Philosophers have always been interested in the question of free will. There have been philosophers who have
believed in free will and some who have not and some who have believed that both free will and determinism
can exist at the same time. We will understand these different points of view and the arguments for these
diverse points of view in this VERITAS article.
The philosophy that believes that determinism exists but free will does not is known as hard determinism.
The philosophy that believes that determinism is false and free will exists is known as metaphysical libertarianism.
So hard determinism and metaphysical libertarianism are completely opposite views. Let’s study them in some
Hard Determinism: Determinism is the idea that the future is caused by the past and present events in accordance
with the laws of nature. This view is best illustrated by a thought experiment called Laplace’s demon. Laplace
was a hard determinist who made a thought experiment: imagine a demon that knows the position and every possible
variable about every atom in the universe. And this demon knows the laws of Physics completely. Then would this demon
not be able to compute the future with certainty? Laplace answers in the affirmative.
Now there are different kinds of deterministic philosophies based on the root of the deterministic
laws: The determinism may be based on logic- if x was true earlier so y should be true later. This is called
logical determinism. Or there may be theological determinism: God decides what will happen at all times so there
is determinism caused by the all powerful, all knowing God.
Metaphysical Libertarianism: Now lets’ look at the completely opposite view : determinism is false and free will
exists. These theories are also of various kinds. Take for example, the dualistic viewpoint that there is a soul
and there is a body. The body is ruled by laws of physics externally but the decisions and thought take place
in the soul which is not subject to the laws of Physics. So the dualists are metaphysical libertarinimists who
believe that the soul is the root of free will. This is one viewpoint under Metaphysical Libertarianism. How about
if I were to show that Laws of Physics themselves are not completely deterministic. Then would we not have shown
that there is free will and not even need a soul to justify it. We will study this theory on Monday( day III of the free
Both the above positions, Metaphysical Libertarianism and Hard Determinism, say that if determinism is true
then free will is not and vice versa. So both these above positions consider free will and determinism as
incompatible with each other. Therefore they are both considered as incompatibilism philosophies.
There are philosophies that consider free will and determinism as compatible with each other- both can exist
at the same time. These philosophies are known as compatibilism philosophies.
A compatabilist focuses on a slightly different definition of free will. For them free will is defined whether you were
forced by some other person to make a choice or if you did it on your own. So you decide to go and see a movie
and for a compatibilist, that is enough to say that “free will exists” because you did not choose to see the movie
under force from someone else. So a compatibilist will ask you, “could you have chosen differently if you were in a
different mood?”. And if the answer is yes, then he would say that you have a free will. The compatibilist does not
deny that your mood may be from a chain of past events but if they are your own chain of events then your mind
has decided for you and that is free will. This definition of free will is closest to the moral sense that we all have.
We punish people who do something immoral or illegal and we reward the people who are virtuous because most
( if not all) of us believe that the person made the choice himself.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of different philosophical opinions on the fundamental question of free will.
On Monday we will talk about the free will theorem. To end the VERITAS I will quote the philosopher, Arthur
Schopenhauer in his essay, “On the freedom of will” :
“You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and
absolutely nothing other than that one thing”
Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides
go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,
instruct the planets in what orbs to run
correct old time, regulate the sun
Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.