Philosophy - Free Will

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Free Will

  • Connects to moral responsiblity
  • What you must have in order to be blamed or rewarded for your actions

Do you have free will?

  • It is generally accepted that we do
  • We choose what to do... or do we?
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Free Will - The Problem

  • The cause of an event is what makes it necessary that the event will occur
  • When the cause has happened - event must follow


  • Whether it has predictive power
  • Determinism
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Free Will - Determinism

  • Can't always predict everything
  • Relies on lots of assumptions
  • Abillity to predict results is usually limited. eg. Can't predict weather

Laplace's Demon

  • Doesn't want to control = just wants to know
  • Has omniscience
  • Knows the state of everything
  • Knows what effects will be produced
  • Knows what will happen in the universe and we are part of that
  • No control over what we do eg. being drunk and getting spiked
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Free Will - Hard Determinism

  • We DO NOT have free will
  • All action is amoral (no morals)


  • Free will is incompatible with determinism
  • Can't have both


  • They are incompatibilists and reject determinism
  • Freely chosen actions = special category of event that aren't part of the normal causal order
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Free Will - Physics

  • Very deterministic and mathematical
  • PROBLEM = Can't predict how things will be measured and we don't have accurate model of human behaviour
  • Can't predict young's experimnet so determinism is false

Another Problem

  • Can't always collect , store and analyse sufficient information
  • In a human beings case this may be impossible
  • To predict exact behaviour we'd need a computer that is quicker than the human brain

Some determinists now insist that what matters is that every event has cause even if we can't predict it

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Free Will - Compatibilism

  • We can have Free Will even with determinism

The Natural Saint

  • A saint is someone who acts virtuously with perfect consistency

Martin Luther (via Dennett)

  • Luther said his conscience would not allow it
  • Having a good conscience and following it seems to be the essence of moral responsibility
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Free Will - The Evil Neurosurgeon

  • Thought experiment by Harry Frankfurt
  • Puts a device in your head which forces you to do something you tend to do anyway
  • If you are trying to decide.. the device prevents your free choice but say you have pizza of your own free will, the device remains dormant.
  • You couldn't have done differently but it seems like this was still your free choice and something you're responsible for
  • If you eat pizza because you want to rather than the device making you, you are responsible
  • Match between desire and action is what matters
  • Intention is a better term than desire
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Free Will - Compatibilism

  • What matters is how your actions were determined
  • Core intuition that we are free can be preserved
  • We have a strong intuition that we have free will

Compatibilism in Practice

Two components to free will:

  • Acting in occordance with your intention
  • Being free from impediment or influence ( nothing stopping you acting in accordance with your intention)

Problem for Compatibilists = how to get around the intuitive appeal of the principle of alternative possibilities

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Free Will - Counterfactual Conditionals

  • A conditional statement about what would have happened had something been different         eg. 'if I hadn't brought an umbrella, i would have gotten wet on the home'.

The Problem - Example

  • Suppose Danielle is psychologically incapable of wanting to touch blonde fur
  • Danielle has to choose between a golden retriever puppy and a black lab
  • Danielle does what she wants and picks a black lab
  • Compatibalists say Danielle could have done differently because no external force prevented her. Our intuitions however, say Danielle couldn't have done differently
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Free Will - Compatibilism Another Problem

  • Compatiblism attributes responsibility when theres the right kind of connection between a motivation and an action.
  • Still responsible for actions as they are result of conscience
  • Your conscience/motivations are results of your upbringing etc. Therefore can you really be responsible for them?
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