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Jake Becker

Professor Jeffrey Wood


Philosophy 1000
April 17, 2016
Problem of Free Will
The problem of free-will centers around two basic principles. The first is that all
human actions are free. The second is that all actions are caused. According to most
philosophers these two ideas are mutually exclusive which gives rise to the problem of
free-will. The main proponent for the controversy against free-will is that of hard
determinism. Hard determinism holds strictly to the belief that everyone`s action is
decided by physical causation and eternal factors that dictate our decisions and
behavior . Any choice made in the present could not have been made otherwise given
the notion that all factors up to the present moment are fixed and determine the
outcome. Thus any decision you make now could not be made any differently given that
all the factors up to this point have influenced you to make that choice. You are
determined by parameters that are outside of your control. Hard Determinism will be the
main advisory in maintaining the notion of free will. There are a plethora of implications
revolving around this issue, the main ones are that of morality, responsibility, and blame.
Regarding morality: If free-will is an illusion and our actions are determined then our
morality is not based on our decisions but rather the culmination of factors outside of
our control. Just because we feel morally obligated to do something our choice
regarding if we do it or not, is not based off of our free-will but rather the outcome of all
of our past experiences. This ties in directly with responsibility as well because if we are

not responsible for our actions and they are determined then we have no reason to feel
as though our responsibility is directed from our conscious choice. With blame and how
this ties into our criminal justice system, if our actions are based off of determinism then
we have no reason to blame individuals for crimes that they have committed being that
it was out of their control and they had no choice in their actions. Another factor
presented by this problem is that of agency and religion. Given all the factors presented
regarding moral responsibility if it is true that we are not held responsible for our actions
then our ability to change ourselves in accordance with the virtues of God is already
determined, this then nullifies the notion of free agency which is a predominate ideal in
Western Religion. As you can see this is problem that is at the core of all matters
regarding that which makes us human. Whether we are in control of this process and
are willing it to our liking or we are just going through determined processes in which we
cannot consciously control. There are multiple angles of addressing this issue that
support both ideas, as you will see in the following passages.
There are two categories which define the outlook regarding free-will and
determinism. The first is Incompatibilism, which centers around the notion that only one
idea between the two can be correct, the methods in this category are that of HardDeterminism, which is pro-determinism. Then there is Indeterminism and Libertarianism
which are partial to free-will. The next category disregards the notion of free-will and
determinism being mutually exclusive, this is called Compatibilism, this is supported by
the idea called Soft-Determinism.
First regarding Hard Determinism, there are 3 subcategories that support this
theory. Divine Determinism is based on the theological idea regarding God being an all

knowing and all powerful being, and from this all-knowingness ones life is already
decide, therefore there is no agency. This then also delves into the all-powerful aspect
of God which determines every aspect of the universe. Next there is Physical/Causal
Determinism. This idea is created on the fact that all events are created by prior events
and conditions that abide by the physical laws of nature. Though what exactly is
physical is up for debate. According to Robert C Bishop: A concept only relevant to the
mathematical models of physics and other physical sciences, although its relevance to
the world of everyday choice and action is questionableif thoughts, feelings and
desires are not physical events it is unlikely that physical theories are appropriate
models for thinking about nonphysical events. (1)
Social Determinism is the last pillar supporting this structure of Hard
Determinism, this theory believes that social influence and constructs determine
individual behavior. One pioneer in this belief is B.F Skinner. BF Skinner was a behavior
psychologist from the 20th century, he was also a physical determinist. His major
contribution to the subject of free will came in 1971. Man's struggle for freedom is not
due to a will to be free, but to certain behavioral processes characteristic of the human
organism, the chief effect of which is the avoidance of or escape from so-called
"aversive" features of the environment. Physical and biological technologies have been
mainly concerned with natural aversive stimuli; the struggle for freedom is concerned
with stimuli intentionally arranged by other people.(2) These are the main contributors to
supporting hard determinism that are under the notion of incompatibilism, next are the
two theories which promote the incompatible idea towards free-will.

