Topic: The Concept of Free Will
Student Name: Nikita Duggal
Student No: 17200713
From the past decades there has been a question in psychology and some related fields such as
philosophy etc. that do humans have free will. The term “Free Will was introduced by the
Christian philosophy and meant the lack of necessity in human will. There has always been a
debate regarding free will versus determinism as there are various approaches to it, one of the
approaches state that whether the nature is deterministic and is crucial to in-compatibilists
where as irrelevant to the compatibilists. In this essay I will not take sides in this controversy
but will rather be interested in discussing the disagreement between the theories related to the
existence of free will and the debate about whether we are predetermined to behave in a
certain way, with our behavior being determined by internal and external influences also
known as determinism or whether we are able to choose how we act of what internal and
external influences encourage us to do. For this essay we shall consider the article “On the
Very Concept of Free Will” by Joshua May as the main argument article to be referred for the
importance of whether free will requires both the truth and falsity of determinism. The other
article to be referred is the “Free Will and Determinism”.
One of the thoughtful questions which are often debated since the Ancient Greek time in
philosophy has been whether we have free will in performing or determining the course of our
actions or whether our actions are determined by some forces beyond our control. Before the
advent of the secular thought there existed a belief that there are some forces which were
identified as the whim of Gods though there are instances of the tradition of naturalism in
western thought which goes back as far as the Milesian School of Greek Philosophy in the 6th
century BC. In recent times as, the philosophers have developed Cognitive Science. They are
likely of the thought that the peoples work along deterministic lines. So, a new debate has
arisen whether the concepts of determinism with respect to the brain is compatible with free
will? So, the two thoughts have been shifted and the attention is drifted towards ‘determinists
and the anti-determinists to that between the compatibilists and the incompatibilists.
I would draw your attention to the debate between the two opponents Peter Van Inwagen and
Daniel C Denett. Both are trying to argue of the basis of conclusion from their point of view
which they regard logically reasonable with Van Inwagen following the incompatibilists thought
and Daniel the compatibilists. According to me Van Inwagen’s argument is more precise so I
would like to use his work as the starting point of the debate. Van Inwagen who suggests three
houses of thought, firstly that free will is in fact incompatible with determinism, that moral
responsibility is incompatible with determinism and lastly since we have moral responsibility
determinism is false. Hence Van Inwagen arguments conclude that we have free will whereas as
Denett argues that we do have free will, but it differs on the nature of its relationship with
Based on the first house the argument is if determinism is true then our acts are the result of
the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But we can’t hold it up as true as it is not up
to as to what went on before we were born, and nor it holds to what the laws of nature are.
Therefore, the consequences of the above things are not our responsibility.
The second argument the houses are if none of us are morally responsible for failing to perform
every act and for any event and none of us are morally responsible of any act then there is no
such thing of taking responsibility.
Lastly Van Inwagen makes a concise conclusion on his line of argument. He thus proves that we
ourselves give evidence that we take moral responsibility for what we do and constantly hold
oneself morally responsible for actions.
However, Denett does agree with the validity of Van Inwagens argument and doesn’t find
falsity it but his approach is to reformulate the phrase of concept of “up to us” and
“responsibility”. According to his view, mind is purely egoistic, a spiritual substance that is not
touched by physical processes. Senses can influence them but no other mechanistic event
outside in the world can affect it in any manner. It could be affected by events indirectly if
maneuvered by the host body.
Some of the other two arguments stated again by Peter van Inwagwen and Albert Mele are, on
one hand Peter states that if determinism is true then we can’t do anything other than what we
do assuming that the laws of nature cannot be changed, yet we require it if we must possess
free will. Thus, he concludes that the falsehood of determinism is a necessary condition for free
will and has called this as “consequence argument”. On the other hand, according to Mele the
falsity of determinism generates something called as the “luck argument”. if action will occur
which is not completely determined by your character, psychological states, circumstances, and
so on, then the outcome is partly a matter of chance. This concludes that the truth of
determinism appears to be a necessary condition for free will.
The two concepts that have been introduced to treat the problem of free will in the above
paper are
a) Liberty: It is defined as if an agent has liberty in the situation just when it has two genuine
options for action, then this situation is intuitively important for acting freely as lacking options
can surrender the choice as an illusion. When this factor is relevant for free will, the falsehood
of determinism appears to be a necessary condition by the theorists.
b) Ensurance: An agent has ensurance with regards to an action when the action depends on
the mental states and the environment. This factor captures the kind of control that seems
important for agents who act freely and responsibly. The focus on this factor with the account
of free will, the truth of determinism appears to be a necessary condition by theorists.
