- Robert Kane (philosopher)
Robert Hilary Kane (born 1938) is an American philosopher. He is Distinguished Teaching Professor of
Philosophyat the University of Texas at Austin, and is currently on phased retirement.
He is the author of "Free Will and Values" (1985), "Through the Moral Maze" (1994), and "The Significance of Free Will" (1996: awarded the 1996 Robert W. Hamilton Faculty Book Award). He also edited the "Oxford Handbook of Free Will" (2004) and has published many articles in the philosophy of mind and action, ethics, the theory of values and
philosophy of religion.
Kane is one of the leading contemporary philosophers on
free will. Advocating what is termed within philosophical circles "libertarian freedom", Kane argues that "(1) the existence of alternative possibilities (or the agent's power to do otherwise) is a necessary condition for acting freely, and (2) determinism is not compatible with alternative possibilities (it precludes the power to do otherwise)". [Kane (ed.): "Oxford Handbook of Free Will", p. 11.] It is important to note that the crux of Kane's position is grounded not in a defense of alternative possibilities (AP) but in the notion of what Kane refers to as ultimate responsibility (UR). Thus, AP is a necessary but insufficient criterion for free will. It is necessary that there be ( metaphysically) real alternatives for our actions, but that is not enough; our actions could be random without being in our control. The control is found in "ultimate responsibility".
Ultimate responsibility entails that agents must be the ultimate creators (or originators) and sustainers of their own ends and purposes. There must be more than one way for a person's life to turn out (AP). More importantly, whichever way it turns out must be based in the person's willing actions. As Kane defines it,
In short, "an agent must be responsible for anything that is a sufficient reason (condition, cause or motive) for the action's occurring." [Kane: "Free Will" in "Free Will", p. 224.]
What allows for ultimacy of creation in Kane's picture are what he refers to as "self-forming actions" or SFAs — those moments of indecision during which people experience conflicting wills. These SFAs are the undetermined, regress-stopping voluntary actions or refrainings in the life histories of agents that are required for UR. UR does not require that "every" act done of our own free will be undetermined and thus that, for every act or choice, we could have done otherwise; it requires only that certain of our choices and actions be undetermined (and thus that we could have done otherwise), namely SFAs. These form our character or nature; they inform our future choices, reasons and motivations in action. If a person has had the opportunity to make a character-forming decision (SFA), he is responsible for the actions that are a result of his character.
In defending libertarian freedom, Kane opposes many modern philosophers, most notably
Critique of causal indeterminism
Randolph Clarke objects that Kane's depiction of free will is not truly libertarian but rather a form of
compatibilism. The objection asserts that although the outcome of an SFA is not determined, one's history up to the event "is"; so the fact that an SFA will occur is also determined. The outcome of the SFA is based on chance, and from that point on one's life is determined. This kind of freedom, says Clarke, is no different than the kind of freedom argued for by compatibilists, who assert that even though our actions are determined, they are free because they are in accordance with our own wills, much like the outcome of an SFA.
Kane responds that the difference between causal indeterminism and compatibilism is "ultimate control — the originative control exercised by agents when it is 'up to them' which of a set of possible choices or actions will now occur, and up to no one and nothing else over which the agents themselves do not also have control". [Kane: "Free Will" in "Free Will", p. 243.] UR assures that the sufficient conditions for one's actions do not lie before one's own birth.
*Kane, Robert Hilary: "Free Will: New Directions for an Ancient Problem" in Kane (ed.): "Free Will" (Blackwell, 2003).
*Kane, Robert Hilary: "Free Will: Ancient Dispute, New Themes" in Feinberg, Joel; Shafer-Landau, Russ: "Reason and Responsibility: Readings in Some Basic Problems of Philosophy" (Thomson Wadsworth, 2008).
* [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/#2.2 A summary of Kane's views at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
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