Suppose you are sleeping for the first time at your
friend’s house. Late at night you hear strange noises. It
sounds as if someone is breathing heavily and
scratching with fingernails at your door. You are so
frightened that you pull the blanket over your head
and pray that you survive the night. In the morning,
you ask your friend about the noise. The friend
answers, “Oh, this is a very old house. It is full of
strange noises. But don’t worry; nothing causes these
noises. They simply happen; you’ll be fine tonight.”
If we accept causality (i.e., whenever anything happens, it is
caused by something), then free will is in trouble.
True or False?
1. All events are caused.
2. We are responsible for all our actions.
3. In some situations people perform actions, but they are not responsible for
what they do.
4. In each and every situation in my life, I could have acted otherwise than I in
5. If we were to roll back time to the year 1950, history would unfold in the
same way as it actually did (i.e., JFK would be shot in 1963, Reagan would be
elected in 1980, etc.).
6. God knows what will happen in the future. He knows especially what will
happen in my life later on; that is, he knows when I will die and what I will
have for dinner tomorrow night, etc.
7. Nobody (not even God) can know what will happen in the future because the
future has not yet happened.
8. If I had experienced a different childhood, then I would make different
decisions right now.
9. Even if one has a terrible childhood, one still can pull oneself together and
make free and responsible choices about one’s life.
10. Some people have no choice when it comes to drinking alcohol. They are
bound to become alcoholics.
11. We sometimes act on desires that are not our own, but which are implanted in
us by advertising or peer pressure.
Am I Free? Freedom and Determinism
I. Why Do People Act as They Do?
a. Social scientists and others interested in explaining behavior look at such factors
as human nature, the environment, psychology, and social dynamics.
b. Such attempts to describe behavior or human nature make several assumptions:
i. They assume human nature is affected by factors that precede human
ii. They remove person responsibility for action.
iii. They imply future possibilities are limited.
c. The modern existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, argues passionately that all human
actions are the result of free choice, not the result of nature, environment,
psychology, or social forces.
i. According to Sartre, it is through free choice that we define ourselves and
the meaning of our lives.
ii. If “essence precedes existence” were true, then the full human freedom
that he asserts would not be possible.
II. Because You Are Free . . .
a. The question of freedom affects our views on many matters including self-
improvement, morality, religion, social improvement, child rearing, and crime and
i. If our actions are causally determined by human nature or natural forces,
then we are not capable of self-improvement or social improvement, we
have no moral or religious choices, we cannot view our children as free
agents, and criminals are not responsible for their actions.
b. If we believe Sartre is correct, then we must set ourselves to the task of becoming
whom we wish to be.
c. Responses to the Problem of Free Will
i. Determinism is the view that all human actions are brought about by
previous events and universal laws of nature.
ii. Indeterminism is the view human actions are not necessarily determined
by past events and causal laws and that freedom is possible.
1. Libertarianism is the view that human beings are causal agents;
they have special causal powers to cause actions without there
being any prior causes that determine the agent to do so.
iii. Soft Determinism is the view that human actions are caused, but we can
consider actions free if they are the result of internal motivations rather
than external events.
The theory that the human will is free to make authentic choices that are not
predetermined; that the human consciousness is not subject to the same causal
principles that the scientist assumes to operate in the rest of the physical world.
The main philosophical problem is to explain how the past is connected with the future
and what impact this connection has on our ability to make free choices.
III. Determinism: All Human Actions Are Determined
(Freedom is an illusion)
a. Determinism is based on a scientific model of the universe.
b. We have no power to choose our actions as all actions are caused by factors out of
c. Determinists include B.F. Skinner, Sigmund Freud, John Stuart Mill, and
d. One of the most compelling defenses of determinism comes from Baron
i. We are part of a natural universe that operates according to natural laws.
ii. There is no reason for humans to feel they are exempt from such natural
laws any more than an object could be exempt from the law of gravity.
iii. The fact that humans feel free or wish to be free does not in any way make
them free. The action of the will is merely the action of the brain in
response to causal laws.
iv. The absence of restraint does not imply an absence of necessity.
The assumption/doctrine that every event in the universe has a prior cause and that
all effects are at least theoretically predictable if all the causes are known. The past
completely determines the future; free will is an illusion.
Don’t confuse Determinism w/ Fatalism
Fatalism = the doctrine that every event is predetermined no matter what you do
In determinism, beliefs/desires are omnipotent
In fatalism, beliefs/desires are impotent
Argument for Determinism (against free will)
1 – All events have causes.
