Problem of Free Will

  • As follows
  • Generated by the following three claims:
    1. Principle of Causal Determinism
      • Every event $E$ that occurs is causally determined by prior conditions, such that, given those conditions $E$ had to occur
      • General to every event, including all human actions
    2. Principle of Alternative Possibilities
      • In order for an action to be freely chosen, one must have been able to do otherwise
    3. At least some actions are freely chosen
  • Not all of the above claims can be true at the same time
    • Have to reject at least one
    • Which of the three claims are you most willing to give up?

Possible Responses

Hard determinism

  • Denial of free will
  • Accepts PCD and PAP but rejects free will
  • Either an action is causally determined or not
    • If an action is causally determined...
      • You could not have done otherwise
      • In order for it to have been freely chosen, you must've been able to do otherwise
      • You couldn't do otherwise so the action was not freely chosen
    • If an action is not causally determined...
      • Then it was random (not up to you)
      • For an action to be freely chosen, the decision to perform it must be up to you
      • You didn't choose the action
    • Whether an action is causally determined or not, no action is ever freely chosen
  • Argues against agent causation
    • Introspection can't give you all the details of what lead you to your choice
    • We could still punish criminals even if their actions were causally determined
      • Punishment will causally determine less crime is committed

Soft determinism (compatibilism)

  • Redefine what free will is
    • Our will is determined by prior events in the causal chain but it also causes and determines actions
    • We can take moral responsibility for our actions
  • Accepts PCD and free will but rejects PAP
  • All human actions could be causally determined but some could count as free actions
  • There is a confusion at the root of free will
  • Free act vs unfree act
    • As defined by Walter Stace
      • A free act is one whose immediate causes are psychological states of the agent
      • An unfree act is one whose immediate causes are states of affairs external to the agent
    • As defined by David Hume
      • A person is free if and only if both of the following are met:
        • The person is acting in pursuit of what she desires and her actions are a result of her decisions
        • There are no obstacles in the person's way which prevent her from acting as she chooses
    • Refined definition
      • An agent acts freely if and only if both of the following are met:
        • The agent is moved to perform act $A$ by a desire to do $A$
        • The agent wants this desire to be the one that moves them to act


  • Free will is when a choice can be made that is not determined or necessitated by prior events
  • Accept PAP and free will but rejects PCD
  • Not related to the political term
  • Free agents are capable of causing their own actions in a special way
  • The Descent Problem
    • Indeterminism does not imply the existence of free will
      • Does uncaused randomness really help?
    • The determining factor of choosing an action is the agent
      • Agent --> uncaused cause of the action
  • Argues against soft deterministic view with the hypnotism case
    • Hypnotism --> hypnotist can get you into a state to control your beliefs and desires
    • If the soft deterministic view allows for internal states to be influenced by external factors, then it seems invalid
  • If human actions do not have causes and are chosen consciously, what are they based on?