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Ayer and Frankfurt essay
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Ayer and Frankfurt. Custom Ayer and Frankfurt Essay Writing Service || Ayer and Frankfurt Essay samples, help

Many  philosophers  over  the  centuries  have  discussed  the  concept  of  free  will  in  relation  to  pre-determined  or  undetermined  causes,  and  have  battled  with  the  problem  of  the  co-existence  of  free  will  and  determinism.  Generally,  the  ideas  in  this  regard  can  be  divided  into  two  groups,  each  supported  by  a  number  of  notable  philosophers.  These  two  groups  are  concerned  with  compatibilism  or  incompatibilism.  This  paper  discusses  the  ideas  of  two  philosophers,  Alfred  Ayer  and  Harry  Frankfurt. 

To  comment  on  the  theory  of  Ayer,  we  must  first  break  it  down  into  different  clauses,  and  understand  each  one  so  that  a  clear  comprehension  of  the  concepts  can  be  achieved.  Basically,  there  are  three  premises  or  terms  that  Ayer  deals  with,  and  here  we  will  discuss  each  one  separately.

The  first  is  the  concept  of  free  will.  From  the  purely  libertarian  point  of  view,  the  existence  of  free  will  is  undoubted,  in  that,  free  will  must  exist  (Strawson  2004).  Ayer  strongly  inclines  towards  this  concept,  and  not  only  bases  his  ideas  on  it,  but  actually  develops  and  works  his  theories  by  taking  it  for  granted  that  free  will  does  exist  (Ayer  1954). 

This  maintained,  he  next  moves  on  to  another  premise  he  presumes,  and  that  is  determinism  (Ayer  1954).  Essentially,  determinism  suggests  that  our  actions  are  pre-decided,  no  matter  how  spontaneous  or  radical  they  may  appear,  even  if  they  are  purely  unexpected  and  bizarre  (Strawson  2004).  A  point  to  be  noted  here  is  that  this  concept  does  not  negate  the  existence  of  choice;  in  fact,  it  suggests  that  although  our  decisions  are  predetermined,  we  are  free  to  choose  and  to  decide,  and  hence,  are  morally  and  ethically  responsible  for  our  decisions  and  actions  (Ayer  1954).  This  leads  us  to  the  third  premise:  compatibilism.  Compatibilism  suggests  that  free  will  and  determinism  co-exist,  and  Ayer  explains  this  by  stating  that  determinism  means  we  are  predisposed  to  making  certain  decisions,  which  nevertheless,  are  ours,  hence,  the  free  will,  because  we  are  the  ones  who  make  them  without  anyone  forcing  us  to  do  so,  and  that  had  we  been  predisposed  to  the  other  options  or  alternatives,  we  would  have  made  those,  again  out  of  our  own  choice  or  free  will  (Ayer  1954).  He  makes  this  argument  the  basis  of  moral  responsibility,  as  he  states  “if  it  is  merely  a  matter  of  chance  that  I  did  not  choose  otherwise;  it  is  surely  irrational  to  hold  me  morally  responsible  for  choosing  as  I  did”  (Cahn  2005).

An  obvious  objection  to  this  argument  is  raw  co-existence  between  free  will  and  determinism.  Ayer  seems  to  be  forcing  libertarianism  and  hard  determinism  (Strawson  2004)  together;  hard  determinism  being  the  strict  belief  that  determinism  wholly  exists,  and  is  real,  while  free  will  is  not  (Strawson  2004).  Ayer  seems  to  be  placing  a  lot  of  emphasis  on  the  pre-determinism  of  our  actions,  while  at  the  same  time  being  entirely  uncompromising  of  the  fact  that  if,  indeed,  all  actions  are  already  determined,  then  it  leaves  no  room  for  free  will,  which,  in  essence,  is  the  ability  to  choose  between  options  (Strawson  2004).  In  this  case,  we  cannot  and  rather  should  not  be  help  responsible  for  those  actions.  For  instance,  the  incidence  of  the  girl  poking  another  girl  in  the  classroom,  apparently  for  no  reason,  and  hence,  causing  discomfort  to  the  other  girl,  is  an  example  where  she  should  not  be  held  responsible  for  her  action  as  according  to  Ayer  her  poking  action  was  already  decided  for  her.  This  objection  definitely  challenges  compatibilism.

Harry  Frankfurt,  on  the  other  hand,  presents  some  flexibility  in  this  argument,  by  first  and  foremost  pointing  out  that  free  will  cannot  exist  in  the  presence  of  determinism  the  way  Ayer  suggests  (Frankfurt  1969).  Hence,  his  arguments  not  only  undermine  Ayer’s  arguments,  but  also  undermine  the  concept  of  compatibilism.  It  should  be  noted  here,  however,  that  Frankfurt  does  not  completely  negate  determinism,  but  rather  objects  to  the  form  of  determinism  and  compatibilism  that  Ayer  upholds.  He  suggests  that  although  a  person  may  appear  to  be  making  his  own  decisions,  it  should  be  found  out  whether  those  decision  are  truly  his,  or  if  he  would  have  rather  chosen  other  alternatives  had  the  circumstances  been  otherwise  (Frankfurt  1969).  He  claims  that  we  should  be  presented  with  all  the  options  to  choose  from  in  order  for  free  will  to  exist,  and  then  whatever  choice  we  make  should  be  definitely  ours  (Frankfurt  1969).  If  it  is  not  truly  ours,  according  to  Frankfurt,  we  can  still  be  held  responsible  for  our  actions  because  ultimately  it  was  us  who  performed  those  actions,  but  in  such  a  case,  this  cannot  be  claimed  that  those  actions  were  performed  out  of  free  will,  because  true  free  will  cannot  function  under  pressure  (Frankfurt  1969).  Hence,  Frankfurt  makes  certain  exceptions  and  demarcations,  and  therefore,  undermines  both  Ayer’s  arguments  and  the  concept  of  harsh  compatibilism.

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