2 – Our actions are events.
3 – All caused events are determined by the past.
C1 – Ergo, our actions are determined by the past.
4 – If our actions are determined by the past, then we have no power to act other
than we do indeed act.
5 – If we have no power to act other than how we do act, then we have no free will.
C2 – Ergo, we have no free will.
Convicted rapist Matias Reye had a horrible childhood. At 2, his
mother sold him for $400. At 7, two older boys sexually abused
him and threw him in a river. By 17, he was living alone on the
streets of NYC, scratching for money and sleeping in a van.
Do you think Matias Reye freely chose to become a rapist or do
you think that his childhood caused him to become a dangerous
Do you think it is possible that certain people, in certain
situations, are condemned by their childhood experiences to
perform certain actions?
If hard determinism is true, then we deserve neither praise nor blame for any
of our actions. This doesn’t sit well with most of us.
Argument against determinism
1 – If hard determinism is true, then we have no free will.
2 – If we have no free will, then we are not responsible for our actions.
3 – We are responsible for our actions.
C1 – Ergo, hard determinism is false.
Are we always responsible for what we do?
Responsible or Not?
1. A very drunk person decides that he can still drive his car home.
2. An illiterate person signs a loan with a 300% interest rate.
3. A 10-yr-old child whose parents are professional thieves takes $5 from his
parents w/o permission.
4. A student who has been told by everybody that his is bad at mat fails another
5. A person who had a very bad and painful back injury is told to take strong
pain medication. He takes the medication and becomes addicted to painkillers.
6. A 15-yr-old girl who has been told all her life by her mother that she is too fat
7. A 15-yr-old boy who grows up in a violent slum neighborhood drops out of
h.s. and starts selling drugs.
8. A person who is chronically depressed and w/o health insurance, and therefore
w/o medical treatment for the depression, commits suicide.
9. A 50-yr-old man takes his first Viagra pill. The pill has a very strong effect.
He subsequently decides to spend about $1000 on a sex hotline.
IV. Indeterminism: Some Human Actions Are NOT Determined
(Freedom is possible)
a. William James argues we should trust our beliefs unless there are compelling
reasons to think otherwise.
i. The fact that most people live as though free will is possible is compelling
reason to believe it is.
ii. We should evaluate theories by how well they help us understand our lived
iii. A true theory should be able to predict events rather than explain them,
which is the process of deterministic theories.
iv. The fact that we can regret that events have occurred one way instead of
another illustrates that we will have a more optimistic and happier future if
we feel negative events can be changed.
b. Jean-Paul Sartre is the chief exponent of modern Existentialism, which assumes
human freedom as a basic tenet.
i. All people are free and responsible to create a meaningful existence.
ii. Meaning and purpose are not present in the universe, so we must look
within ourselves to define meaning and purpose.
iii. “Existence precedes essence,” meaning that we define our purpose after
we come into existence
1. “Subjectivity must be the starting point.”
iv. Denies that God, human nature, the environment, psychological forces,
and social dynamics define us.
v. We are completely responsible for all our choices and their consequences.
vi. When you choose, you are choosing for everyone. You are defining how
all humans should be.
1. The world does not come prescribed with meaning and value;
human choices determine these.
2. “To choose to be this or that is to affirm at the same time the value
of what we choose, because we can never choose evil. We always
choose the good, and nothing can be good for us without being
good for all.” This results in “existential anguish.”
vii. Anguish is a permanent feature of the human condition. When we make
choices in our lives, we have no way to determine that we are doing the
right thing. The result is uncertainty and anguish.
1. If we try to escape our anguish by denying or escaping from
freedom, we will be diminished, inauthentic. We will be acting in
2. As an atheist who says it is distressing to realize that God does not
exist, Sartre says we feel not only alone in the universe, but we feel
we have been abondoned.
3. In the absence of God, there is no one to authenticate our moral
values. As a result, we feel great anguish.
4. We must simply choose and live with the consequences, and this
leads to the feeling of despair.
5. Rather than giving up, we should be provoked to action. We
should form a plan for our lives and do our best to fulfill ourselves.
viii. Radical Freedom >> Radical Responsibility >> Radical Anguish
The assumption/doctrine that some events are not entirely determined by previous
states of affairs.
