The Flicker of Freedom: A Reply to Stump


In a fascinating article in The Journal of Ethics, Eleonore Stump contends that while the flicker of freedom defense is the best available strategy for defending the principle of alternative possibilities against the threat posed to that principle by the Frankfurt cases, the defense is ultimately unsuccessful. In this article I identify a number of difficulties with Stump’s criticism of the flicker strategy. Along the way, I also clarify various nuances of the strategy that often get overlooked, and I highlight the advantages of one version of it in particular.

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  1. 1.

    This Frankfurt case is loosely based on one developed by Mele and Robb (1998). For the original Frankfurt case, see Frankfurt (1969).

  2. 2.

    van Inwagen (1978, p. 224, n. 24) was the first to suggest a version of this response. See also van Inwagen (1983: 181). Versions of it have subsequently been defended by Naylor (1984), Robinson (2012), and Speak (2002), among others.

  3. 3.

    The fine-grained approach is one of four versions of the flicker of freedom defense identified by Fischer (1994: 137–147), all of which he thinks are unsuccessful. I will not discuss Fischer’s important objection to the fine-grained approach here. For a response to it that, although incomplete in certain respects, is a step in the right direction, see Robinson (2012: 189–191).

  4. 4.

    For a different criticism of Stump’s position than the one on offer here, see Timpe (2006). Timpe focuses on whether, despite rejecting PAP, Stump is nevertheless committed to some other PAP-like principle. He concludes that she is. I take no stand on that issue. Instead, I shall argue that Stump has not provided good reason to reject PAP in the first place.

  5. 5.

    Cf. Fischer (1994: 136–138).

  6. 6.

    The roots of the act-individuation version of the flicker of freedom strategy can be found in van Inwagen’s (1978) early discussion of the Frankfurt cases. For a recent defense of the act-individuation strategy, see Pettit (2005).

  7. 7.

    Thanks to Al Mele for helpful feedback on some of the material presented in this article.


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Correspondence to Justin A. Capes.

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Capes, J.A. The Flicker of Freedom: A Reply to Stump. J Ethics 18, 427–435 (2014).

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  • Alternative possibilities
  • Elenore Stump
  • Flicker of freedom
  • Frankfurt cases
  • Moral responsibility