Is Free Will Compatible with Determinism?

Can human beings have free will in a world in which every thought, desire and action is predetermined by blind physical forces?

Citation Information

Allan, Leslie 2016. Is Free Will Compatible with Determinism?, URL = <>.

Comment on Free Will and Compatibilism

Comment on Leslie Allan's essay, Free Will and Compatibilism.

Free Will written on pinned notepaper

I'm fascinated by questions that intersect the fields of religion, morality and science. I'm interested from not just an academic or theoretical perspective, even though I studied formal philosophy for near on a decade. These questions impact profoundly our day-to-day lives as parents, partners and citizens. One such question involves the notion of moral responsibility and how it is possible in a world in which all of our thoughts, desires and actions are, in principle, predictable. That is the picture that science is beginning to paint for us in the fields of evolutionary biology, psychology and neurophysiology.

If we are subject to the same causal laws as all other entities in the universe, then in what sense can we act other than what we actually did at the time? How can we be held morally responsible if we could not have acted otherwise? My recently published essay, Free Will and Compatibilism, tries to answer this very question.

In my essay, I attempt to draw together the various strands of thought that show that we sometimes can and do act freely in spite of living in a deterministic world. I begin by showing how, in common discourse, the person on the street does not intend the term 'free will' to be understood as 'contra-causal free will'. In fact, I question the hard determinist's and libertarian's contention that we intuit that we have such contra-causal free will.

Using an ordinary-language analysis, I attempt to show that a 'free will' is an unencumbered will and that free will is restricted in four types of situations: coercion, manipulation, addiction and mental illness. Examining these situations, I distil four requirements that must be met for an act to be considered as resulting from a free will. I wrap these requirements up into my comprehensive '4C theory'. These 4Cs I identify as:

  1. absence of Compulsion;
  2. absence of Control by a third party;
  3. consonant with the agent's Character;  and
  4. Cognitive capacity to reason.

I argue that, in fact, these four criteria underpin jurisprudence, forensic psychology and our ordinary moral intuitions and our practice of praise and blame. I also go on to provide a credible counterfactual conditional analysis of 'could have chosen otherwise' along the lines of 'given the agent's character, the agent would have chosen otherwise in the given situation if the circumstances were different'. I end my essay with the surprising conclusion that predictability and determinism are necessary requirements for moral praise and blame.

What do you think of my arguments and conclusions?

  • Does my ordinary-language analysis of 'free will' discourse do justice to the meaning of 'free will'?
  • Is my 4C schema up to the job of specifying the requirement for free action?
  • Has the concept of 'free will' evolved with advances in jurisprudence and neurophysiology?
  • Is my counterfactual conditional analysis of 'could have done otherwise' an improvement over previous compatibilist analyses?
  • Have I demonstrated that the notions of 'free will' and moral responsibility actually require some form of predictability?

Let me know what you think and engage in the discussion.

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