Autonomy, as I understand it, is associated with a family of freedom concepts: free will, free choice, free action, and the like. In much of the philosophical literature discussed in this chapter, issues are framed in terms of freedom rather than autonomy, but we are talking about (aspects of) the same thing. Libertarians argue that determinism precludes autonomy by, for example, precluding an agent's being ultimately responsible for anything. Some compatibilist believers in autonomy argue that libertarians rely on indeterminism in a way that deprives us of autonomy-level control over our decisions. Theorists who contend that no human being is autonomous can benefit from arguments on both sides, alleging that libertarians decisively reveal the ordinary person's notion of autonomy, an incompatibilist notion, and that compatibilist critics of libertarianism show that the notion is incoherent or unsatis-fiable. Is there a way to use the resources both of libertarianism and of compatibilism in defending the following thesis: The claim that there are autonomous human beings is more credible than the claim that there are none?
I believe that the answer is “yes.” I defended that answer in Autonomous Agents. Part of my strategy was to develop an account of an ideally self-controlled agent (where self-control is understood as the contrary of akrasia [roughly, weakness of will]), to argue that even such an agent may fall short of autonomy, and to ask what may be added to ideal self-control to yield autonomy. I offered two answers, one for compatibilists and another for libertarians. I then argued that a certain disjunctive thesis involving both answers (identified in Section 4 below) is more credible than the thesis that there are no autonomous human beings.
Practical conflicts include conflicts in agents who judge, from the perspective of their own values, desires, beliefs, and the like, that one prospective course of action is superior to another but are tempted by what they judge to be the inferior course of action. A man who wants a late-night snack, even though he judges it best, from the identified perspective, to abide by his recent New Year's resolution against eating such snacks until he has lost ten pounds, is the locus of a practical conflict. So is a woman who judges it best (in the same way) to run a mile this morning but is tempted to spend the entire morning working in her office instead. The topic of this essay is practical outcomes of conflicts of this kind. My concern, more specifically, is with outcomes of two general kinds: akratic (from the classical Greek term akrasia: want of self-control) and enkratic (from enkrateia: self-control) actions.
Strict akratic action may be defined as free, sane, intentional action that the agent consciously believes at the time of action to be inferior to another course of action that is open to her then, inferior from the perspective of her own values, desires, beliefs, and the like. The belief against which an agent acts in strict akratic action may be termed a decisive belief.
The basic subject matter of the philosophy of action is a pair of questions: (1) What are actions? (2) How are actions to be explained? The questions call, respectively, for a theory of the nature of action and a theory of the explanation of actions. Donald Davidson has articulated and defended influential answers to both questions. Those answers are the primary focus of this chapter.
ACTIONS AND INDIVIDUATION
Actions, as Davidson understands them, are analogous to money and sunburns in one noteworthy respect. The piece of paper with which I just purchased a drink is a genuine U. S. dollar bill partly in virtue of its having been produced (in the right way) by the U. S. Treasury Department. The burn on my back is a sunburn partly in virtue of its having been produced by exposure to the sun's rays. A duplicate bill produced with plates and paper stolen from the Treasury Department is a counterfeit dollar bill, not a genuine one. A burn that looks and feels just like the one on my back is not a sunburn if it was produced by exposure to a heat lamp rather than to the sun. Similarly, on Davidson's view of action, a certain event is my buying a drink – an action – partly in virtue of its having been appropriately produced by reasons that I had for buying one, reasons being understood as complexes of beliefs and desires (Davidson 1980 ; 1980a ; 1980a ; 1987b).
According to a traditional view of self-deception, the phenomenon is an intrapersonal analogue of stereotypical interpersonal deception. In the latter case, deceivers intentionally deceive others into believing something, p, and there is a time at which the deceivers believe that p is false while their victims falsely believe that p is true. If self-deception is properly understood on this model, selfdeceivers intentionally deceive themselves into believing something, p, and there is a time at which they believe that p is false while also believing that p is true.
Elsewhere (most recently in Mele, 2001), I have criticized the traditional conception of self-deception and defended an alternative, deflationary view according to which self-deception does not entail any of the following: intentionally deceiving oneself; intending (or trying) to deceive oneself, or to make it easier for oneself to believe something; concurrently believing each of two contradictory propositions. Indeed, I have argued that garden-variety instances of selfdeception do not include any of these things. On my view, to put it simply, people enter self-deception in acquiring a belief that p if and only if p is false and they acquire the belief in a suitably biased way. Obviously, this shoulders me with the burden of showing what suitable bias amounts to, and I have had a lot to say about that. The suitability at issue is a matter of kind of bias, degree of bias, and the nondeviance of causal connections between biasing processes (or events) and the acquisition of the belief that p.
In Mele, 2001 (pp. 106–12), I suggested a test for relevant bias. I called it ‘the impartial observer test,’ and I argued that its appropriateness is underwritten by…
My topic lies on conceptual terrain that is quite familiar to philosophers. For others, a bit of background may be in order. In light of what has filtered down from quantum mechanics, few philosophers today believe that the universe is causally deterministic (or “deterministic” for short). That is, to use Peter van Inwagen's succinct definition of “determinism” few philosophers believe that “there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.” Even so, partly for obvious historical reasons, philosophers continue to argue about whether free will and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism. Compatibilists argue for compatibility, and incompatibilists argue against it. Some incompatibilists maintain that free will and moral responsibility are illusions. But most are libertarians, libertarianism being the conjunction of incompatibilism and the thesis that at least some human beings are possessed of free will and moral responsibility.
People sometimes wonder why philosophers who believe that determinism is false care about the compatibility question. Those who read on will find a partial answer that has a lot to do with luck. For introductory purposes, the sphere of luck (good or bad) for a person may be understood as the sphere of things having the following two properties: the person does not control them; even so, they affect his or her life.
There is in the literature on free will and moral responsibility a notion of ultimate responsibility that, by definition, requires the falsity of determinism.
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