Real Possibilities Ground Free Will

On my view there are three modes of pos­si­bil­ity: log­i­cal, meta­phys­i­cal, and actual. Log­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties are those per­mit­ted by logic, meta­phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties are those per­mit­ted by logic and the laws of meta­physics, and actual pos­si­bil­i­ties are those per­mit­ted by logic, the laws of meta­physics, and actuality.

When mere meta­phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­ity is too broad to be rel­e­vant, and actual pos­si­bil­ity is too nar­row, we turn to “real” pos­si­bil­i­ties to describe pos­si­ble worlds in which the basic prop­er­ties of the actual world obtain and in which his­tory has gone iden­ti­cally to the actual world up to a given point.

A moment of reflec­tion should yield the obser­va­tion that there are alter­nate real pos­si­bil­i­ties, that is to say that for a typ­i­cal given moment in time, there is more than one pos­si­ble world which shares a his­tory with the actual world up to that moment.

The view that such alter­nate pos­si­bil­i­ties exist has the mind-​​blowing impli­ca­tion that free will is pos­si­ble. This is because an agent may be the one who sup­plies the final con­di­tions nec­es­sary to actu­al­ize one of these real pos­si­ble worlds. Imag­ine that there are two pos­si­ble worlds that share a com­mon his­tory up to a given point in time (there are two “real pos­si­bil­i­ties”), and the only dif­fer­ence between them at this given time is the deci­sion of a given per­son. From there, the two worlds will no doubt diverge in more than one regard. In such cases it is up to a per­son to choose which pos­si­ble world is the actual world. Nat­u­rally life is a bit more com­pli­cated, as there are bil­lions of agents mak­ing bil­lions of deci­sions, some of which are more heav­ily influ­enced by their antecedent con­di­tions than oth­ers. But in this way, we are all freely co-​​creating the actual world by choos­ing between real possibilities.

5 thoughts on “Real Possibilities Ground Free Will

  1. Elessar

    what frus­trates me about this post is this: given the painstak­ing lengths to which you have gone to explain your other modes of pos­si­bil­ity (log­i­cal, meta­phys­i­cal, and actual), you leave “real pos­si­bil­i­ties” sur­pris­ing lack­ing in def­i­n­i­tion. You also men­tion “gen­uine alter­na­tives” in a com­ment, which I have not yet seen a def­i­n­i­tion for.

  2. Louis

    Real pos­si­bil­i­ties con­sti­tute a sub­set of meta­phys­i­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties. Specif­i­cally those that can plau­si­bly be actu­al­ized, given the his­tory of the uni­verse up to the point in question.

  3. Louis

    In those com­ments it looks like Derek first used the term “gen­uine alter­na­tives” in what appears to be a non-​​technical sense. It seems he was con­cerned that I was rul­ing out the free­dom to choose between alter­na­tives. I think my cur­rent modal phi­los­o­phy accounts for such con­cern by assert­ing that free agents can choose between “real alter­na­tives”, that is, those meta­phys­i­cally pos­si­ble alter­na­tives which are acces­si­ble to agents to choose between (for exam­ple, in some meta­phys­i­cally pos­si­ble world I could bring home a baby daugh­ter from the hos­pi­tal tomor­row, but such world is not a real pos­si­bil­ity for me given the his­tory of the world up to today — but I can choose between the real alter­na­tives of answer­ing your com­ment or not).

    What con­cerned him was my denial of “actual” alter­na­tives, where “actual” just ref­er­ences events in the actual world, whether past, present, or future. Surely it can­not be the case that I both take a baby daugh­ter home tomor­row and that I do not take a baby daugh­ter home tomorrow!

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