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Free will is the supposed ability of people to make choices freely from any kind of constraints. Will is usually paired with reason as one of two complementary activities of the human mind. The human will is considered the faculty of making choices and decisions, whereas reason is that of deliberation and argument.

Determinism on the other hand is the concept that events within a given standard are bound by relations in such a way that any state of an object or event is, to some large extent, determined by prior states. Hence determinism is the name of a broader philosophical view that hypothesizes that every event, including decision, human behavior, and action is causally determined by previous events. In philosophical arguments, the concept of determinism in the domain of human action is often contrasted with free will.

Determinists believe that the universe is entirely governed by causal laws resulting in only one possible state at any point in time. They normally assume that every event has a preceding cause in an endless causal sequence dating from the beginning of the universe. This therefore leads to the position that free will and determinism are logically incompatible, and thus the belief that people do not have free will.

The principle of alternate possibilities states that, a person is morally responsible for what he has done only if he had an alternate choice. So for someone to be justly praised for keeping his promise to another, he must have been capable of breaking that promise, even if not at all inclined or likely to do so. Conversely, if breaking the promise is genuinely impossible, perhaps due to strong hypnosis, then he warrants no moral praise for keeping it. The principle of Alternate Possibilities thus identifies the availability of alternative actions to the agent as a necessary condition of that agent bearing moral responsibility for his actual actions.

Frankfurt’s counterexample infers that a person is not morally responsible for what he has done if he could not have done otherwise a point with which he takes issue. Our theoretical ability to do otherwise, therefore, does not necessarily make it possible for us to do otherwise. These counterexamples are significant because they suggest an alternative way to defend determinism and this it does by using examples of agents who are intuitively responsible for their behavior even though they lack the freedom to act otherwise.

To understand Frankfurt’s arguments, it is important to know his conception of free will is based on a major distinction between first order and second order desires. First order desires also known as Higher-order volitions are desires for anything other than a desire. Examples include the desire to own a new car, to meet the president, or to smoke a cigarette. A second order desire is in essence a desire for a desire. So, for instance, you might have a first order desire to drink alcohol; and a second order desire that you desire not to drink alcohol. A second order desire might be or might not be a desire that its corresponding first order desire be effective.

Frankfurt therefore bases freedom on two aspects. Firstly, there is the aspect that a person’s actions are free in so far as they stem from their desires; that is, if they had desired differently, they would have acted differently. According to Frankfurt this is just freedom of action. Also a person has freedom of will. This is the ability by a person to control their desires and bring their first order desires into line with the second order desires. This is in essence means that we do not have free will because our desires are cause by other happenings. Hence the truth of determinism is validated.


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