"Self-Determination" is the first volume of a two-volume book project by Thomas Pink addressing broadly construed topics evolving around action theory, the philosophy of personal identity, the metaphysics of free will, and ethics. The central question can be summed up the following way: Is there a special power wherein action can be adequately described in a robust, irreducible way as a form of self-determination – as a power to determine alternative outcomes?
I think that this a very interesting book – a worthwhile read for philosophers, and maybe psychologists, working at the intersection of action theory, voluntary action, free will and ethics. Directly at the start, Pink makes the case that the theory, which he wants to defend in his study, is far from being considered "standard" within the English speaking philosophical community. Pink wants to defend an account of human action, where said action can be rightly considered as the outcome or effect of a voluntary expression of free will, which is shaped by prior motivations but is nevertheless a power to determine outcomes. The ambitious project of this book, which consists in nothing less than the explication and defense of the proposed theory of action, becomes even more clear, if we consider two important aspects, or consequences that might be drawn from Pink's considerations:
First, Pink's analysis is firmly based within, what he calls the 'phenomenology' of freedom. He argues that the different ways in which we conceptualize freedom within analytic metaphysics does little to support the way in which we – as acting persons – experience freedom in our lives. I think that Pink is completely right in claiming at the end of his considerations concerning the phenomenology of freedom, compatibilism, and incomtabilism:
"[…] in fact we risk alienating freedom from what experience and intuition suggest to be its true basis and its source and its embodiment – the operation of a free will." (289)
Yet, this outcome makes Pink's defense of action as rightly to be considered as the outcome or effect of a voluntary expression of free will, which is shaped by prior motivations but is nevertheless a power to determine outcomes, even more intriguing. In lining out the differences between self-determination as the general term for the described 'action-volition-motivation complex' and causation, Pink proposes to understand self-determination as a power. I would have loved to learn more about the way in which this theory of self-determination-as-power relates to the vast mannifold of philosophical ideas being recently discussed in the metaphysics of power. I think that Pink's analysis might profit from such a comparison.
Second, I think that it is important to make another observation concerning Pink's approach. It is Pink's conviction that we should not detach the metaphysics of action and free will completely from ethics, and vice versa. I could not agree more. Pink's observation mirror a recent development in the philosophy of the person: Marya Schechtman has argued in Staying Alive (OUP, 2014) that the trend in metaphysics and practical philosophy to disentangle questions about metaphysical identity and practical identity completely from each other, is not fruitful. She calls these theories models of strong independence. Schechtman thinks that we should take the interrelations, the dependencies between metaphysical theory-building and ethical implications and practices, into account because the concept of a person can only be explained adequately, when these complex dependencies are taken seriously; a view, which has been recently championed in Germany by Dieter Sturma in his study Philosophie der Person (mentis, 2008).
I think that Pink makes a similar move, which is equally as important as Schechtman's or Sturma's argument. Pink writes:
"The mutual separation of much contemporary work in ethics and in the theory of action and free will poses danger." (1)
I would like to recommend Pink's book and I am looking forward to reading the second volume of Pink's project.
© 2018 Ludwig Jaskolla
Ludwig Jaskolla is senior lecturer in philosophy of mind at Munich School of Philosophy and head of Munich School of Philosophy's communications department. He specializes in philosophy of mind, philosophy of the person, action, and the philosophy of the early modern era.