(NOTE:  You must read only those linked materials that are preceded by the capitalized word READ.) Overview of The Problem of Freedom

On the definition of freedom and suggested links: READ:

For those of you who believe that you are free and have a free will and can make free decisions, here are some interesting definitions and presentations of the basic issues

FREE WILL -Definition

Definition 2:  

Those who hold that we have free will must deny that we are determined.  One form of this position is incompatibilism 


Human beings are free to choose amongst alternatives available and must be respected as such.  This freedom is to be acknowledged and promoted. The believers in free will attempt to argue for their case against those that believe that all human actions are determined by previous events and the laws of the physical universe. 

Below are several arguments in support of the Libertarian position.

The libertarians would ask that we consider the  DATA of experience:  

1. Experience of deliberation

     a. I deliberate only about MY behavior

     b. I deliberate only about future things

     c. I cannot deliberate about what I shall do, if I already know what I am going to  do.

     d. I cannot deliberate unless I believe that it is "up to me."

2. Experience that it is "up to me" what to do. 

They hold that there is no necessity governing human behavior.  There is no causal or logical necessity.  (Logical Necessity, e.g. principle of non-contradiction) (Causal necessity - physical law, e.g. gravity) 

Suggested Reading: John Hospers, The Meaning of Freedom

A Brief Defense of Free Will  by Tibor Machan

A Contemporary Defense of Free Will by Richard Taylor


Richard Taylor is a modern American philosopher who has taught at the University of Rochester and at Hartwick College. Taylor proposes the following method for finding out whether or not determinism is true: We try to see whether it is consistent with certain data, “that is, by seeing whether or not it squares with certain things that everyone knows, or believes himself to know, or with things everyone is at least more sure about than the answer to the question at issue.” (Metaphysics, 4th ed., Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992, p. 38)

The following is from this source  2001.

Taylor’s data

(1)   I sometimes deliberate, with the view to making a decision; a decision, namely, to do this thing or that.

(2)   Whether or not I deliberate about what to do, it is sometimes up to me what I do.

By “deliberation” Taylor means the experience of weighing something in one’s mind, of trying out various options in one’s mind. There are certain presuppositions of deliberation, namely,

(1)   I can deliberate only about my own behavior and never about the behavior of another.

(2)   I can deliberate only about future things, never about things past or present.

(3)   I can’t deliberate about what I’m going to do if I already know what I’m going to do.

(4)   I can’t deliberate about what to do, even though I may not know what I’m going to do, unless I believe that it is up to me what I’m going to do. (pp. 39-40)

These data are not consistent with the thesis of determinism. If determinism is true, then it is an illusion that I ever genuinely deliberate about anything or that anything is ever really up to me. If these data are true, then determinism is false. Taylor argues that it doesn’t make any difference whether we are talking about a forthright, “hard” determinism, like that of Holbach, or a compatibilist, “soft” determinism, like that of Hume. According to “soft” determinism, an action is free just so long as it is caused by an internal state of the agent himself or herself. Against this, he proposes the counterexample of an ingenious physiologist who can induce in a subject any volition he pleases, so that, simply by pushing a button, he can cause the subject to have an internal state which the subject will experience as the desire to do a certain thing. If the subject then does that thing, unimpeded by any external obstacle, that action meets the criterion of being a “free” action, in accordance with the thesis of soft determinism. That is, the action is due to an internal state of the agent and is not opposed by any external factor. However, we see at once that this action is not free, because it was due to the subject’s being in a certain internal state over which he or she had no control. Then Taylor points out that the supposition of the work of the ingenious physiologist isn't necessary to reach the same conclusion. As long as there is any cause of the internal state that was not under the control of the person whose internal state it is, the resulting action is not free.

