SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Freedom to branch otherwise: The compatibility between freedom and an A-theoretic branching theory of time
(Metaphysics/Ontology, English)

A The aim of this paper is to analyze the compatibility between freedom understood as the ability to do otherwise and the metaphysics within an A-theoretic branching theory of time. This is a less popular approach to the problem of free will. It is one that is not concerned with the compatibility between freedom and determinism, but with the compatibility between freedom and various metaphysical theories of time.

Probably the first insight into this new framing of the free will debate was given by Carl Hoefer in his 2002 article, "Freedom from the Inside Out" in which he suggested that the problem of free will is not actually with determinism, but with our intuitive A-series view of time. We commonly think that the past is fixed and beyond our control and that the future is open and partially within our control. Such a view of time assumes an A-series metaphysics that features a closed past, a flowing, objective present and a future that is open to possibilities. The rival of this view is the B-theory of time which assumes that relations between events in time are static and permanent and that there is no ontological distinction between past, present and future. All events in time are equally real.

Although authors like Hoefer claim that such a non-dynamic theory of time is compatible with free will, it would seem that a requirement for freedom understood as the "ability to do otherwise" is that the agent has open alternatives available at the moment of decision. Such a libertarian conception of free will seems to assume an open future, which is a feature of the A-theory. If this is so, then it remains to be seen exactly which A-theory of time best accommodates our intuitions about free will. I will argue that freedom to do otherwise, as presented by libertarian philosophers, requires an ontologically open future and that an A-theoretic branching theory, such as Storrs McCall's model (1994), is compatible with this conception of freedom. I will also maintain that the openness of the future must be conceived as a set of possible states (or branches) from which only one may be actualized (but is undetermined which) and must not be conceived, contra Vincent Grandjean (2019), as the non-existence of states or facts of the matter.


Grandjean, Vincent (2019). How is the asymmetry between the open future and the fixed past to be characterized? Synthese(3), pp. 1-24.

Hoefer, Carl (2002). Freedom from the Inside Out. Royal Institute of Philosophy, Supplement, 50, pp 201-222. doi:10.1017/S1358246100010572

McCall, Storrs (1994). A Model of the Universe: Space-Time, Probability, and Decision. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Chair: Youssef Aguisoul
Time: 17:30-18:00, 07 September 2022 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.006
Remark: (Online Talk)

Bogdan Dumitrescu 
(University of Bucharest, Faculty of Philosophy, Romania)

Testability and Meaning deco