Philosophical Studies

, Volume 162, Issue 2, pp 291–307 | Cite as

Free will and mystery: looking past the Mind Argument



Among challenges to libertarians, the Mind Argument has loomed large. Believing that this challenge cannot be met, Peter van Inwagen, a libertarian, concludes that free will is a mystery. Recently, the Mind Argument has drawn a number of criticisms. Here I seek to add to its woes. Quite apart from its other problems, I argue, the Mind Argument does a poor job of isolating the important concern for libertarians that it raises. Once this concern has been clarified, however, another argument serves to renew the challenge. The Assimilation Argument challenges libertarians to explain how ostensible exercises of free will are relevantly different from other causally undetermined outcomes, outcomes that nobody would count as exercises of free will. In particular, libertarians must explain how agents can have the power to settle which of two causally possible futures becomes the actual future. This will require them to distinguish cases where this power is supposedly present from similar cases where it’s clearly absent.


Libertarianism Free will van Inwagen Mind Argument Rollback Argument Assimilation Argument 



I presented a draft of Sects. 2–4 at the University of Tennessee Knoxville and the University of Delaware. I would like to thank audiences at both places for thoughtful and engaging discussion. Special thanks to E.J. Coffman for valuable conversation and correspondence on some of the key issues raised here. Thanks also to John Nolt for a very helpful discussion of the role of probability in these arguments. I would also like to thank John Martin Fischer and an anonymous referee for Philosophical Studies.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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