About the Book

Free Will & Epistemology is a monograph concerned with normative epistemology, free will, and the relationship between these. The book’s summational aim is to defend a modern (i.e. not merely scholarly) version of the famous transcendental argument for free will: that we could not be justified in undermining a strong notion of free will, as a strong notion of free will is required for any such process of undermining to be itself epistemically justified. This is the first professional, in-depth defence of this argument for many decades, and the first to marshal the resources of modern epistemology in its development. It is the second of two transcendental arguments defended in this work, being preceded by an argument for the ineliminability of a ‘thin deontological’ conception of epistemic internalism – a conception of internalism that goes back to the early days of the internalist-externalist debates, being exemplified by, say Foley, and shared (but opposed) by Alston and Plantinga. This, the book’s first transcendental argument, defending epistemic deontology, is something the later transcendental argument for free will in turn relies upon. Each of these two related arguments makes heavy reliance on the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’. The incompatibilist freedom that this work argues for is related to a freedom of source incompatibilism (‘self determinism’) – which is separately defended with strongly emergentist arguments. In constructive (rather than transcendental) argumentation, the conception of rational, executive, epistemic agency that this work defends against ‘involuntarist’ objections, makes strong reliance on the neuroscientific and cognitive-psychological literature.

Do you want to know whether to invest the time needed to read this work? The following is one central argument of Chapter 8. It will likely seem starkly vulnerable if you don’t read the chapter, and ultimately the book, from which it is drawn. Chapter 8 in its entirety is available here.


  1. ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’. So, if one ought to argue, reflect, ratiocinate, generally: reason, r, it must be within one’s power to reason r. And if one ought not to reason, r’, it must be within one’s power not to reason r’.
  2. Necessarily, given a complete state of the world at some time in the remote past and all the laws of nature, then p, for any arbitrary p. [Df: Determinism]
  3. We are powerless to avoid or alter the remote past or the laws of nature.
  4. We are powerless to avoid or alter p, for any arbitrary p.
  5. We are powerless to argue, reflect, ratiocinate, generally: reason, r, for any argument, course of reasoning or conclusion that we do not actually undertake or accept; and we are powerless to refrain from reasoning r’ for any argument, course of reasoning or conclusion that we do actually undertake or accept.
  6. So, if determinism is true, it is, will be, and has always been, on all occasions false that anyone ought to argue, reason or conclude otherwise than they do. Whether by omission or commission, no one can ever be or has ever been, (deontically) irrational, unreasonable, epistemically unjustified, intellectually blameworthy.
  7. Because determinism globally denies us the negative, ‘irrational’, ‘unjustified’ aspect of any internalist value terms, it removes from us the ability to distinguish and use the positive ‘rational’ ‘justified’ aspect of such terms. (If one affects to make no sense of anything being not red one cannot distinguish and use the predicate red).
  8. If determinism were true there could be no internalist, oughts-based, epistemic theory. (This as a totalising thesis).
  9. But then, of no argument for determinism or the entailment from it to externalism, or for that externalism direct, could it be said that we ought to believe it – that we are required to believe it. And no course of reasoning against determinism, or against the entailment from determinism to externalism, or against externalism direct, can be seen as such that that we ought not to believe it – that in accepting it we would be (deontically) irrational or unjustified. There would be no libertarianism, internalism, or whatever else, such that we ought not to believe it. (The determinist’s opponents could however, consistently maintain that one ought to accept their libertarian internalism, and ought not to accept determinism).

In summary we get the following: If determinism is true, then no-one can do otherwise [2-4] and therefore no-one may reason otherwise [5]. Assuming that the ability to reason otherwise is necessary for someone to be held epistemically irresponsible [1] no-one may then be held responsible for their intellectually wrong actions or unjustified, irrational, cognition [6]. But if no-one is responsible for their unjustified cognition then no-one is epistemically justified either [7] – in the intended, internalist, sense [8]. If no-one is ever, under any circumstances, epistemically justified (in the intended, internalist, sense) then one who contends that determinism is true is without the kind of epistemic justification they require to make or defend that contention [9]. So, one cannot be epistemically justified in claiming that determinism is true. So, determinism is an intrinsically unjustified theory.

I take it that this would be a wholly unsustainable position for the determinist to be in – that the determinist simply must resist the conclusion of this argument. Determinists must be able to justify their position and oppose their opponents’ positions. The framework for such justification must be in place – no metaphysics can be so powerful, so totalising, as to undermine it.