Indeterminism is the idea that human actions are caused by prior events but the
events are not caused deterministically and are inherently free. This concept gives the
nod to determinism being valid based on causation, but indeterminists hold steadfast to
the notion that human action is free and not caused by prior events. Another word for
this idea would be random and or chance, but this then gives way to contemplating
what random is and if it is a natural function of the universe. One person who had an
affinity to this idea was the physicist Arthur Compton. In an article in the Atlantic
Monthly he clarified his views about his view of indeterminism. A set of known physical
conditions is not adequate to specify precisely what a forthcoming event will be. These
conditions, insofar as they can be known, define instead a range of possible events
from among which some particular event will occur. When one exercises freedom, by
his act of choice he is himself adding a factor not supplied by the physical conditions
and is thus himself determining what will occur. That he does so is known only to the
person himself. From the outside one can see in his act only the working of physical
law. It is the inner knowledge that he is in fact doing what he intends to do that tells the
actor himself that he is free,(3) What is being eluded is that there is another component
which is metaphysical that is a factor in the outcome of choices, not just the physical
causation of any particular situation.
The last incompatible theory which advocates free-will is Libertarianism. Not to
be confused with the political theory, this idea centers around the concept of agency.
How this is infused with free-will is that we are given a set of factors(our past) and from
that template we are able to use our agency to decide on the best possible action. This
applied to a mass scale indicates that history has the potential to unfold in anyway given

the factors which are presented, though it is decided by the agency of those in the
paradigm to set the precedent for the future. One philosopher who championed this
idea was Robert Kane. One of Kane`s main arguments for free-will is that of the
existence of alternative possibilities, having this notion would not be possible if one was
not free to choose. He also concluded that determinism is not valid with the idea of
alternative possibilities.(4)
The next and final theory regarding the problem of free-will is one that attempts
to bridge the gap between the two incompatible theories, this is called Compatibilism
and the idea which promotes it is called Soft-Determinism. The main premise regarding
this idea centers around desire or motivation. Arthur Schopenhauer famously put it Man
can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills. (5) Essentially what is being said
is that we have the freedom to act upon our desires, but the cultivation of that desire is
determined. This idea removes the idea of chance or randomness that is purposed by
the incompatibilists which promote free-will. Chance is not a random occurrence but
rather a determined factor which amplifies our will into action. So to summarize, soft
determinism believes that our desire/will is determined and through causal events is
created, this then galvanizes our ability to act on our will and desire thus giving us a
form of free-will which is produced through determinism. Critics of this idea say that
conditioning through determinism and events gives the illusion of choice or acting upon
desires, the way the the soft-determinist combats this is through the notion of double
desire. This idea is that as along as you have the desire to desire regardless of what is
causing the desire then you have your agency.

There are limitations to all of these theories which I have presented. Going into
this assignment I would say that I was partial to Hard Determinism, but after some
research and seeing comparisons of falsification to Hard Determinism I am a little
skeptical. What Falsification basically means is that the idea being presented cannot be
tested, being that given the notion of Hard Determinism, we are determined by physical
and causal circumstances from our past and that our choice couldn't be anything
different than that circumstance. We cannot go back to the point of decision and test if
we could've made another choice, it is just implied by Hard Determinism that it could be
no other. That to me was the biggest limitation because it is correct in the notion that
you cannot practically test it, thus it is just a theory. You can also apply this falsification
to Libertarianism, given that you cannot test if you could've made another choice given
your agency. The abstraction and absolutism of these ideals leads me to hesitation
about declaring either as truth. I did discover an interesting paradox between the two
during my research which seemed to offer some solace to the situation. A youtube video
by Professor Castleberry(6) offered up this idea. He calls it the Who Cares Argument
which plays on the idea of Pascal`s Wager. Essentially it comes to two ideas, one being
that you are living in a deterministic universe and determined to believe that you have
free-will. The next is that you are in a free-will universe and you are using your agency
to believe that you are determined. What this means is that both ideas are probable
given the theories presented and from that we should not care about what it actually is
and just choose the mode of thinking which would be beneficial. The solution to this
then would be to choose that you are free, either you are in a determined view to
believe you are free or you are given the agency to believe you are free. Regardless it

would be more conducive to believing your freedom rather than consenting to


determinism. I thought this idea was extremely interesting and was a great way of
synthesizing all of this information into my personal life. I throughly enjoyed researching
this project and discovering all the facets and nuances regarding our ideas about freewill and determinism.

Works Cited:
1) Robert C Bishop (2011). Chapter 4: Chaos, indeterminism, and free will, Robert
Kane, ed: The Oxford Handbook of Free Will: Second Edition, 2nd. Oxford
University Press, p. 84. I
2) B.F Skinner (1971) (Beyond Freedom and Dignity, p. 98)
3)Arthur Compton "Science and Mans Freedom",, 1967, Knopf, p.115
4) Kane (ed.): Oxford Handbook of Free Will, p. 11
5)Schopenhauer, Arthur (1945). "On the Freedom of the Will". The Philosophy of
American History: The Historical Field Theory. Translated by Morris Zucker. p.531
6) Professor Castleberry's Philosophical Lecture Shorts: The Problem of Free Will and
Determinism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3FFpHuZuJE