Thanks again for Tom Nadelhoffer for this great opportunity. This'll be my last post (this time around), as I'm off Saturday morning for the JTF Board Mtgs in Philadelphia. I hope to be able to reply on the comments thread either as I travel or early next week, but don't expect my usual neurotic electronic alacrity. Thanks to everyone: we have a great "Free Will" community!!
I want to shift gears a bit. Of course, manipulation worries are pressing, especially but not exclusively (in my view) for compatibilists. I have pressed manipulation arguments against what I have called "mesh" theories, and various contemporary philosophers, including Derk Pereboom and Patrick Todd have recently given powerful and challenging versions of these arguments.
Here I want to talk about a related, but, in my view different kind of argument, the Initial Design Argument. Al Mele has given an elegant and influential version of such an argument: The Zygote Argument. Whereas many people seem to think that such arguments provide a big problem for compatibilism, I want to call this into question. (Note: Al Mele himself simply takes it that the Zygote Argument presents a problem for compatibilism; he does not however conclude that it is a decisive problem or embrace incompatibilism.)
So suppose that five billion years ago Fred--an independently existing being--sees God create the universe, and God tells him that he has specific intentions about each individual--specific intentions that each individual behave as he actually does throughout his life. Nevertheless, after creation, it is "hands off" for God--no more direct interventions. And God also endows at least some of his human creatures with all of the properties typically thought to ensure acting freely--mechanism ownership, reasons-responsivenss, or whatever one's favorite freedom-conferring properties may be. (I just arbitrarily chose those above!)
Is it really the case that because God had certain intentions in creating the world 5 billion years ago, a particular agent cannot act freely now and be morally responsible? We assume he acts from his own, appropriately reasons-responsive mechanism. Why doesn't he act freely? Why isn't he morally responsible? How can someone's--even God's--intentions 5 billion years ago, with no further intervention, affect the suite of factors that intuitively are relevant to the agent's moral responsibilty now? Doesn't that set of factors include the physics and psychology of the situation, as it were, and not the intentions of some distal agent--5 billion years ago?
Now suppose that Barney (Fred's friend) let's him know that in fact the creating individual he saw was not God, but God's brother, Schmod. It turns out that Schmod had NO intentions about future creatures, including humans. But otherwise everything else is exactly the same--down to the physics and psychology of the situation in which our agent acts from his own, moderately reasons-responsive mechanism. Is it really plausible to suppose that, whereas when Fred thought that God created the universe, he should think that the agent couldn't be morally responsible, but now that he knows that it was merely his pesky brother, Schmod, everything is cool? This just seems implausible to me. And it brings out the fact that the distal intentions of a remote and hands-off agent do not seem to affect an agent's moral responsibility. Whether it was God or Schmod, or a robot for that matter, it just doesn't seem to matter for an agent's moral responsibilty now. If this is all correct, it at least suggests that the Initial Design Argument is not decisive against compatibilism
What do you think? (Optional reading: JM Fischer, "The Zygote Argument Remixed," Analysis
Have fun and I'll look forward to reading your comments in the USA!