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Your representation of the argument is rather wrong.

Here's a better way to put it. FIrst, however, let's start with Pereboom's 4-case argument. One way of understanding Pereboom’s generalization strategy, which I’ll call “Pereboom’s Two-Step Strategy,” involves the following two aspects.

Pereboom’s Two-Step Strategy:

(i) manipulation undermining claim: argue that in cases of overt manipulation, the agent fails to be the proper source of his action in the way required for free will and moral responsibility, and
(ii) similarity claim: argue that causally deterministic cases are relevantly similar, with respect to the agent’s failure to be the proper source of his actions, to cases of overt manipulation.

Mele’s argument follows the same two-step pattern I identified in Pereboom’s 4-case argument. First, Mele constructs a case which aims to show that certain kinds of manipulation would undermine an agent’s freedom and responsibility:

Diana creates a zygote Z in Mary. She combines Z’s atoms as she does because she wants a certain event E to occur thirty years later. From her knowledge of the state of the universe just prior to her creating Z and the laws of nature of her deterministic universe, she deduces that a zygote with precisely Z’s constitution located in Mary will develop into an ideally self-controlled agent who, in thirty years, will judge, on the basis of rational deliberation, that it is best to A and will A on the basis of that judgment, thereby bringing about E…. Thirty years later, Ernie is a mentally healthy, ideally self-controlled person who regularly exercised his powers of self-control and has no relevant compelled or coercively produced attitudes.

Mele suggests that even compatibilists would deem that Ernie does not freely A given the manipulation that Diana performed on the zygote that would become Ernie. This is step one, as seen above. The second step is then to claim that a causally deterministic case is similar, with respect to the agent’s failure to be the proper source of his actions, to the case involving the manipulation of Ernie:

Compare Ernie with Bernie, who also satisfies [a set of] compatibilist sufficient conditions for free action. The zygote that developed into Bernie came to be in the normal way. A major challenge for any compatibilist who claims that Ernie A-s unfreely whereas Bernie A-s freely is to explain how the differences in the causes of the two zygotes has this consequence. Why should that historical difference matter, given the properties the two agents share?

You should now see that the argument doesn't use the first premise you attribute to it.

It's different from the Consequence Argument in that it doesn't reply on a transfer principle like Beta, and the various debates that surround it.

Marcus Arvan

Kevin: thanks. I get the dialectic now. But I still don't find it particularly compelling. I now see that my inability to appreciate the Zygote Argument stems from my not buying the compatibilist dialectic to start with. I've always taken it for granted that determinism is on a par with manipulation cases, and thus, per Pereboom, that Compatibilism is false.


You're welcome. I'm inclined to accept a manipulation argument, as I indicate in my book (from which much of the above comes). But I think it needs to be argued for. You might also be interesting in this paper by Scott Ragland, which focuses on the diffence between being determined by another intentional agent and being 'naturally' determined:


Marcus Arvan

Hi Kevin: I'll definitely check out Ragland's paper (and I look forward to reading your book, too!). For the problem I still have with the Zygote Argument is this: I've always thought that the Big Bang was *directly* analogous to manipulation cases that undermine free will. The idea that we need an extra step -- i.e. zygotes created to perform an action -- just seemed (and rather, still seems) to me rather bizarre. For it's always seemed obvious to me that it's *as if* the Big Bang creates every zygote to perform specific actions in a deterministic universe (indeed, this always seemed to me to just be the point of the Consequence Argument). The idea that we needed a new argument to tell us this just seemed to me a bit strange. And it still seems to me that way.



Just for clarification purposes, Mele doesn't doesn't say that compatibilists would deem Ernie not responsible. In his paper, "Manipulation, Moral Responsibility, and Bullet Biting" he says that compatibilists would say that Ernie is, in fact, responsible - and that this seems like a bullet that they have to bite.


For what its worth, the argument is not directed towards people like you who already don't buy compatibilism. The argument is designed to be persuasive to people who are on the fence - to show them the implications of compatibilism: that compatibilism is no different than all of our actions being intentionally brought about by powerful designers (See also Todd's "Defending (a Modified Version of) the Zygote Argument).

Rob Gressis

Hi Marcus,

I'm an incompatibilist, but I think my intuitions that direct manipulation undermines free will are stronger than are my intuitions that the big bang does. So, the Zygote Argument may have its uses. (I don't mean to imply that you denied the existence of people like me; but if you did, well, here I am!)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Matt: thanks, I get that now. I think my anti-compatibilist sympathies resulted in a kind of cognitive blindness here. I'm *so* anti-compatibilist that I had a hard time seeing the point of the Zygote argument. It's only when I try (very hard!) to get in the compatibilist spirit that I begin to see its point. But then it (the Zygote Argument) just takes me right back to where I began: namely, the persuasiveness of the Consequence Argument.

Rob: interesting. The big-bang argument has always seemed to me far and away the most rhetorically powerful argument. To me, if *anything* undermines free will, it is that all of our actions were settled 13.77 billion years ago! Manipulation cases and zygotes just intuitively seem to me to pale in comparison to this, and I have a hard time understanding how others don't think the same. But, now I get it: some do! :)

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