Free Will

This post will introduce my views on free will and defend them briefly.

The positions on the existence of free will are usually divided into three types:

  1. Libertarianism: We have free will, and free will is incompatible with determinism.
  2. Compatibilism: We have free will, and free will is compatible with determinism.
  3. Hard Determinism: We do not have free will, and free will is incompatible with determinism.

I take the libertarian view, because we observe that we have free will whenever we deliberate about what to do. When I study for school, I have the ability to decide what I will think about and how carefully I will think about it. I can choose to concentrate on what I am reading or let my focus lapse. If a particular point seems unclear, I can choose whether or not to focus on that point and go through the necessary intellectual steps to arrive at an understanding of it. It is even up to me whether I will continue studying or drop the whole thing and go argue with other people on the internet.

I also observe other people deliberating about what to do. When I ask my boss at work a difficult question about how to perform some task, I can observe that he takes a moment to think and reflect on the various alternatives. I can also observe that people in essentially similar situations frequently make choices that have different moral qualities – if two people are facing essentially the same moral dilemma, one may choose to do the right thing and one may choose to do the wrong thing. Again, if two people are both presented with the same cogent argument against one of their deeply held beliefs, one may choose to consider the argument objectively and the other may choose to evade.

So I have a rather large body of experience that points toward the existence of libertarian free will, and I think that pretty much everyone else is in the same position. I don’t think determinists are necessarily dishonest, because there are certain tricky conceptual arguments and certain initially compelling scientific arguments that might confuse an honest person about the existence of free will, but as far as the positive case for free will goes observation is sufficient to refute determinism.

At the moment, I plan to expand on this in future posts. I want to do three things: (1) elaborate further on the nature of the experience of free will, (2) present negative arguments against determinism rather than merely present positive evidence for free will, and (3) defuse the conceptual and scientific arguments that determinists give. For now, however, I am happy to simply make my own position clear.


3 thoughts on “Free Will

  1. dstamps2173

    Libertarianism would only be true if living beings had total freewill, but that is not the case. Our freewill is and will be limited by many external and internal factors.
    1. External factors would be the limits of our physical capabilities, the limits put on us by the environment we inhabit, etc. I am unable to jump over a tall building or walk through a brick wall without affecting it.
    2. Internal factors would be the limits of our mental capabilities; our learned experiences producing desired and undesired outcomes; etc. I am unable to read another’s mind. I may desire to pet my dog; but I would refrain from petting a dog that started snarling at me when I started to do so. Past experience would have taught me that the consequences might be very undesirable.

    Yes, in all the cases listed, I would make the choice to not try to do what I believe will not result in the desired outcome. Therefore, a freewill choice is made to not try. The question is, “What would I have done if I had the capability to do any of them and get the desired outcome. The answer is obvious.

    Conclusion: Freewill choices can be made; but the number of choices will always be limited—many times to only one, which hints at determinism.

    Hard Determinism appears to be highly unlikely. It implies that a living being will always make a predetermined choice. This also implies that the living being would only see the predetermined choice even when other choices are present. If the latter statement was true, mistakes could never happen; yet, we know mistakes are made that result in undesired outcomes. Mistakes could possibly have a purpose in a hard determinism reality; but, allegorically, that would imply the shortest distance between two points would not necessarily be a straight line.

    We do know that what we call Love exists. We have also experienced that Love grows as the object of our Love’s value increases in us. Therefore, the path to Love is hope for the possibility of value in a perceived purpose; desire to learn its value for that purpose; active seeking of its value; and eventual realization of its value resulting in Love, assuming it fulfilled the original possibility. To accomplish this without making freewill choices would be stretching illogic to the extreme.

    Conclusion: Hard Determinism is an unlikely choice even though it would seem to support the concept of a Supreme Being who designed the Reality resulting in absolute determinism.

    Compatibilism is the most likely state of Reality. Examples:
    1. We know we make conscious choices and can make mistakes. Limited freewill is the most likely explanation.
    2. It is possible to be in situations where we only see one choice. For instance, I could in a vault with the door open. I want to leave. Through the door is the only choice I would see. If there is only one choice seen, then our choice is determined for us. Therefore, determinism is a part of this Reality also.
    3. Compatibilism is also compatible with the existence of GOD. Reality can be designed where we learn to love what is eternal by making freewill choices growing the eternal Love that prepares us for an eternal purpose. This would result in limited freewill being “wrapped” in absolute determinism.

    Conclusion: Compatibilism best fits what we experience in this Reality.

    I would expect an atheist to consider Libertarianism to be the nature of Reality because that is the choice that is the easiest to accept while denying the existence of GOD.

    1. William Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Mr. Stamps.

      I think the difference between us is a simple difference in terminology. Libertarianism does not imply that we don’t have physical or mental limitations. Rather, it implies that we can sometimes make choices between alternatives that are not completely determined by anything.

      For example, if someone who is on a diet is deciding between eating a piece of cake and eating a salad, and they are not insane or under the influence of a hypnotist or whatever, they genuinely have two options before them if libertarianism is true. By contrast, if compatibilism or hard determinism is true, then the choice they will make is going to be completely determined by the activity of their neurons or some other factor (the compatibilist and hard determinist will then go on to disagree about whether or not this determination is compatible with the choice being free in some sense). Libertarianism doesn’t imply that there aren’t restrictions on the range of our free choice; for example, a libertarian would acknowledge that I am not free to sprout wings and fly off into the sky.

      So, I would classify you as a libertarian, like myself.

      1. dstamps2173

        I did look up the terms–especially Libertarianism and Hard Determinism. The latter appears to have most, if not all, of the bases covered–with no proof that I could imagine since Libertarianism and Compatibilism could also explain much of what we see. I still lean more to the Compatibilism choice.

        “Compatibilism (or soft determinism) is the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent. Compatibilists believe freedom can be present or absent in situations for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics.” Wikipedia

        If a farmer planted a field of popcorn when he had certain criteria necessary for his customers, he would prepare the field before planting to maximize the amount of popcorn meeting his criteria. He would then plant and could leave the field until it was ready for harvest. While growing, the plants would grow according to factors within themselves, the quality of the ground the farmer had prepared, and the environment during the growth process. The only part of the growth process controlled by the plant was within the seed and plant as it grew. The plants had no control over the ground preparation or the environment. The factors within the seed and plant utilized during the growing season could be compared to the freewill humans experience. At harvest, the farmer would select the popcorn that met his criteria and possibly feed the rest to his farm animals.

        I see a mixture of the extremes in the farmer story and what we experience daily. I believe that mixture points to the definition of Compatibilism.


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