The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 299-324

First online:

Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility: The Flicker of Freedom

  • Eleonore StumpAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, St. Louis University

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Some defenders of the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP) have responded to the challenge of Frankfurt-style counterexamples (FSCs) to PAP by arguing that there remains a “flicker of freedom” -- that is, an alternative possibility for action -- left to the agent in FSCs. I argue that the flicker of freedom strategy is unsuccessful. The strategy requires the supposition that doing an act-on-one's-own is itself an action of sorts. I argue that either this supposition is confused and leads to counter-intuitive results; or, if the supposition is acceptable, then it is possible to use it to construct a FSC in which there is no flicker of freedom at all. Either way, the flicker of freedom strategy is ineffective against FSCs. Since the flicker of freedom strategy is arguably the best defense of PAP, I conclude that FSCs are successful in showing that PAP is false. An agent can act with moral responsibility without having alternative possibilities available to her.

alternative possibilities causal determinism compatibilism flicker of freedom Frankfurt-style counterexamples free will incompatibilism indeterminism libertarianism moral responsibility