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Irrelevant Alternatives and Frankfurt Counterfactuals

Dana K. Nelkin
Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition
Vol. 121, No. 1 (Oct., 2004), pp. 1-25
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4321519
Page Count: 25
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Irrelevant Alternatives and Frankfurt Counterfactuals
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Abstract

In rejecting the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP), Harry Frankfurt makes use of a special sort of counterfactual of the following form: "he wouldn't have done otherwise even if he could have". Recently, other philosophers (e.g., Hurley (1999, 2003) and Zimmerman (2002)) have appealed to a special class of counterfactuals of this same general form in defending the compatibility of determinism and responsibility. In particular, they claim that it can be true of agents that even if they are determined, and so cannot do otherwise, they wouldn't have done otherwise even if they could have. Using as a central case an argument of Susan Hurley's, I point out that the counterfactuals in question are both "interlegal" and "indeterministic", and I raise doubts about whether this special class of counterfactuals have clear truth conditions. Finally I suggest that acknowledging these points leads to an appreciation of the real strength of Frankfurt-style examples.

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