Free Agency in a Block Universe

David P. Hunt, Dept. of Philosophy, Whittier College


"A fatalist," writes Richard Taylor, "thinks of the future in the way we all think of the past." If reality is four-dimensional, the "now" is no more ontologically privileged than the "here" and there are no grounds for thinking that the future (what comes after the now) is less real than the past (what comes before the now). If we accept this view of reality, should we then embrace fatalism? One implication of four-dimensionality is that future contingencies have a determinate truth-value. Though Aristotle worried about whether this was a sufficient ground for fatalism in De Interpretatione 9, the "argument from future truth" rests on a modal fallacy. If this is all that four-dimensionality implies, fatalism does not follow. So suppose the assumption of a four-dimensional "block universe" implies something even stronger: that alternatives to future reality are not even possible. Unfortunately, "Frankfurt-style" counterexamples to the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (or 'PAP') appear to show that free agency can survive even a complete absence of alternatives. Indeed, a block universe provides a better counterexample to PAP than the typical Frankfurt-type alternative-eliminator. I conclude that a block universe per se is compatible with a robust notion of human free agency.