Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

Diagnosing Free Will

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Consider the following argument. 

  1. If determinism is true, then we are not free.
  2. Determinism is true.
  3. Therefore, we are not free.

Given the past and laws of nature, you could not do A. Are you free to do A?

Given the past and laws of nature, you could not do A. Are you free to do A?

One view of free will is this. If one is free, then one could do other than what one did. Or, if one is free, one could have chosen other than one did. However, suppose determinism is true. Necessarily, given the laws of nature and the past, one could not do other than one did. 

If you deny (1) and (2), you are an incompatibilist and a libertarian to boot. If you accept (1) and (2), you are a hard determinist. If you deny (1), you are a compatibilist. Compatiblists deny the account of freedom above; libertarians accept it; hard determinists accept it but because they also accept (2), also accept (3). But, contrary to compatibilism, this seems like a pretty plausible account of freedom. 

But, note the following argument. 

  1. Either determinism or indeterminism is true.
  2. If determinism is true, then we are not free.
  3. If indeterminism is true, then we are not free.
  4. Therefore, we are not free.

For libertarians, it is not clear how we could be free if indeterminism is true. 

Likewise, for hard determinists, we have the following argument. 

  1. If we morally responsible for our actions, then we are free.
  2. We are not free. 
  3. Therefore, we are not morally responsible for our actions. 

Surely, if one murders another uncoerced, we are morally responsible for it. 

Thus, compatibilism, libertarianism, and hard determinism are each unattractive positions. Question: which position do you accept and why?