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.
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
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 determinism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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:
Determinism (D) is true, D does not imply we lack free will
(F), but in fact we do lack F.
D is true, D does not imply we lack F, but in fact we don’t know if we
D is true, and we do have F.
D is true, we have F, and F implies D.
D is unproven, but we have F.
D isn’t true, we do have F, and would have F even if D were true.
D isn’t true, we don’t have F, but F is compatible with D.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.