Options for Self-Expression
Consider the following intuitive principle:
To be free is to have options, and to have more options is to be
In this section, we want to use this principle as a starting point to build a novel approach to free will. The account says that as the "size" of an option set grows, the person has more latitude and thus more freedom. To set out and defend this view, the first thing we need to do is say what makes an option set larger, that is, what makes it the case that a person has "more options."
One approach that seems implausible is to equate the size of an option set with the number of distinct action sequences within it. If this approach were correct, then a person's option set would be larger and latitude—and thus freedom—would be expanded when countless useless and absolutely irrelevant action sequences were added to the set (e.g., wiggle one's little finger 1 mm once, wiggle one's little finger 1 mm twice, and so on).
There are two problems with the preceding account. First, what appears to matter for freedom is not the number of distinct action sequences an option set contains, but rather the number of distinct ways of expressing one's self in action. Freedom is expanded only when the additional entries to one's option set represent meaningful expressions of one's values and cares, that is, those psychological states that specify one's basic evaluative take on the world. The second problem is that we need to capture the idea of diversity of options. An option set has greater size when the options within it are, in a sense to be made precise, divergent; they speak to very different aspects of one's self. To sum up, we propose that the size of an option set is based on the number and diversity of opportunities for selfexpression that are contained within. Let us turn now to clarifying the key elements of this proposal.
Start with what it means to express one's self in action. People care about different things: health, wealth, prestige, relationships, justice, pleasures that range from the most refined to most carnal, and so on. Caring goes beyond merely desiring something. When people care for something, they are committed to it in a fundamental, intrinsic, and cohesive way. People express themselves in action when something they care about manifests itself in what they do. The young woman introduced earlier is passionate about dance. Suppose she gets up at 5 a.m. and trudges across town to the dance studio to take a lesson. In acting to further something she cares about, with this very aim in mind, what she cares about is expressed in what she does (Sripada, 2015).
Selves are complex, cacophonous things. People care about a multitude of different things, with their sundry cares sometimes in subtle, or not so subtle, tension with each other. To express one's self doesn't require one's action speak for all of one's cares, or a sizable number of cares, or some overall weighted average of them. Rather, an expression of one's self needs to be anchored in just one care. Consider a scientist who cares about knowledge, power, fame, career, and status and thus spends all his time engaged in his work. But he also has a passion for ice climbing. When he spends a month on an iceboat excursion in southern Chile, he does not advance, and indeed sets back, many of the other career and status-related ends he cares for deeply. Yet his taking this month-long trip is fully an expression of his self.
Because people care about a multitude of things, and because expressions of the self need to be anchored in just a small part of the self (i.e., just a single care), then there are correspondingly a massive number of distinct expressions of the self that are possible. They correspond to all the different ways of expressing different subsets of one's self. According to our proposed account of the size of an option set, as people engage in the sophisticated kinds of constructive activity described in the previous section and thereby construct more and more options that are expressive of their selves, the size of their option sets correspondingly grows.
Increasing the number of self-expressive options is only one way for an option set to grow in size. The other way concerns what it means for two options to be divergent. In Existentialism and Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre (1966) presents a story of a young man who faces the choice of going to England and fighting with the French Resistance or staying home and taking care of his frail mother. While Sartre had his own purposes for the story, what is most striking to us is the way the young man's options speak for two entirely distinct aspects of his self. Fighting for the Resistance resonates with the man's patriotism, his hatred of the enemy (his brother was killed by the Germans), his sense of adventure, and his pursuit of honor and glory. But the young man also deeply loves his mother who doted on him as a boy and who wants him to stay home. Were the man to go to war, it would plunge her into despair. By staying home, he respects his mother's wishes, tends to her health, and ensures his own life and livelihood.
Think of options as lying in a multidimensional space. Each of one's cares establishes a new axis. The position of an option along that axis is determined by whether the option satisfies, hinders, or is neutral with respect to the satisfaction of that care. The notion of divergence can be understood as distance between two options in this high-dimensional space. The young man's options are highly divergent in that they lie at opposing "corners" of this space. A diverse option set is one in which the options within it are spread out and cover the space. That is, there is sufficient divergence between individual options that they are not all clustered within a tiny region.
We have proposed that the size of option set is based on the number and diversity of opportunities for self-expression that are contained within. Now we are in a position to say what latitude is. Latitude is not the size of the option set itself. Rather, it is something agents enjoy in virtue of the size of their option sets. Let us suppose a person's selective processes are functioning properly. Given an option set that has already been constructed, these processes appropriately assign evaluative weight to the options and select for implementation those that are evaluated as best. Holding fixed this fact, suppose now we enlarge the option set over which these selective processes operate, either by increasing the number of options or increasing the diversity of options. Even though the selective processes themselves have not changed, the person's latitude has changed. Latitude consists in the opportunities for self-expression that have grown due to the expansion of the option set.
Because of our uniquely powerful constructive powers, we humans build option sets of unraveled size. We correspondingly have unmatched latitude of self-expression. The view we are proposing is that it is the latitude we enjoy when we act that is the distinctive mark of free will. That is, free will consists of having the latitude to express one's self in numerous and diverse ways.
We have focused on powers to construct options as the distinctive basis for free will. Humans, however, also have uniquely powerful selective processes. That is, the processes that underlie our ability to assign evaluative weights to actions and implement those actions evaluated as best are also more advanced than those possessed by other creatures. One might object to the latitude view of free will for being too narrowly focused on the psychological processes that underlie option construction. Why not say that gains in sophistication of all the processes that subserve decision and action—the processes that subserve option construction as well as the processes that subserve option selection—contribute to freedom?
Our response to this objection takes note that agency is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. Because of this, we have a rich and nuanced vocabulary for separately describing distinct "achievements" of agency. For example, agents can be free, responsible, prudent, moral, virtuous, and so forth, and each of these terms picks out a distinct way that agency can go well. One important achievement of agency specifically concerns the functioning of selective processes. When these processes are made to function better (i.e., when evaluative weights are assigned to options in a way that better reflects their actual worth), we don't say the agent is thereby more free; rather we say the agent is thereby more rational.
We agree with the objector, then, that humans uniquely possess advanced powers of option construction as well as option selection. We contend, however, that the greater sophistication of selective processes, and the more careful and nuanced assignment of evaluative weights that is thereby enabled, is connected with a very specific achievement of agency: rationality. But if we want to know how humans differ from simpler animals in terms of freedom, it is not the selective processes that matter for this. Rather it is the constructive processes. The greater sophistication of human constructive processes and the greater latitude of self-expression that is thereby conferred are what distinguish humans from other animals in terms of freedom.