Free-will and Determinism

Incompatiblism and Compatiblism:

Four Views on
Free-Will and Determinism


The following extended deduction allows us to draw out various
alternatives to the problem of free‑will.  Each view will respond differently to
these premises.

1. The thesis of universal determinism is true.

2. Universal determinism is not compatible with free‑will.

3. Hence, there is no free‑will.

4. If there are no free wills, then humans are not responsible
for their actions.

5. If humans are not responsible for their actions, then there is
no reason to blame or praise them.


Hard Determinism

Hard determinism accepts all premises as true and therefore
accepts all the conclusions.  As there is no rational foundation for praise or
blame, hard determinists usually propose a behavioristic approach to human
problems.  All punishment would then be practical, future‑oriented
rehabilitation.  In practice, the �soft� determinist and hard determinist would
use the same methods.  Theoretically, the soft determinist believes that a
revised concept of moral responsibility is intelligible within the confines of
universal determinism.


The following is a syllogism that attempts to prove hard

1. All events in nature are determined by physical forces.

2. All human actions are events in nature.

3. Therefore, all human actions are determined by physical force.


It would be quite difficult to deny the truth of the second
premise, but there is no reason for a non‑materialist to accept the first
premise as true. If Karl Popper and John Eccles are correct in assuming there is
such a thing as �downward� causation from the mind to physical events, then this
represents a plausible alternative to the view expressed in the first premise. 
Determinists cannot force us to accept the first premise until they have
convinced us of the validity of the materialist arguments.


Radical Free‑Will Theory

Martin Buber poetically expresses this position:  �The unlimited
sway of causality in the it‑world, which is of fundamental importance for the
scientific ordering of nature, is not felt to be oppressive by the man who is
not confined to the it‑world, but free to step out of it again and again into
the world of relation.  Here I and Thou confront each other freely in a
reciprocity that is not involved in or tainted by any causality; here man finds
guaranteed the freedom of this being and of being.�1
Some authors
(such as Halverson) call this view �libertarianism,� but I prefer to reserve
this term for political philosophy.  I use the adjective �radical� to qualify
�free‑will theory,� because �teleological compatiblist� still assumes a
self‑determining will.


Radical free‑will theorists accept the second premise, but reject
the first; therefore, none of the conclusions follow.  For the sophisticated
free‑will theorist determinism is true, but it is not universal.  It would be
foolish to insist that the events in the natural world on which we rely for our
normal activities are exempt from cause and effect.  The free‑will theorist need
only have some indeterminism, so that voluntary events for which we can be
praised or blamed can have an acausal or contra‑causal basis.


Some free‑will theorists have used Heisenberg’s �indeterminancy
principle� as support for the indeterminism they need for the will to operate. 
There are at least two grave problems with this view.  First, some believe that
the indeterminism of particle physics is epistemological only; that is, it
involves an uncertainty in our knowledge about atomic particles. (After all, if
an electron had consciousness, it would certainly �know� where and what it was.)
Second, even if there is true metaphysical indeterminism at the subatomic level,
this would actually be the worst possible basis for a self‑determining will. 
There is a world of difference between chaotic subatomic events and the
deliberate actions of the human will. Hick phrases the point well: �It is very
difficult to see how such concepts as responsibility and obligation could have
any application if human volitions occurred at random instead of flowing from
the individual nature of the agent.  From the point of view of ethics the cost
of equating freedom with volitional randomness would thus be so great as to be


A common line of argument for radical free‑will theory is the
appeal to the fact that we deliberate.  If hard determinism is true, decisions
ought to come as soon as the right causes and conditions are in place. 
According to universal determinism, effects ought to spring immediately and
unhesitatingly from their antecedent causes. The behaviorist, however, has a
quite plausible counter‑ argument to this. The reason why we deliberate is that
there exists certain sets of conditioning which are of equal �strength.� One
could visualize this as a sort of tug‑of‑war in the mind of a college student
who is caught between �doing his duty� (making up an exam) or �having a good
time� (going to the Phi Delt’s Turtle Race). In Leviathan Thomas Hobbes
gives a similar argument:  �When in the mind of man, appetite, and aversions,
hopes, and fears, concerning one and the same thing, arise alternately; and
diverse good and evil consequences of the doing, or omitting the thing
propounded, come successively into our thoughts, so that sometimes we have an
appetite to it; sometimes an aversion from it; sometimes hope to be able to do
it; sometimes despair, or fear to attempt it; the whole sum of desires,
aversions, hopes and fears continued will the thing be either done, or thought
impossible, is that we call deliberation.� As a determinist and
proto‑behaviorist, Hobbes defines the will as the �last act� of deliberation.


