The Trouble with Harry


  • Don S. Levi University of Oregon


Wittgenstein Ludwig, 20th century philosophy, philosophical example, determinism


The Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), according to which we are responsible for what we did only if we could have done otherwise, is relied upon in the argument for the incompatibility of free will and determinism. Compatibilists, like Harry Frankfurt, attack PAP with stories that they devise as counter-examples; why are their stories, and the stories devised by defenders of PAP, so bad? Answers that suggest themselves are that these philosophers do not try to imagine how things actually unfolded; what it would be like for a real person in the situation; and actual talk of someone being responsible or being able to do otherwise. That they do not imagine these things also can be explained by their unwarranted assumption that when they talk, for example, about someone not being able to do otherwise, they are talking not about talk of it (in a story), but of the thing itself, not-being-able-to-do-otherwise.

Author Biography

Don S. Levi, University of Oregon

Don S. Levi is emeritus professor in philosophy at the University of Oregon, Eugene. He now grows coffee and avocado on the slopes of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. His works include In Defense of Informal Logic (2000), Critical Thinking and Logic (1991).


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