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Adam Elga, Princeton

Causal decision theory for compatibilists

Suppose that the laws of nature are deterministic and that compatibilism about free will is true. Now consider: would the distant past have been different had you worn different shoes this morning? Would the laws of nature have been different? As recently argued by Cian Dorr, it is difficult for a theory of counterfactuals to simultaneously answer "no" to both questions. But a theory that answers "yes" to at least one of them entails that either the past or the laws are subject to your (counterfactual) influence. Furthermore, (as noted by Christopher Hitchock) typical "causal" decision theories would have you choose as if you can control what you counterfactually influence. But (as is made apparent by potent examples due to Arif Ahmed), acting as if you can influence either the past or the laws seems to go against a motivating tenet of causal decision theory: treat what is out of your causal control as out of your control altogether. So: should we admit that it makes sense to treat the distant past as within your control (Dorr's route)? Or treat the laws of nature as within your control (Lewis's route)? Should we become---gasp---evidential decision theorists (Ahmed's route)? Or should we hold out for a version of causal decision theory that somehow sanctions treating both the distant past and the laws as outside of your control? This paper evaluates these options. (Spoiler: they are all unpalatable.)