Are Frankfurt Style Cases Successful?

Are Frankfurt-style cases successful?

Harry Frankfurt defined the ‘ability to do otherwise’ as the Principle of Alternative Possibilities. It seemed unquestionably accepted that in order to be morally responsible one must be able to choose a course of action or behaviour. Without this apparent freedom of will it seems that a person can not be held morally responsible for an action which he did not himself choose to do. Frankfurt who was a compatiblist held the position that the world could be determined yet one could maintain moral responsibility within it. He put forward examples, Frankfurt-style cases, to prove that ‘the ability to do otherwise’ was not necessary in order to have freewill and hence be held morally responsible. He attempted to revise our concept of moral responsibility, which seemed to logically entail the need for alternative possibilities.

I shall begin by giving examples of Frankfurt style cases and go on to look at its strengths and weakness. I would like to argue that the importance of Frankfurt style cases lies in its ability to highlight a certain type of control, which I would like to call intention. I will expand on this and conclude with an attempt to justify the claim that inspite of incompatibilist criticism, the success of Frankfurt style cases lies in the ability to show that the absence of alternative possibilities does not entail in itself that we are not morally responsible.

Through a thought experiment Frankfurt attempted to show that one can be morally responsible without having ‘the ability to do otherwise.’ For example I woke up this morning and decided that I wished to have a cup of coffee. In my sleep my brain waves had been intercepted by an intelligent machine that upon my waking would intercept in my drinking habits, and I would drink a cup of coffee. So if I were about to decide to make tea this morning this interceptor would not allow me to do so and I would make coffee. But as it transpired when I awoke my...