Supported by recent advances in physics
Small particles like neutrinos or quarks behave differently than medium-sized physical
objects like chairs and tables.
o A table has at each moment in time a certain set of determinate properties. It
either stands in the middle of the room or it does not.
o Small particles like electrons obey a fixed set of rules, but not in a deterministic
We cannot say that a small particle is at each given moment in a clearly
determinate state. All we can say is that if we measure the particle, then
there is a certain probability that we will find the particle in a certain
position with certain properties.
EG: The spin of an electron in a magnetic field may be either in alignment
with the field (its spin-up state) or opposite to the field (its spin-down
state); prior to any measurements it is considered to be in both states
simultaneously (its super-position).
Ergo, small particles do not live in a fully determined world.
We can take this quantum indeterminacy and apply it to what happens in our brains
when we make a decision. When we deliberate whether we should go to a part or not,
something like this might be happening:
o A particular small particle is in a superposition of spin-up and spin-down. As we
decide whether we should go to the party or not, we conduct in our brains what
amounts to a measurement of the particle.
If we find it in a spin-up position, we will go to the party.
If we find it in a spin-down position, we’ll stay at home.
o Whether we find it in spin-up or spin-down is not causally determined by prior
events; so indeterminism liberates us from the curse that our future is determined
by past events.
o However, this implies that the future is somewhat random/unpredictable.
Moving your arm? Tourette’s Syndrome?
o This randomness is problematic; indeterminism seems as hostile to personal
responsibility as hard determinism.
Only with causality can we have moral responsibility. I.E., if we want
to explain why we should be responsible for our actions, denying causality
implies that our decisions are random and solves nothing.
So, if we accept that causality is required in some form to have moral
responsibility, then theories must argue for FW based on
Compatibility with Determinism (Soft Determinism)
o Traditional Compatibilism
o Deep-Self Compatibilism
Incompatibility with Determinism (Libertarianism)
Compatibilism (Soft Determinism)
The theory that free will is compatible with determinism (attempting to combine
free will and causality). The assumption/doctrine that we can have free will even if
determinism is true. We are free as long as our actions are caused “in the right
Hobbes (1600s) and Hume (1700s) defended early versions of this
o a person acts freely only when that person wills the act and could have done
otherwise if the person had decided to do so.
Coercion is the only thing that nullifies free will.
o Example 1: Mugger?
o Example 2: Beggar?
o Decision was caused in both cases, but differently. But what are the necessary
conditions of “caused in the right way”? 2 versions of Soft Determinism:
Traditional Compatibilism: an action is free if:
1. Action is caused by the will of the agent
a. IE, own internal states of will, desires, wishes, beliefs,
(no hypnotist, etc.)
2. Action is not physically forced
a. IE, if we had chosen differently, we would have been
able to do otherwise
i. Example 1: Blackmail at work?
ii. Example 2: Mugger
1. Determined to kill you?
2. No bullets?
Free according to Traditional Compatibilism?
1. You decide to loan $400 to your roommate after he says: “You are my last
hope. If you do not loan me $400, I will have to kill myself.”
2. After drinking heavily, you decide to dance naked on the table.
3. After your friend drives you home, you decide to remain in the car with him
and listen to his CDs. Only afterwards you find out that your friend had
locked the doors to his car and would not have opened them unless you first
listened to all his CDs.
4. After SFCC raises tuition 50%, you realize you can’t afford to pay for it and
decide to quit college altogether.
5. While sleepwalking, you go to the fridge and make yourself a sandwich.
Traditional Compatibilism is a very commonsensical theory of freedom/responsibility
similar to the conception of freedom in our courts of law
- If the crime was willed by the accused and the accused could’ve avoided the crime if
so inclined, then we hold accused responsible.
- But it faces some philosophical difficulties: the possibility that some of our desires
are not identical with our will.
- Deep-Self Compatibilism attempts to address some of these
Tries to account for the fact that some desires aren’t identical to
Free only if acting on desires freely chosen and identified with
What about 15-yr-old Hanna and junkie boyfriend?
o Boyfriend talks her into trying heroin for first time
o Dumps boyfriend, but now has a strong urge to use heroin
o Hates this urge and seeks help to fight it
o Succumbs and tries heroin again
o What does Traditional say about her using heroin the
Caused by the agent’s internal desire?
Still seems strange to say she was free?
Have you ever acted on desires that you did not identify with (inauthentic desires)?
- If yes, give examples.
- If no, describe how you can be sure that the desires on which you act are your own.
- Does this help you find your authentic desires?
