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The Free Will Problem

Brittany Keefe

The question really is, what is free will? Free Will is a

philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational
agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives
(SEP). There are two different problems that coordinate in the problem
of free will: one being a Metaphysical problem and the other being
Epistemological problem.
Metaphysical is concerned with abstract thoughts or subjects, as
existence, causality, or truth. Also is concerned with first principles and
ultimate grounds, as being, time, or substance (DIC). Epistemological is
pertaining to Epistemology, which is a branch of philosophy that
investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human
The first problem being that if all of the laws of nature are
deterministic then if the original conditions are fixed that would mean
that everything that will happen after that is fixed, by those conditions
and also by the laws of nature. So where does Free Will come in? From
here a person comes to a decision you can choose one way and follow
your actions by that choice or you can choose the other way and follow
your actions by that choice.
The second problem is about what we can know. If things were
determined like in the first problem: that if the original conditions were

fixed that would mean that everything following would be fixed. So if

we know the original conditions and know the Laws of Nature, then we
should be able to predict everything that happens.
This is where Problem one starts to tie into problem two because
you have a devils advocate on your shoulder that is able to predict
everything that you do. So when faced with those choices from
problem one where you think you can decide what to do and follow
with those actions, the devil on your shoulder already knows what you
are going to do.
Now say you had a choice to look back at everything you have
ever done in your life in a video and half way through that video you
see that you are quiet in fact watching this video. From here if you
watch beyond that you will know exactly what you are going to do, the
choices you are going to make, etc. That is where you loss any type of
freedom. You no longer have choices, the chance to make different
decisions in life, think of what is right or wrong.
One of the main arguments for the problem of Free Will would be
Compatibilism, which is the thesis that free will is compatible with
determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary
condition of moral responsibility, Compatibilism is sometimes
expressed as a thesis about the compatibility between moral
responsibility and determinism (SEP).

Freedom is the ability to do something and to not be obstructed

doing it. For example; I am free to clean my car if I have the knowledge
of how to clean my car, but I am not free to clean my car if I do not
have any of the utilities like soup, water, etc. Also if I am supposed to
be doing something else and run out of time or if I were to wreck my
car pulling it out to wash it.
A compatibilist by the name of Thomas Hobbes quotes that a
person is free when he finds no stop in doing what he has the will,
desire, or inclination to do (LEV). Therefore with this being what
freedom is a person free regardless if any of their decisions, desires,
and choices are already fixed or determined.
One objection about this is that freedom doesnt only include the
ability to do something like washing your car but also the ability to do
something else like buying a new car instead. How Compatibilism in
turn argues this? Defining the ability to do something else in the same
way that Thomas Hobbes defined Freedom. The ability to do
something and to not be obstructed when doing it. If I had wanted to
wash my car nothing would have obstructed me from doing it.
However, I did not want to do anything but wash my car and because
of that I was free.
This is where Compatibilism covers some questions regarding
simple things of freedom. Like washing your car or any other basic
decisions you have in life. But where more questions arise is with not

only the choice between something but also the control of those
choices. Compatibilism believes that this type of deeper thinking or
type of free will is incoherent due to the fact that the same past cannot
lead to more than one possible future (HS). For example you have
Kevin is about to gradate from school and is trying to decide what to do
with his degree. He has the choice between Publishing or teaching
English. After he thinks about this for awhile he decides to prosue a
career with teaching English. If the same past, beliefs and desires are
applied to this decision, how could have kevin chosen anything else?
The only thing that could have let Kevin choose differently was if his
past, beliefs and desires had been different. This can be argued that it
is not possible because there can only be one past.


(SEP) refers to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

(DIC) refers to the Dictionary.reference.com
(LEV) Leviathan By Thomas Hobbes Chapter XXI
(HS) Hide & Seek by Dr. Neel Burton