The Distasteful Conditional Analysis of Ability
What does the [conditional] analysis do for us? How does it affect our understanding of the Compatibility Problem? It does very little for us, so far as I can see, unless we have some reason to think it is correct. Many compatibilists seem to think that they need only present a conditional analysis of ability, defend it against, or modify it in the face of, such counter-examples as may arise, and that they have thereby done what is necessary to defend compatibilism.
That is not how I see it. The particular analysis of ability that a compatibilist presents is, as I see it, simply one of his premisses; his central premiss, in fact. And premisses need to be defended.
For it is sometimes true that a person can (or could) do something, but false that the person would do it (or would have done it), if he or she chose or tried. Austin’s best-known example illustrating this point was one in which he imagined himself a golfer standing over a three-foot putt. It would be perfectly consistent, Austin argued, to say that he could (or had the power to) make the putt, though he might have missed it. For he has made many putts of this length in similar circumstances in the past—and also missed a few. His power to do it, therefore, does not imply that he would do it every time he wanted or tried.
Suppose someone presents you with a tray of red candies. Nothing would prevent you from eating one of the candies, if you chose to. But you have a pathological fear of blood and of eating anything the color of blood, so you cannot choose to eat the candies; and so you cannot eat them.
‘compulsives, addicts, people operating under duress—virtually everyone whose freedom to will differently we ordinarily view as compromised—would count by this criterion as free. Surely, if determinism is true, they would have willed differently had their strongest motives been different. Yet these are the people whose responsibility for decisions we would question, precisely because we think their strongest motive was too influential’.