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This paper discusses the Consequence Argument highlighting the proponents of both compatibility and incompatibility. The article explains the case as developed by Van Inwagen and the response of David Lewis to the argument. The paper also explains the three attempts of compatibilists to unseat the Consequence Argument. It concludes that the compatibilists have a reason to accept counter-factual ways of examining the causation and that the incompatibilists also have a reason to endorse counter-factual causation theories.


The Consequence Argument raises a compelling series on inference regarding the issue whether power is necessary for a person, identifies he way it is applied to the facts, and power necessity over the things which are beyond the person’s power. In other words, it concerns propositions that one does not have power over. Saying that a person does not have control over a preposition is the same that he cannot have it in a way that the fact would not be obtained. For example, there is nobody who has power over the precision of mathematics. In other words, no one can act in a way that would make the truths of mathematics false. Thus, the truths of mathematics are the power necessary for any person. Heuristically, the arrangement of inference applied to the claims can be put in simple terms, namely if one has no power over a certain truth, and if the further truth states that the previous one has another fact as a consequence, then he has no power over the consequence of the previous fact. It seems that lack of power translates from a fact to its implications (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009).

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What is determinism? It is the notion that the past happenings determine the unique present happenings and the happenings of the future. In other words, the combination of the past state of the world and nature laws makes it possible to have only one present state of the world. The Consequence Argument purports that if determinism is true; no person has the capability to alter his own future. The Consequent Argument maintains that determinism is not compatible with free will. It aims to depict that if determinism is taken to be true, no one has choice over the consequence of a fact (Wolf, 1990).

Soft Determinism and Compatibilism

Soft determinism refers to the doctrine that a person freely does what he is preset to do and, in that case, the person can act otherwise, although the history and nature laws determine that it is not possible for the person to act otherwise. On the other hand, compatibilism can be considered as the doctrine stating that soft determinism preaches the true. It is possible for a compatibilist to doubt soft determinism. These doubts are based on the physical ground that people are always preset to act as they do. A compatibilist may also doubt about psycho-analytic grounds that people ever act freely (Lewis, 1981).

According to Lewis (1981), there seems to be unbelievable consequence brought about by soft determinism. The consequence may give the implication that sometimes people can act in a way of breaking the laws of nature, given certain acceptable premises. But if the weak and strong versions of the consequence are distinguished, it will be found that the strong version is incredible while the weak version will be the consequence.

One of the three versions of Consequence Argument, as developed by Van Inwagen, purports that free will is viewed as the ability to render certain facts false. Let ‘t1’ denote the time before birth of agent Q and ‘S1’, the fact expressing the state of the universe at ‘t1’. Let ‘S2’ denote the fact expressing the state of the universe at ‘2’, a period in which agent Q’s hand is not raised. In this case, let ‘M’ denote the combination of the nature laws. (1). If determinism is true, the combination of S1 and M entails S2. (2). It is impossible that agent Q has lifted his hand at t2, and S2 is factual. (3). If (2) is true, then Q could have rendered S2 false if Q could have raised his hand at t2. (4). If Q could have left S2 as false, and if (S1 and M) entails S2, the Q could have left (S1 and M) false. (5). If Q could have left (S1 and M) false, then Q could have left M false. (The reason is that S1 relates to the state of affairs obtained prior to the birth of Q). (6). Q could have left M false (7). Therefore, if determinism is true, it is impossible that Q could have raised his hand at period t2. (Inwagen, 1983)

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Lewis’s Response

David Lewis established a convincing reply (Lewis, 1981) to the above argument. Lewis claims that in phrase of the Van Inwagen ‘can render false’, there is not even one single explanation regarding the premises (5) and (6) if they are true. According to Lewis, there are two senses which can render a fact false. That is, there are two senses that are able to violate the law of nature. It has the weak sense that a person can render a fact false just due to the fact that one can do something in such a way that if a person did it, the fact would have been made false in that way, but necessarily by the person’s act or a happening caused by this act. In the strong sense, it is different. A person can render fact S false just in case the person is able to do something in such a way, that if they did it, then S would have been made false by the person’s act itself or by an occurrence caused by the person’s act. If the weak sense of the ability to leave a fact false all through Van Inwagen’s argument is taken, then premise 6 is denied by Lewis. But if the strong sense is taken, the premise (5) is denied by Lewis. From the precursor of the conditional in premise (5), Q could have left M as false in the weak sense.