Compatibilists and in-compatibilists have fought their way out for characterizing these
notions, which can conflict with the opponent’s view. These factors play a role in the
application of free will and are not necessarily to be used individually and jointly sufficient
conditions. The concept of both the factors is thus straightforward i.e. either of the factors are
present or absent, but not when only one factor is missing.
On this theory, the concept of free will is not incoherent but it may so when seeking a
classical analysis. Theorists argue for an incompatibility here, but this relies on two further
claims. First, is that liberty is a necessary condition on free will and is incompatible with
determinism. Second, claim says that ensurance is a necessary condition for free will and is
incompatible with indeterminism. But as far as the ordinary thinking goes, neither of these
factors is a necessary condition for free will and no explicit connection is made with the
theoretical concept of determinism.
While doing the research about the topic I also found a blog on word press stating the
different approaches by different authors regarding free will versus determinism. The
psychological approach and the behaviorists approach are supporters of determinism. One
psychologist who supported was Skinner (1936) stating that the behavior of a human can be
predicted by the past and the current situation and can also be determined by environment
factors whereas Freud talked about unconscious conflicts as the causes of the behavior, but
either ways they both agreed upon was that human behavior was all about what influences
within and outside a person and that we were not free to decide. On the other hand, Freud also
believed that there is a potential of free will stating that a person is able to change their
behavior e.g. Psychoanalysis of work. Skinner’s support was criticized by Bandura (1977) who
stated that ‘if people’s actions were merely resolved by external rewards and punishments then
people would be like constantly changing direction to conform to the whims of others’. Instead
Bandura believed that people have long-term goals and try to fulfil them instead of following
what others say. Also foregrounded the fact that Skinner failed to consider the fact that our
behavior may influence our environment. For example, if someone commits a crime and goes
to prison, their behavior had influenced their environment.
The Humanistic view does support free will. The authors Maslow and Rogers (1949)
believed that behavior is not determined by external forces and that people have free will and
can choose how they wish to behave. They also stated that our actions are free within a
framework. Based on this Rogers developed his theory called client centered therapy (1951)
which aimed to help patients to exercise free will. Cognitive psychologists are also inclined to
importance of free will and focus on the choice of means, for them it is the rational processing
of information which goes into the making of a decision.
Incompatibilists are people who believe that free will and determinism are
incompatible. Determinism indicates that only some course of events is possible, which is
inconsistent with the existence of free will conceived. This view that conceives free will to be
incompatible with determinism is called incompatibilism, this claim that determinism is false
and free will is possible to its minimum. There is also a claim known as hard determinism
defined in some articles which says that determinism is true and thus free will is not possible.
In contrast, compatibilists hold that free will is compatible with determinism.
Compatibilists even confine that determinism is necessary for free will, arguing that choice
involves preference for one course of action over another, requiring the understandability of
how choices will turn out. They consider the debate between libertarians and hard determinists
over free will vs determinism a false dilemma. Different compatibilists offer very different
definitions of what “free will” even means. We have different opinions from different types of
compatibilists, some of them are:
1) Classical compatibilists considered free will nothing more than freedom of action,
considering one free of will simply if, had one counterfactually wanted to do otherwise,
one could have done otherwise without physical impediment.
2) Contemporary compatibilists instead identify free will as a psychological capacity, such
as to direct one’s behavior in a way responsive, sharing only the common feature of not
finding the possibility of determinism a threat to the possibility of free will.
There have been many arguments between different psychologists and authors in regard to
incompatibilism and compatibilism as stated below:
1) If a person is compared to mechanical things that are determined in their behavior such
as a billiard ball, or a robot, then people must not have free will. This argument has
been rejected by compatibilists such as Daniel Dennett because, even if humans have
something in common with these things, it remains possible and plausible that we are
different from such objects in important ways.
2) Another argument for incompatibilism is that of the “causal chain”. Incompatibilism is
key to the idealist theory of free will. Most incompatibilists do not accept the idea that
freedom of action consists in “voluntary” behavior. They insist, rather, that free will
means that man must be the “ultimate” or “originating” cause of his actions. The
argument, is that if man has free will, then man is the ultimate cause of his actions. If
determinism is true, then man’s choices are caused by events and facts outside his
control. So, if everything man does is caused by events and facts outside his control,
then he cannot be the ultimate cause of his actions. Therefore, free will does not exist.
This argument has also been challenged by various compatibilist philosophers.
3) A third argument for incompatibilism was formulated by Carl Ginet in the 1960s. The
simplified argument runs along these lines: if determinism is true, then we have no
control over the events of the past that determined our present state and no control
over the laws of nature. Since our present choices and acts, under determinism, are the
necessary consequences of the past and the laws of nature, then we have no control
over them and, hence, no free will. This is called the consequence argument.