Human beings who do not want to belong to the mass need only to stop being
comfortable; follow their conscience, which cries out: “Be yourself! All that you are now
doing, thinking, and desiring is not really yourself…. But how can we find ourselves
again? How can man know himself? He is a dark and veiled thing; and if the hare has
seven skins, man can shed seventy times seven an still not be able to say: “This is really
you, this is no longer slough.” In addition, it is a painful and dangerous mission to tunnel
into oneself and make a forced descent into the shaft of one’s being by the nearest path.
Dong so can easily cause damage that no physician can heal. And besides: what need
should there be for it, when given all the evidence of our nature, our friendships, and
enmities, our glance and the clasp of our hand, our memory and that which we forget, our
books and our handwriting. This, however, is the means to plan the most important
inquiry. Let the youthful soul look back on life with the question: What have you truly
loved up to now, what has elevated your soul, what has mastered it and at the same time
delighted it? Place these venerated objects before you in a row, and perhaps they will
yield for you, through their nature and their sequence, a law, the fundamental law of your
true self. Compare these objects, see how one complements, expands, surpasses,
transfigures another, how they form a stepladder upon which you have climbed up to
yourself as you are now; for your true nature lied, not hidden deep within you, but
immeasurably high above you, or at least above that which normally take to be
What does Deep-Self say about Hanna?
She hates her desire for heroin and doesn’t want to obey it.
Might be responsible for the action in the Traditional sense, but
not fully free?
o Does a barking dog perform a free action?
A satisfactory account of FW seems to require that we take into
account whether the desires which we act on are truly our own.
So, Deep-Self is dependent on what happens deep inside us;
nobody can tell from the outside whether one truly acts on desires
that one genuinely want to have.
Traditional or Deep-Self Compatibilism?
1. Helmut sits in a prison for killing a policeman. He has come to the realization
that he is a danger to society and needs to be locked up. He thus decides that
he wants to stay in prison and that he would not leave even if they would let
him go. Does Helmut have free will?
2. Andrea has a strong desire to get breast enlargement surgery. She spends her
savings on the operation. A year later she breaks up with her boyfriend and
suddenly realizes that her desire to have larger breasts was caused by her
boyfriend. She herself prefers to have smaller breasts. Did she have free will
when she decided to undergo her breast operation?
o Fundamental problem for Soft Determinism?
o Example: Oscar gets a hot dog for lunch.
He decides at 11:00 to buy a hot dog for lunch.
His decision is caused by his awareness at 10:59 that he has a desire for a
If Oscar’s desire for a hot dog is the cause of his decision, then his
decision at 11:00 was already determined as soon as he became aware of
his desire at 10:59.
So, when he made his decision at 11:00, it was not in his power to do
anything else; he was causally determined to buy the hot dog at 11:00.
IE, compatibilism cannot explain how it can be in Oscar’s power to act in
other ways than he in fact acted.
o If we believe having the power to act other than we in fact acted is a necessary
condition for freedom and responsibility, then this does not sit well with that
conception of freedom – and we are back to the incompatibility of free will and
o But are we back to Hard Determinsim?
Theories arguing that free will is incompatible with determinism.
o FW/Determinism incompatible because determinism precludes persons from
being the sole cause.
o Argues that perhaps persons can be the sole cause.
Doctrine that human beings are causal agents; they can initiate (cause) events on their own
account and thus are free to shape the future.
- Most intuitive theory of free will
- Argues that determinism applies to physical events (event causation), but not to causal
- When humans act, they cause something to happen (agent causation).
Event Causation (for any event, the causes go back infinitely)
>> Event 0 >> cause >> Event 1 >> cause >> Event 2 >> cause
Agent Causation (no prior causes effect a human’s agency)
||| Human >> cause >> Action >> further events
Human = god-like unmoved movers?
How do you define a miracle?
o An event that interrupts the physical laws of the universe? Reduces Libertarian
explanation of FW into an inexplicable mystery.
Why justified in distinguishing between event and agent causation?
o IE, What reasons do we have for assuming these processes differ?
Libertarianism implies Cartesian dualism
o If dualism, how do we know that these free mental events aren’t caused by prior
OVERVIEW MYTHS TO KEEP IN MIND
1. Incompatibilism 1. Freedom means simply making a
a. Determinism (FW not possible) choice.
b. Libertarianism (FW possible)
2. Freedom is limited to choosing from
a. Traditional (FW possible)
b. Deep-Self (FW possible) 3. Freedom means simply “doing what
3. Indeterminism (FW not possible?) you want.”