There is no particular reply of Lewis that is compelling. The way he handled the consequence argument is unsatisfactory. Lewis states that there is no harmful sense where a person can have power over the laws of nature: one is able to have counterfactual power over the laws; in other words, a person is able to do something in such a way that if a person did it, then the laws would not have been the same. In addition, there is a sense where people do not have control over the nature laws. This means that the past cannot be changed, or there is no person who is able to cause the past to be diverse from the way it is. Lewis notes that a person who admits to the possibility of others, having counter-factual control over the laws of nature or the past, is not committed to the claim: if both determinism and free will are true, then people have control over them. According to Lewis (1981), a person who has counter-factual control over the laws of nature or the past does not collapse those who have causal power over them. This seems to be a surprising position of Lewis who has a different counterfactual view of causation. There is no basis in which someone can support a counterfactual account of causation and, at the same time, uphold a difference between a causal power and a counter-factual one. Given the commitment of Lewis analyzing causation, it would be prudent to state that causal power would collapse into counter-factual power.

Lewis further (Lewis, 1981)notes that one has the capability to cause a change the laws of nature in the past only if there exists some specific law-breaking occurrence that counterfactually depends on a person’s acting otherwise. The problem is that Lewis denies the existence of any such specific occurrence. If a person did otherwise, then the nature law would have been gone against. But this might have happened in a series of different ways. For example, one did not lower window shades one morning prior to leaving home. If the person left the shades up freely, he could have done otherwise. The person could have lowered the window shades prior to leaving home in the morning. If the person had lowered the shades prior to leaving his home in the morning(when he did not), and if the moment prior to the moment, when he did not lower the shades, is held fixed, the law would have been gone against by some miracle. This arrangement of counterfactual dependence does not offer satisfaction for causal dependence. The reason is that the occurrence of miracle is not a specific event (Lewis, 1981).

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However, the above attempt, which aims at reconciling Lewis’ compatibilism with his causation account, is affected by a problem, such as possibility of disjunctive occurrences. Concerning the case of the person failing to lower the window shades, Lewis might be correct in claiming that if the person lowered them, the things might have occurred differently. There is a way to think differently from Lewis. This is possible by considering the disjunction of the ways, in which the lowering of the window shade might have happened, for example, the person’s thinking before leaving his home of the sunlight shining throughout the day on his new furniture or his getting ready to leave more faster, giving him additional time to lower the window shades as a specific event itself.

In case there is an event, it follows that there must be specific law-breaking occasion, the one, which is disjunctive, and when it occurs, it counter-factually depends on the person’s doing otherwise. If he had lowered the window shades, then the occurrence of this event would have taken place. If he had not lowered the shades, it follows that this event would not have occurred. His ability to do something different, in this case, cannot cause the laws of nature to be broken. Therefore, the weak counter-factual sense falls into the strong casual sense of capability to go against a law or, in other words, render the fact false (Lewis, 1981).

Lewis along with compatibilists, endorsing his position, faces a problem. The problem occurs in the absence of limits concerning permissive disjunctive variation satisfying both definitively and intuitively. Lewis could simply not consider disjunctive events as events. But he will be forced to admit that his causation analysis fails to capture all cases that are agreeable to be causation cases. There is also an alternative, where Lewis can rule out the ban on disjunctive events that are overly varied. This will make him lose the position of upholding the difference between a person’s ability to do something different as a counterfactual power over the past or nature laws as well as such ability as contributory control over them (Fischer & Pendergraft, 2013).

Therefore, if Lewis wanted to endorse a causal account that accounts for all possibilities counted intuitively as causation cases, given his account of relation of causation, he would have to accept that the weak sense of control over past or law collapses into the strong sense of power. Therefore, his reply to the Consequence Argument is not successful. Thus, his causation account together with the wise account of events does not correspond to compatibilism.

Compatibilism About Freedom to Do Otherwise

In the above discussion, the Consequence Argument depicts a strong case about the determinism and freedom to do otherwise incompatibility. The consequence argument purports that there is individual who has the control over prepositions of the past and nature laws. It also states that there is no person who has control over the fact that the prepositions of the past and nature laws entail each preposition of the future. This is applied if determinism is true. The argument concludes that, consequently, nobody has control over the prepositions of the future. There are three different attempts undertaken by the compatibilists that try to shake the Consequence Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009).

