Social Philosophy and Policy


Michael E.  Bratman  a1
a1 Philosophy, Stanford University

In autonomous action the agent herself directs and governs the action. But what is it for the agent herself to direct and to govern? One theme in a series of articles by Harry G. Frankfurt is that we can make progress in answering this question by appeal to higher-order conative attitudes. Frankfurt's original version of this idea is that in acting of one's own free will, one is not acting simply because one desires so to act. Rather, it is also true that this desire motivates one's action because one desires that this desire motivate one's action. This latter desire about the motivational role of one's desire is a second-order desire. It is, in particular, what Frankfurt calls a second-order “volition.” And, according to Frankfurt's original proposal, acting of one's own free will involves in this way such second-order, and sometimes yet higher order, volitions.