Soft Determinism

Hard determinism and radical free‑will theory are sometimes
called �incompatiblist� theories, because they both believe that the second
premise of our deduction above is true � that universal determinism is
incompatible with free‑will.  Hard determinism chooses determinism over
free‑will and the radical free‑will theorist does just the opposite. �Soft�
determinism believes that the premise is false.  The proponents of this view
contend that our dilemma is a false one, primarily because we have insisted on
too strict a definition of free‑will.  The soft determinists redefine free‑will
as the free action we discussed in
.  They reject the notion of an
inner power or faculty called the will as a metaphysical fiction.  All that is
necessary for a person to be morally responsible is for that person to be
unrestrained in what they truly want to do.  Halverson calls the free‑will of
the soft determinist a �circumstantial freedom of self‑ realization� as opposed
to the �natural freedom of self‑ determination� of the radical free‑will


Teleological Compatiblism

This view and soft determinism are called �compatiblist� theories
because they reject the second premise in the extended deduction above.  In
their respect their respective ways, they believe that universal determinism and
free‑will are compatible. Soft determinism differs significantly from
teleological compatiblism in that it rejects any teleology and accepts only one
type of causation, the �upward� causation of mechanistic views. This is
sometimes called �efficient� causation, the causation of pushing and pulling.
Teleological compatiblism is based on Whitehead’s metaphysics, in which every
actual occasion (AO) is a self‑determining agent that seeks its own end.  (Click
here for more on Whitehead’s views.) In one speculative blow, Whitehead solves
the dilemma of free‑will and determinism by declaring a universal
self‑determinism.  Most AOs seek ends which are very trivial:  like the end of
simple conformation to the past or simple alternation, physical behavior which
shows up, e.g., as a sine wave on an oscilloscope.  But some AOs, those which
make up the mind, seek and achieve true novelty and therefore are the basis of
human creativity and moral responsibility.




Conformation:               A1     A2     A3    
A4     A5     A6     A7     A8    
A9     A10     A11     A12

Alternation:                   A1    B1    
A2     B2     A3     B3     A4    
B4     A5     B5     A6     B6    

Novelty:                       C     E     P     P     E    
C     D     ?      ?      ?      ?     ?     ?

(Note: The novel events are not completely arbitrary or chaotic.)


While the final causation of each AO may truly be called a
natural freedom of self‑determination, this teleology does not happen in a
vacuum. Human freedom in process philosophy is not as radical as that which we
find, e.g., in existentialism. It is not ex nihilo and not hostile to the
past nor to natural or social limits. Just as in Popper’s interactionistic view,
Whitehead accepts the role of the �upward� causation of efficient cause, but an
efficient cause is interpreted as an incarnation of the cause in an effect that
is a self‑determining agent. Each concrescing AO is inescapably a product of its
past and surroundings, but it is also able to synthesize this data according to
a telos of its own.  Final causes stem directly from a causally
efficacious environment, but the difference is that the environment does not
dictate the particular effects but only conditions a personal agent who is the
locus of the final cause. The actions of personal agents are their own unique
unification of the past according to their own desires.


Whitehead has actually resurrected all four of Aristotle’s causes.  In
addition to the final cause inherent in each AO and the efficient cause of the
past, there is �creativity� as the �material� cause and God as the �formal�
cause offering the divine initial aim.  Whitehead’s solution to the problem of
free‑will is without doubt ingenious, but the speculative metaphysics which
support it can be subjected to the criticisms formulated in the article.
It is instructive to compare this Whiteheadian proposal with Hick’s idea
of humans having �limited creativity.� Hick explains:  �…Whilst a free action
arises out of the agent’s character, it does not arise in a fully determined and
predictable way.  It is largely but not fully prefigured in the previous state
of the agent.  For the character is itself partially formed and sometimes
partially reformed in the very moment of decision.�3 This is also a
rejection of freedom ex nihilo and a process view.




1. Martin Buber,
I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York:  Scribner’s, 1970), p. 100.


2. John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, p. 312.


3. Ibid., p. 313.



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