Alternative Possibilities and Causal Overdetermination

Open access


This paper argues against dismissing the Principle of Alternative Possibilities merely on the ground of so-called Frankfurt-style cases. Its main claims are that the interpretation of such cases depends on which substantive theory of responsibility one endorses and that Frankfurt-style cases all involve some form of causal overdetermination which can be interpreted either as being compatible with the potentially manipulated agent’s ability to act otherwise or as a responsibility undermining constraint. The paper also argues that the possibility of such scenarios can support the truth of classical compatibilism as much as the truth of semicompatibilism.

Dennett, D. C. 2003. Freedom Evolves. London: Penguin Books.

Ehring, D. 1997. Causation and Persistence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fara, M. 2008. Masked abilities and compatibilism. Mind 117: 843-65.

Fischer, J. M. 2012. Deep Control. Essays on Free Will and Value. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fischer, J. M. 2002. Frankfurt-type cases and semi-compatibilism. In The Oxford Handbook of Free Will, ed by Robert Kane. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Fisher, J.M. and Ravizza, M. 1998. Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frankfurt, H. 1988. The Importance of What We Care About. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Funkhouser, E. 2009. Frankfurt cases and overdetermination. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 39: 341-369.

Ginet, 1996. In defense of the principle of alternative possibilities: why I don’t find Frankfurt’s argument convincing. Philosophical Perspectives 10: 403-17.

Hitchcock, C. 2011. Trumping and contrastive causation. Synthese 181: 227-240.

Huoranszki, F. 2011. Freedom of the Will. A Conditional Analysis. New York: Routledge.

Kane, R. 1996. The Significance of Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kane, R. 2003. Responsibility, indeterminism, and Frankfurt-style cases: a reply to Mele and Robb. In Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities, ed. by GD Widerker and M. McKenna. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Press.

Lamb, J. 1993. Evaluative compatibilism and the principle of alternative possibilities. Journal of Philosophy 90: 517-527.

Lewis, D. 1986. Philosophical Papers. Volume II. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mackie, J. 1974. The Cement of the Universe. A Study on Causation. Oxford: Clarendon.

Mele, A. and D Robb. 1998. Rescuing Frankfurt-style cases. Philosophical Review 107: 97-112.

Nelkin, D. 2011. Making Sense of Freedom and Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pereboom, D. 2001. Living without Free Will. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schaffer, J. 2000. Trumping preemption. Journal of Philosophy 9: 165-81.

Smith, Michael, 2003. Rational capacities, or: how to distinguish recklessness, weakness, and compulsion. In Weakness of the Will and Varieties of Practical Irrationality, ed. by Stroud and Tappolet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 17-38.

Van Inwagen, P. 1978. Ability and responsibility. Philosophical Review 87: 201-224.

Vihvelin, K. 2000. Freedom, foreknowledge, and the principle of alternate possibilities. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 8: 1-24.

Vihvelin, K. 2004. Free will demystified: a dispositional account. Philosophical Topics 32: 427-50.

Widerker, D. 1995. Libertarianism and Frankfurt’s attack on the principle of alternative possibilities. Philosophical Review 104: 247-61.


International Journal of Philosophy

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 83 83 17
PDF Downloads 25 25 7