4) For example, if Jane is a compatibilist and she has just sat down, then she is committed
to the claim that she could have remained standing, if she had so desired. But it follows
from the consequence argument that, if Jane had remained standing, she would have
either generated a contradiction, violated the laws of nature or changed the past.
Hence, compatibilists are committed to the existence of “incredible abilities”, according
to Ginet and van Inwagen. One response to this argument is that it evades on the
notions of abilities and necessities, or that the free will evoked to given choice is really
an illusion, oblivious to its “decider”. David Lewis suggests that compatibilists are only
committed to the ability to do something otherwise if different circumstances had
obtained in the past.
5) Hard incompatibilism, the idea that free will cannot exist, irrespective of the notion of
whether the world is deterministic or not. Derk Pereboom has defended hard
incompatibilism, identifying a variety of positions where free will is irrelevant to
indeterminism/determinism, among them the following:
1. Determinism (D) is true, D does not imply we lack free will (F), but in fact we do
lack F.
2. D is true, D does not imply we lack F, but in fact we don’t know if we have F.
3. D is true, and we do have F.
4. D is true, we have F, and F implies D.
5. D is unproven, but we have F.
6. D isn’t true, we do have F, and would have F even if D were true.
7. D isn’t true, we don’t have F, but F is compatible with D.
Pereboom calls positions 3 and 4 soft determinism, position 1 a form of hard
determinism, position 6 a form of classical libertarianism, and any position that
includes having F as compatibilism.
6) John Locke denied that the phrase “free will” made any sense. He captured the view
that the truth of determinism was irrelevant. He believed that the defining feature of
voluntary behavior was that individuals can postpone a decision to reflect or deliberate
upon the consequences of a choice: “… the will in truth, signifies nothing but a power,
or ability, to prefer or choose”. The philosopher Galen Strawson agrees with Locke that
the truth or falsehood of determinism is irrelevant to the problem. He argues that the
notion of free will leads to an absolute regress which is senseless. According to
Strawson, if one is responsible for what one does in each situation, then one must be
responsible for the way one is in certain mental respects. But it is impossible for one to
be responsible for the way one is in any respect. This argument entails that free will
itself is absurd, but not that it is incompatible with determinism. Strawson calls his own
view “pessimism” but it can be classified as hard incompatibilism.
Compatibilists maintain that determinism is compatible with free will. They believe
freedom can be present or absent in a situation for reasons. Likewise, some compatibilists
define free will as freedom to act according to one’s determined motives without hindrance
from other individuals. So, for example Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics, and the Stoic
Chrysippus. In contrast, the incompatibilist positions are concerned with a sort of
“metaphysically free will”, which compatibilists claim has never been coherently defined.
Compatibilists argue that determinism does not matter; though they disagree among
themselves about what, in turn, does matter. To be a compatibilist, one need not endorse any
conception of free will, but only deny that determinism is at odds with free will. Some “modern
compatibilists”, such as Harry Frankfurt and Daniel Dennett, argue free will is simply freely
choosing to do what constraints allow one to do.
At the end of the research of what exactly constitutes the concept of free will and determinism
and studying the different theories by different psychologists who take the free will view
suggest that determinism removes freedom and dignity, and devalues human behavior. By the
creation of the general laws of behavior, deterministic psychology underestimates the
uniqueness of human beings and their freedom to choose their own destiny. There are
important implications for taking either of the side in this debate. Deterministic explanations
for behavior reduce individual responsibility. For example, a person arrested for a violent attack
for example might plead that they were not responsible for their behavior – it was due to their
upbringing, a bang on the head they received earlier in life, recent relationship stresses, or a
psychiatric problem. In other words, their behavior was determined.
Clearly, a pure deterministic or free will approach does not seem appropriate when studying
human behavior. Most psychologists use the concept of free will to express the idea that
behavior is not a passive reaction to forces, but that individuals actively respond to internal and
external forces. The term soft determinism is often used to describe this position, whereby
people do have a choice, but their behavior is always subject to some form of biological or
environmental pressure.
I think that the manifestation of this fundamental disagreement would help us resolve the issue
between the doubt of free will and determinism but the doubt over any of them is even
possible. This disagreement stated above are on the basis of the fundamental judgement of the
psychologists and the humanists and philosophers.
This brief research on free will, we see that free will converges on issues in the field of
metaphysics, philosophy of human nature, action theory, ethics and the philosophy of religion.
Also, we’ve seen that there are competing views regarding virtually every aspect of free will
including whether there is, or even could be, such a thing.