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Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt Essay


Present Frankfurt’s account about persons/moral responsibility in a summarized, structured argument form. What is his point, and how does he get there? Hint, his account of persons is the same as his account of moral responsibility and freedom. Start the writing process by asking yourself these questions: According to Frankfurt, who is a person (who is morally responsible), and why?

The argument about the self that Frankfurt expounds on has been one of the hotly debated concepts in Philosophy. Frankfurt puts across different ideas that try to explain why people are the way they are. The main part of his argument revolves around the fact that some people have free will, while others do not. He explains that there is a difference between one acting freely and one having the ultimate free will. Frankfurt argues that there are factors that motivate or push people to act in a certain manner as opposed to other ways available.

Frankfurt also argues that there are people who have conflicting personalities. There are also people who are born with their personality clear. He argues that genes and other biological factors determine the freedom of will and action. Frankfurt’s ideas summarize the reasons why there are times when one has a variety of choices, but circumstances point toward a single choice. His arguments also enable people to identify different types of agents and explain why people behave the way they do.

Frankfurt also presents the argument that there are different types of desires. One type of desire is the desire ‘to do something.’ This is the desire he terms as the ‘first order desire’ throughout his argument. The second type of desire is ‘to want to do a desire.’ This type of desire entails having the first order desire and wanting it.

Frankfurt places the freedom of will as the first order. He continues to explain that the desires of the second order not only arise from the first order desires, but that other human beings can also affect an individual’s second-order desires. He brings in the concept of second-order volitions later on in his argument. These are different from the second-order desires. Frankfurt suggests that second-order violations are geared toward making the second-order desires the individual’s will.

According to Frankfurt, there are various types of personhoods. Frankfurt argues that a person is an agent who has free will. This means that this is an agent who can be identified using his/her first and second order desires. A person, therefore, wants his second order desire to be his will. He goes on and states that there are various personhoods.

These include the wanton and the unwilling addict. The wanton is not a person because they do not have second-order volitions. The wanton, therefore, does not have any desire to want to or not to want their first order desires. Another agent that he presents is the unwilling addict who has conflicting first-order desires. The willing addict, on the other hand, is an agent who cannot seem to fight or control his desires.

In his argument that there are different types of agents, he claims that there are moral persons and people who are not morally responsible. Frankfurt argues that a person should only be morally responsible for their actions if they had choices. One should not be morally responsible for their actions if they were coerced to do something, or if they did not have an open choice.

The fact that Frankfurt presents this argument begs one to question the fact that there are times when a person does something they were coerced to do, and they are still held morally responsible. There are also times when a person is morally responsible for his actions because they made a decision where one alternative solution was pronounced.

Apply Frankfurt’s account of persons/moral responsibility (in the form of first-order and second-order desires/volitions) to a peculiar case of the agency. This can be anything/anyone.

Frankfurt’s arguments on moral responsibility can be applied in the case of the ‘Amputees by Choice by Bayne and Levy.’ In this scenario, there were patients who visited a doctor in Scotland on different occasions and requested that one of their legs be amputated. Upon further encouragement, the doctor obliged, and the patients were very happy with the outcome. Many people started asking for leg amputations until this was stopped due to several social norms. This case brings forth Frankfurt’s arguments.

The ‘Amputees by Choice’ can be classified as persons according to Frankfurt’s argument because they had the first order desires, the second order desires, and the second order volitions. The first order desire was that they desired that their legs be amputated. The second order desire was their desire to want their legs amputated. The second order volitions were their desires to make this their will, which they did by going to the doctor and had their legs removed.

According to the text, ‘Amputees by Choice,’ these persons reported that they were much happier with the outcome of the amputation and that it had made their lives better months after the amputations. The amputees still used free will to make their choices, even though their choice might have surpassed all logical reason; thus, they can be termed as persons.

Frankfurt has argued that persons can be agents who do not reason at all, and the concept of a person should not be based on their ability to reason. According to the ‘Amputees by Choice’ text, the amputees had health conditions that might have made them act the way they did. This could also be true for the doctor who did the amputations.

The amputees can easily be compared to the drug addicts that Frankfurt presented, with a special focus on the willing and the unwilling addicts. Looking at the willing addict, he does everything he can to quit his addiction to no avail. This is very similar to the ‘Amputees by Choice who decide to remove their healthy limbs to have a better life due to an underlying health condition.

It can be argued that the ‘Amputees by Choice’ and the drug addicts have to be morally responsible for their actions. However, this is not so using the argument that Frankfurt presents. The amputees do not have to be morally responsible for their actions. They are similar to the willing addict because other factors were responsible for their actions, even though they seem to have acted freely.

Some of the reasons that were given to explain the actions of the amputees include the fact that they were sick or had psychosexual conditions. This clearly states that there are forces that made them act the way they did. This is very similar to the willing addict who is also trying to quit his addiction, but other forces make it impossible.

The fact that the ‘Amputees by Choice’ amputated their limbs freely does not, therefore, mean that they had the ultimate free will. As explained, there could have been several external factors that would have driven them to that conclusion, with or without their knowledge. This goes further to expound on Frankfurt’s argument on the ultimate free will and acting freely.

Apply Frankfurt’s account to amputees by choice. Specifically, you want to answer—are they persons? If so, what kind? Why?

Frankfurt’s arguments are very applicable to the case of the ‘Amputees by Choice.’ His first argument is that of persons and nonpersons. Frankfurt’s ideas can be applied to these agents as they are persons and not nonpersons. The fact that the amputees have second-order volitions, as explained, qualifies them as persons. Thus their behavior can be discussed using Frankfurt’s ideas.

The fact that there were other external forces that made the amputees make their decisions gives them a way out of not being morally responsible for their actions. The man who started the trend of amputating his healthy leg can, therefore, not be blamed for the others who followed and so forth. Frankfurt refers to the forces that made these individuals act the way they did as demons.

It can be argued that the actions of the ‘Amputees by Choice’ were not based on higher-order volitions since higher order volitions are based on long assurances and reasoning. There is no logic behind the amputation of a healthy leg. Therefore, these persons did not use reason to make their choices. The mere fact that they had free will, even though it was not ultimately their choice, also echoes Frankfurt’s argument of free will because they went to the doctors freely.

The amputees can, therefore, be said to have acted freely without coercion. However, external factors like the health conditions explained might have left them with little choice on the decision to remove their healthy legs. In conclusion, Frankfurt’s arguments can be applied to almost all situations, regardless of the external factors that might take away an individual’s ultimate free will.

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IvyPanda. (2020, March 20). Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/philosophy-in-the-freedom-of-will-by-harry-frankfurt/

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"Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt." IvyPanda, 20 Mar. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/philosophy-in-the-freedom-of-will-by-harry-frankfurt/.

1. IvyPanda. "Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt." March 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/philosophy-in-the-freedom-of-will-by-harry-frankfurt/.


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IvyPanda. "Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt." March 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/philosophy-in-the-freedom-of-will-by-harry-frankfurt/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt." March 20, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/philosophy-in-the-freedom-of-will-by-harry-frankfurt/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Philosophy in the Freedom of Will by Harry Frankfurt'. 20 March.

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