Free Will/ Determinism
The Issue: Are some human choices completely free?
• Free Choice: a choice is free if there is nothing determining the choice other
than the will of the person choosing.
Deciding between two possibilities, X and Y, I chose X but I could have just as well chosen Y. My “free will” made the choice.
Someone who believes in free will is frequently called a libertarian (but this is not the political sense of that term).
• Determinism: all human choices are determined (i.e. caused) by prior causes.
There is no such thing as uncaused free will.
There are two variations on determinism, depending on how “free choice” is defined.
• 1.Hard Determinism: “Free choice” means an “uncaused
choice”. But all choices are caused by something. A “free choice”
is a meaningless term.
• 2. Soft Determinism (aka Compatibilism): “Free choice” means
a choice that is determined by a person’s values and character
rather than being determined by their physical makeup, or by
unconscious or outside forces.
Understanding the Issue
• Are some of our choices free choices? But note carefully:
The issue is about free choice, not merely choice.
The question is about some of our choices, not all.
The issue is about freedom of the will, not political or physical freedom.
Determinism is not predestination.
There is no middle ground, either we are completely determined or we are not. (But even if we are completely determined we might hold that one definition of “free will” is compatible with determinism).
Reasons for Determinism
• 1. Everything we observe and study in the physical world has a cause, even if
we do not yet know what it is.
• 2. Human choice is part of the physical world.
• 3. There are no good reasons to say that humans are exceptions to everything
else in the physical world.
• 4. We have an abundance of evidence from the physical and social sciences
showing how humans are determined.
So, the best explanation for human choice is that we are completely determined. Reasons for Free Will
• 1. Introspection shows that we have some free will. When we look carefully
at a simple choice we made, we see that it was freely chosen and not caused
by anything. We know we could have chosen differently.
• 2. It is not unreasonable to assume that humans are exceptions to everything
else in the physical universe. The human brain is the most complex physical
system known by science. It may have properties not possessed by other
• 3. The abundance of evidence from the physical and social sciences showing
how we are determined does not show that we do not have some free will.
• 4. Holding people morally and criminally responsible for their decisions
implies that they have free will. Throughout history, people have been held
responsible for the moral choices they make.
An Argument for Soft Determinism
• . The real meaning of “free choice” is a choice that is not coerced by outside
forces or unconscious forces. When we say that we have free will, we mean
we can make choices based on our values and character.
• 2. If our choice is caused by our values and character, then we have chosen
• 3. The idea of completely uncaused choice makes no sense.
• 4. So, determinism is the best explanation for human choice. • 5. And, if we use the correct definition of “free choice”, moral responsibility is
compatible with determinism.
Summary of the Three Positions
• Free will (Libertarianism): For some choices, we can choose without
anything determining our choices. So, having chosen one thing, we could
have just as well chosen another.
• Hard Determinism: All human choices are determined. Free will is an illusion. • Soft Determinism (aka: compatibilism): Even though all human choices are
determined, given the common meaning of “free will”, we can make some