Freedom as Satisfaction? A Critique of Frankfurt's Hierarchical Theory of Freedom

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This article is a critical assessment of Harry Frankfurt's hierarchical

theory of freedom. It spells out and distinguishes several different and

irreconcilable conceptions of freedom present in Frankfurt's work. I

argue that Frankfurt is ambiguous in his early formulation as to what

conception of freedom of the will the hierarchical theory builds on,

an avoidability or a satisfaction conception. This ambiguity causes

problems in his later attempts to respond to the objections of wantonness

of second-order desires and of infi nite regress. With his more recent idea

of freedom as being satisfi ed with harmony in one's entire volitional

system, Frankfurt may solve the infi nite regress objection but he does

so at the cost of ending up with a description of freedom, which comes

very close to being identical to his own description of the wanton.

Frankfurt's account leaves open the question of whether the satisfactory

harmony is caused by the inability to do otherwise, or is independent

of it. To answer this question, Frankfurt's hierarchical theory needs to

be complemented with a number of "autonomy variables" (Double).

Satisfaction may be a necessary condition of freedom, but it is not

suffi cient. We also need to know how the person came to be satisfi ed.

If being satisfi ed is merely something that happens to one, it fails to

be an adequate description of a free person - and it also contradicts

some of Frankfurt's own earlier insights.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSats: Nordic Journal of Philosophy
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)131-146
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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