Spontaneous Freedom



Spontaneous freedom, the freedom of unplanned and unscripted activity enjoyed by “free spirits,” is central to ordinary talk about “freedom.” However, spontaneous freedom is absent from many contemporary moral philosophers’ accounts of freedom, which are concerned primarily to identify the sort of freedom that is prerequisite for full-fledged moral responsibility. Drawing from a range of literary cases, I undertake a phenomenological study of spontaneous freedom. I argue that to experience spontaneous freedom is to experience one’s activity as not settled in advance by anyone else’s conscious, reflective decisions or even by one’s own conscious, plans. Recognizing the value of spontaneous freedom contributes to the free will debate by helping to make sense of the libertarian demand for incompatibilist freedom on the ground that compatibilist freedom cannot suffice for genuine creativity. The experience of spontaneous freedom provides for much of the creativity that the libertarian is after, but does not require any metaphysical commitment to incompatibilism. Because our individual and collective decisions impact the extent to which experiences of spontaneous freedom are possible, the problem of freedom and creativity turns out to be an ethical and political problem—how to provide social circumstances that make spontaneous freedom possible—rather than a metaphysical one about the truth or falsity of determinism. [Draft of October 30, 2018]