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Is Common Sense neither Compatibilist nor Incompatibilist?

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posted on 2021-07-08, 21:54 authored by Becklloyd, Dan

In the debate between the compatibilist and the incompatibilist, there has been significant dispute about who has the burden of proof. While both sides often agree that the burden lies on those who argue against commonsense belief, they disagree on what those beliefs actually are. Kadri Vihvelin takes the rare position that there is actually no commonsense belief about the compatibility question. This is derived from the claim that there is no commonsense belief about whether or not determinism is true. And from this, Vihvelin concludes that both sides have an argumentative burden. She then applies a burden according to the modal claims made by each side of the debate, issuing the verdict that the higher burden is on the incompatibilist because they make an impossibility claim. Though Vihvelin clearly makes empirical claims about commonsense beliefs related to free will and determinism, she also presents a critique of philosophical intuitions that suggests scepticism with regard to empirical results bearing on such beliefs. She suggests that the materials may produce intuitions that do not reflect beliefs held prior to the experiment. But this betrays a dilemma: either we can use experiments to answer these empirical questions, in which case we should look at the best available evidence, or we can’t use experiments to answer such questions, in which case we should remain silent on them. Ultimately, the current state of research does provide answers, albeit incomplete. There is still room for improved materials and wider studies, but there is nonetheless strong evidence against Vihvelin’s empirical claims. This has implications not only for Vihvelin’s arguments, but for burden of proof claims regarding the compatibilism/incompatibilism debate more generally and emphasises the need for philosophers of free will to take the empirical results more seriously.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Sytsma, Justin