The importance of free will Human autonomy and dignity Value of deliberation Deserving praise and condemnation Moral responsibility
What is free will? The ability to act freely Our actions are free if they are under our control. David Hume defines freedom as “a power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will.” (1748, sect.viii, part 1) David Hume
Freedom of action Definition 1: Free will is the ability to do what we choose to do. We are unrestrained. Problem: is the choice free? Is an animal free just because it can make choices? What about a computer? Is a brain-washed person free? A hypnotized person?
Compatibilism Definition 2: A person is free if they are able to make choices rationally on the basis of their goals, desires and values. People are not at the mercy of every passing desire. People act according to second-order desires (Frankfurt). Problem: Are the goals, values or second-order desires free? Harry Frankfurt
Libertarianism or Hard Determinism Definition 3: A person is only free if their choices are underdetermined Genuine (undetermined) ability to do otherwise The garden of forking paths
Determinism • Determinism vs. fate • Fate: certain actions or futures are fated to us, in spite of our own desires or our efforts to change things • Determinism: every thought and every action is determined by something outside of ourselves (e.g. God or the state of the universe before we were born) • Determinism by God • God made us in full knowledge of everything we would be and do. • Determinism by physical laws • Every thought or decision we make is determined by physical processes in the brain • The laws of nature work the same way within the brain as out in the world • The mind is the brain
Libertarianism Libertarianism: Free will is possible only if determinism is false. We do have free will. Therefore determinism is false. Problems: 1) Indeterminism doesn’t help 2) Nothing can be ultimately self-generated, therefore nothing can be completely free or completely responsible for being what it is
Hard determinism Hard determinism Free will is only possible if determinism is false. But determinism is true. Therefore, we do not have free will. Problems: 1) It seems like we have free will. 2) There seems to be a difference between free actions and unfree actions. 3) If there is no free will, a carefully considered plan is no more free than the act of a person under hypnosis.
No free will, no how-ism The concept of free will is incoherent. Free will is impossible whether determinism is true or not. Determinism makes our actions unfree. Indeterminism also makes our actions unfree. Free will requires self-generation, which is logically impossible Free will is incoherent – not even possible to imagine. Problem: If free will is incoherent, the term “free will” has no meaning. But surely it means something!
Summary of possible stances 1) Compatibilism (soft determinism) 2) Libertarianism 2) Hard determinism 4) No free will, no how (free will is incoherent)
The importance of free will, revisited Human autonomy and dignity: are we less if we are not free? Meaningfulness of deliberation: does it make sense to deliberate if our actions are determined by physical laws Deserving praise and blame: does it make sense to praise or blame people for their actions, if their actions are not free? Moral responsibility: does it make sense to punish someone for an act that was not freely willed?
Recommended Readings Andrew Morton, “Free Will” in Philosophy in Practice, Ch. 14.4-14.5, on reserve in the Philosophy Dept. Office Thomas Nagel, “Free Will” in What Does It All Mean?, Chapter 6, on reserve in the Philosophy Dept. Office Stephen Law, “Do We Ever Deserve to Be Punished” in The Philosophy Gym, Chapter15, on reserve in the Philosophy Dept. Office