Carl Ginet

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Carl Ginet (born 1932) is an American philosopher and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University. His work is primarily in action theory, moral responsibility, free will, and epistemology.

Ginet received his BA from Occidental College in 1954, and his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1960 with a dissertation entitled "Reasons, Causes, and Free Will".[1] He joined the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell in 1971 and retired in 1999. Before Cornell, Ginet was a faculty member of various universities, including Ohio State University, University of Michigan, and University of Rochester.[2]

Selected publications[edit]



  • "Might We Have No Choice?" in Freedom and Determinism, ed. K. Lehrer (1966).
  • "An Incoherence in the Tractatus," Canadian Journal of Philosophy (1973).
  • "Wittgenstein's Claim that there Could Not Be Just One Occasion of Obeying a Rule," in Essays on Wittgenstein in Honour of G.H.von Wright, Acta Philosophica Fennica (1976).
  • "Performativity," Linguistics and Philosophy (1979).
  • "Contra Reliabilism," The Monist (1985).
  • "The Fourth Condition," in Philosophical Analysis, ed. D.F. Austin (1988).
  • "Dispositionalism: A Defense Against Kripke's Criticisms," Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. XVII (1992).
  • "In Defense of the Principle of Alternative Possibilities: Why I Don't Find Frankfurt's Argument Convincing," in Tomberlin ed., Philosophical Perspectives 10: Metaphysics (1996).
  • "Freedom, Responsibility, and Agency," The Journal of Ethics I, pp. 85–98.



"Carl Ginet is an incompatibilist. He may have helped originate the position called incompatibilism, in his 1966 article. Ginet argues that reasons can be considered as causal explanations for actions, but that reasons themselves are "non-causal," allowing us to escape from causal determinism. What he claims is that (contra Donald Davidson) the truth of a reasons explanation of an action does not require that the explaining reason-states (beliefs, desires, etc.) caused the action; but he allows that their causing the action is compatible with the reasons explanation.

He has written two important articles on the subject - "Might We Have No Choice?" in Freedom and Determinism, ed. K. Lehrer (1966) and "Can the Will be Caused?" in Determinism, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility, G. Dworkin, 1970. In "Might We Have No Choice?," Ginet stated the Determinism Objection to Free Will in a form similar to Peter van Inwagen's "Consequence Argument" of twenty years later. I shall be concerned with one possible specification of the old unclear question of whether free will is incompatible with determinism. I want to see if it is possible to construct an hypothesis about the antecedents of human behavior compatible with all previous observations and well-established hypotheses... and implies that no human being ever has a choice as to whether or not he shall behave as he actually does (ever really chooses the way that he does behave). (p. 87) Every temporal segment of every human being's behavior 'B' has a...series of antecedent sets of circumstances having the descriptions 'A1', 'A2' .. . . ., 'An', such that

1.'A1' does not entail 'B';

2.A1 contingently necessitates A2, A2 contingently necessitates A3, . . ., An-1 contingently necessitates An; and

3.the human being in question clearly had no choice as to whether or not the antecedent instance of A1 would occur. (p. 88) In this seminal article, Ginet also described hypothetical mind-controllers that anticipate Harry Frankfurt's controllers a couple of years later. Ginet says that his controller directly causes both the path the car takes and the motivational and volitional events in the agent's brain in such a way as to make them coincide and give the agent the illusion that his voluntary bodily actions are steering the car. The corresponding Frankfurt controller would directly cause only the motivational and volitional processes and through them cause the bodily actions and the steering of the car by the agent. Suppose that the path that the car takes is controlled by some person other than the rider, who also controls (through, say, instruments attached to the rider's brain) what delusions or illusions of steering the rider will have, and suppose that this controller sees to it that the path he makes the rider think he is choosing is always the same as the path he (the controller) makes the car take. In this case, even though it is true that, if the rider had had the impression of choosing a different path the car would have taken a correspondingly different path, it is still the case that the rider's choice-impression does not determine what path the car takes, that the rider has no choice of any sort as to what path it will take, and, hence, that he does not effectively choose its path. (p. 103)"


  1. ^ Ginet's homepage at Cornell.
  2. ^ Ginet's profile at Cornell.

External links[edit]