intervener was of conditional
nature, then Paul has a split second where he has made a choice using free will,
namely had the ability to do otherwise and made a choice, before Jobs can
intervene if necessary. And this is why Paul remains morally responsible for
the choice he made in that small moment. Furthermore, the choices one makes to
put oneself in a position to do an act should entail some moral responsibility.