Libertarians and Compatibilists can agree that there are two distinct components when choices come to fruition, (a) an intention to act and (b) a specific act that proceeds from an intention. An actual act of the will comes from an intention to make a willed act.
Intention to act —> act of the will
Without an intention to act there is no act of the will. When an act of the will occurs, the choice is consummated. Both components of the choice obtain. An intention to act gives way to the actual act the intention contemplates. We may safely say the intention of the moral agent causes the act. The act is effected by the agent’s intention.
Choice: I choose to eat ice cream.
My intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my actual eating ice cream.
Choice: I choose to dwell on the past.
My intention to dwell on the past —causes—> my actual dwelling on the past.
Both acts – eating ice cream and dwelling on the past – are caused by an intention to do. Therefore, we may say the acts of eating and dwelling are the effects of intention, lest we have un-willed and uncaused acts, which would not be subject to responsibility or moral evaluation.
It is not difficult to grasp what causes the acts we choose. Surely our intentions do. When we freely eat ice cream it’s because we choose to eat ice cream according to an intention to eat ice cream. Simple enough.
This invites the question, if our intentions cause our willed actions, then what causes our intentions? That question gets to the heart of the free will debate.
Assume for a moment that the intentions that trigger our acts of the will are themselves chosen acts of the will (just like eating ice cream and dwelling on the past are chosen acts of the will). As chosen acts of the will, intentions would be chosen effects of the will. Accordingly, intentions to act would be the effect of a preceding cause (just like the acts of eating ice cream and dwelling on the past are effects of a preceding intention). So, if an intention to eat ice cream is itself an act of the will, it too must be an effect of some intention. Some intention would have to cause that intention!
Recall that there are two components for a completed choice: an intention to act and the actual act that follows the intention. Now consider again my choice to eat ice cream. My act of eating of ice cream would be caused by my intention to eat ice cream:
My intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my act of eating ice cream.
So, if I not only choose to eat ice cream, but also choose my intention to eat ice cream, then my choosing of the intention to eat ice cream must be the effect of a preceding intention in order that I might have the intention to eat ice cream! (By now you see where this is going.)
An intention to have the intention to eat ice cream would cause the intention to eat ice cream, which in turn would give way to my actually eating ice cream. 😳
Intention to have the intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my intention to eat ice cream —causes—> my actual eating of ice cream.
Now then, what causes the intention to have the intention to eat ice cream? Well, if we choose our intentions, then another intention ad infinitum. We’d have a backward regress for any choice.
Here’s a libertarian solution to the infinite regress conundrum. It’s called agent causation. Rather than choosing our intentions, the agent simply causes it.
Agent —causes—> intention —causes—> actual eating ice cream.
But what about the agent that is within the agent would cause the intention? We’ve already ruled out chosen intentions for that would lead to a regress conundrum. Well, what then causes intention from a libertarian perspective? What do we hear from the libertarian camp regarding what within the agent causes the intention to eat ice cream, and how is that agent property, whatever it is, an uncaused first mover? If it’s the agent’s will, then what inclines it? Crickets
Anticipated questions addressed:
For a simple explanation of (a) how unchosen intentions can be rational from a compatibilist perspective but not from a libertarian perspective, (even though morally significant intentions are formed within the agent yet not by the agent, being caused from without the agent), and (b) how libertarian freedom would destroy moral accountability, try here.
For a simple explanation of how compatibilist freedom can account for moral responsibility, try here.
For a simple explanation of why incompatibilist-libertarians might subscribe to the philosophical surd of libertarian freedom rather than to intuitive sufficient conditions for moral responsibility that compatibilism has to offer, try here.
For a more advanced treatment dealing with the truth-making of causal relationships as they relate to God’s (non-necessary) free knowledge of contingent truths that God determines to make causally necessary, try here.
For a more advanced treatment of how libertarian freedom when coupled with exhaustive omniscience results in necessary counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, try here.