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There are arguments against the Consequence Argument that have been applied by some compatibilists who have tried to show that one is able to act in a way that would make the past different. In this case, it will be important to consider the distinction between a person, who can act in a way that he changes the past, and the person, who can act in a way that if he did act that way, the past would not have been the same. It is worth noting that the ability of the former is odd, which means that it would need magical powers. But in the latter, the ability is not controversial. It merely shows that a person, who acted in a particular way at a certain time, had the capabilities to execute different actions. If he had taken different action due to the abilities, the past leading to his action would not have been the same. An illustration will be very helpful in this case. It will show how strange the claim about a person’s ability and the past might be. A scenario, where a similar claim regarding the issue what would be needed for a person to act differently will be suitable for the illustration. For example, the claim ‘If I were singing on the French Riviera right now, I would be a lot richer that I am’. This claim does not mean that if the person goes to French Riviera to sing, he will thereby be richer. The claim only means that if he had to go dancing there, he would have needed more cash earlier in order to facilitate his adventures. The incompatibilists have argued that the defenders of the Consequence Argument depend on the outlandish perception of their argument’s first premise. These compatibilists maintain them, though when interpreted with a softer perception of ability, the first premise becomes falsified.

Another attempt of the compatibilists to shake the Consequence Argument relates to the power necessity and laws of nature. The compatibilists have challenged the first premise of the Consequence Argument while trying to show that one can act in a way that the law nature would be not obtained. The same situation is with the difference related to the ability and the past, the distinction between a person who can act in way that he goes against the law of nature, and the one who has the capability to act in a way that if he acted, some nature laws that he does not obtain would not be obtained either. In this case, the happenings of the former would need magical powers (Baker, 2008). According to the compatibilists’ view, the latter would require nothing peculiar. It just informs that the one who acted in a particular way at a particular time had the abilities to act differently in many ways.

The third attempt of the compatibilists relates to inferences based on power necessity. They tried to refute the Consequence Argument suggesting that the argument relies on an invalid inference. They purport that it is not possible to accept incompatibilist friendly even in the case where all the premises of the Consequence Argument are true. In the Consequence Argument, the power necessity operates between contexts, where the impression has appropriate application. Consequence Argument’s first premise notes the factors that have nothing common with the agency of the person that is a fact prior to his birth and nature laws. The compatibilists claim that such prepositions cannot be avoided by a person. Consequently, a conclusion can be drawn that the specific actions of a person are not avoidable for him (Wolf, 1990).

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Supposing that there is one compatibilist’s response that can provide evidence to show that the Consequence Argument is unsound. This will not be sufficient to provide a positive argument for compatibilism. It will only mean that the arguments for incompatibility of determinism are unjustifiable. But this corresponds to the incompatibility of determinism and regulative power. There are people who argue regarding this incompatibility without even relying on the assumptions in the Consequence Argument. Additionally, even if the compatibilist had the power to discredit all of the contemporary arguments for the incompatibility of determinism and regulative power, they would still require a positive argument, which clearly demonstrates the compatibility of determinism and regulative control. If they cannot follow this, they will face the insightful conflict between the claim of determinism and the Garden of forking paths model. The second premise of the Classical Incompatibilist argument summarizes this conflict: if determinism is true, there is no individual who can do otherwise than he does. Therefore, in case the Consequence Argument is defeated, compatibilist, who wish to shield the regulative power, still have their work simplified for them (Wolf, 1990).

In the recent years, some compatibilists have tasked themselves with giving a positive explanation to the definition of regulative control. It is not easy, and they must overcome some hurdles among which the first one is to show, how their opinion may improve the conditional analysis of the ability to do otherwise, used by classical compatibilists. The classical compatibilists have succeeded in one move, namely accounting for relevant agential abilities concerning dispositions. But they also failed in one move, namely evaluating dispositions regarding plain counterfactual conditionals (Wolf, 1990).


The proponents of the different stands, referring to compatibility and incompatibility with determinism, rely in many cases on unspecified perception of what is to cause and causal relation nature. The Consequence Argument is highly debatable. It is impossible for a person to differentiate whether the fact is sound or not. Even the philosophers cannot agree about the soundness of the Consequence Argument. In the above discussion, the compatibilists have reasons not to accept counter-factual ways of analyzing causation. The incompatibilists also have a reason to endorse some counter-factual causation theories.