The Consequence Argument for Incompatibilism

There is an important argument that we have not looked at so far. This is an argument that the incompatibilist uses. If this argument works, then we don't have to bother with questions about how the compatibilist analyzes words like "could have done otherwise." This argument threatens to show that free will just can't be compatible with determinism, no matter how you analyze our words.

The argument goes as follows:

If determinism is true, then how we act today is the necessary consequences of the laws of nature and the way the world was before we were born. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born. And neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. We have no control over those things. And if it's not up to us whether certain things happen, then neither is it up to us whether the consequences of those things happen. (Kane calls this Rule Beta, at p. 25. In our van Inwagen reading, he calls it the No-Choice Principle, at pp. 189-90.) If we have no control over the laws and the past, and they have the consequence that we will act a certain way, then we have no control over how we act. Hence, if determinism is true, then it is not up to us how we act today.

We call this The Consequence Argument, because it appeals to the principle "If we have no control over certain things, then we don't have control over the consequences of those things, either." It is a very plausible argument. There are things the compatibilist can say in response, but those things are very subtle and may not be convincing.