Following are quotes and paraphrases from Chapter 7 of A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward. She responds to three anticipated challenges to her arguments against the Challenges from Chance. The challenges are (1) matters of luck, (2) Frankfurt style examples, and (3) refrainment and robustness.
Matters of Luck
Steward uses an example of Joe deciding whether or not to move in with his girlfriend and the ideas in of Alfred Mele’s book Free Will and Luck. Mele holds that the difference between the possible world in which Joe decides at time t to move in and the world in which he decides at time t to not move in as a ‘matter of luck.’ For Mele it seems that there is no complete explanation in terms of antecedent condition at time t why one outcome rather than the other occurs. Steward’s Agency Compatibilist position is it is not something about us that makes us act, but simply because we act that it is up to us what happens to our bodies. “There is simply no coherent way of understanding how Joe, gripped by the excitement and enthusiasm with which he is happily imagining his new life in his girlfriend’s beautiful flat [ ] , and lacking any thoughts, emotions, or motivations that might justify the decision to stay where he is, could nevertheless have made the decision at t not to move in at all.”
Mele would contend that we have to allow for the possibility that Joe might not have moved in at time t despite he did so at time t. Steward counters that it is rationally unintelligible there is an alien force that counters Joe’s wishes and reasons and hopes. Indeed, there are lots of alternative possibilities for which there is really no good explanation. There are, of course, cases in which a decision must be made at a given moment if an opportunity is not to be lost. However, the hypothetical alternative decision is a failure to act, not an action. It is important to Steward’s position that the power of agency is a power to settle, not merely a power to decide.
Frankfurt style examples
Philosopher Harry Frankfurt is the originator of a much-discussed variety of counterexamples to what he calls the Principal of Alternative Possibilities: A person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he could have done otherwise. It had been supposed to be a priori; Frankfurt argued it was false.
Such examples are very contrived. One is that Gunnar intensely dislikes Ridley and plans to shoot him. Cosser also dislikes Ridley and worries that Gunnar will not complete his plan. Cosser, a neurosurgeon, is able to implant a device in Gunnar’s brain that Cosser can activate if Gunnar loses his resolve. The point of the example is that Gunnar could not have done other than to shoot Ridley.
Since such examples are so contrived, have little bearing on Steward’s concept of agency, and pertain to moral questions, I will skip saying more.
Refrainment and robustness
Van Inwagen suggested that though Frankfurtian agents may not be able to avoid bringing about certain types of consequences (e.g. Ridley dies), they might nevertheless retain the power to prevent the particular consequences they in fact produce. Again, since such examples are so contrived, have little bearing on Steward’s concept of agency, and pertain to moral questions, I will skip saying more.