There is a real choice that is not to be evaded, then, between accepting determinism and rejecting the data with which we began, on the one hand, or holding fast to our data and rejecting the thesis which is inconsistent with them. Taylor points out, however, that simply rejecting determinism and embracing the thesis of simple indeterminism, which says that some events are uncaused, brings us no closer to a theory explaining free actions that is consistent with our data. He asks the reader to imagine a case in which his or her right arm is free, according to this conception. That is, it just moves one way or another, without any cause whatever. Plainly, if the agent is not the cause for the arm movements, then those movements are not free, voluntary actions of the agent.

Accordingly, Taylor develops a theory of agency with the following elements:

(1)   An action that is free must be caused by the agent who performs it, and it must be such that no other set of antecedent conditions was sufficient for the occurrence of just that action.

(2)   An agent is a self or person, and not merely a collection of things or events, but a self-moving being. (pp. 51-52)

Taylor recognizes that this involves a metaphysical commitment to a special kind of causation, and he suggests that perhaps “causation” is not the best language to use to describe it. He proposes that we might want to say instead that an agent originates, initiates, or simply, performs an action. All other cases of causation we conceive of as a relation between events. One event or set of events is a sufficient, or necessary, or sufficient and necessary condition for the occurrence of another. However, an agent is not an event, and we certainly wouldn’t say the mere existence of the agent is ever a sufficient condition for the occurrence of one of his or her free actions. Rather, it is only the free action of the agent that is the cause or the origination of the action. Since Taylor can offer no further explanation of how it that this occurs, he admits that it is possible that the data that this theory was developed to explain might be an illusion after all, and his essay ends on an inconclusive note.


 Richard Taylor: A Contemporary Defense of Free Will

The idea of freedom operative in this view is one in which there is no obstacle or impediment that prevents behavior, no constraints, for it is constraints that force behavior.  Freedom of the human agent is free activity that is unimpeded and unconstrained.  So, there is the Theory of Agency in which there exist self-determining beings: free and rational.  There exists the self or person, a substance and self-moving being.  The libertarians believe that this theory is consistent with the data of human consciousness.  But that DATA may be illusion!!     


Summary of Taylor's view  by Omonia Vinieris (QCC, 2002)

In his work, A Contemporary Defense of Free Will, Taylor refutes the theories held by compatibilism (soft determinism) and simple indeterminism to illustrate their implausibility.  He further goes on to affirm his theory of agency to articulate his libertarian standpoint.

Taylor clarifies the concept of deliberation as it is fundamentally the act of considering or assessing something in one’s mind.  According to Taylor, deliberation encompasses the following premises: One can deliberate solely about one’s own conduct and by no means about that of another due to the simple fact that each person makes up one’s own mind and never the mind of a different person.  There is only deliberation of future actions and never of precedent ones because one can not deliberate about or consider an action that has already transpired.  Deliberation is a conditional state that is unconfirmed because it entails the action before it takes place and therefore if one knows or confirms a future action, deliberation is invalid.  Altogether, deliberation itself does not exist or ensue if one does not even believe that it is ever one’s own consideration that accounts for one’s decision to do anything because that is essentially the principle that deliberation embraces.  

 In his critique of soft determinism, Taylor explains primarily what line of reasoning it maintains and then pinpoints its incongruity to negate its veracity.  Compatibilism is a position whose advocates renounce hard determinist thought.  Hard determinist position asserts that we are not morally responsible for our own actions because we are not liable for anything we do.  Yet, soft determinists say that freedom and determinism are compatible.   Determinism is plausibly coherent with freedom as an agent is a carrier of volition and acts appropriately to his or her desires and wishes.  On occasion it may be that one’s actions are the product of one’s deliberation or conditional forethought.  Still, if compatibilism holds true it must simultaneously maintain the determinist idea that one’s choices are preordained by prenatal events. If this is so, then how can it be possibly up to anyone to do anything? 

Simple indeterminism is the denial of determinism.  These indeterminists affirm that free agents are morally responsible for their actions which are tamed and controlled.  If actions originate from noncausal events as indeterminists claim, then they are chaotic and untamed.  Thus, Taylor considers it a contradiction to suggest that one’s actions originate from uncaused events because neither is one really a free agent nor morally responsible for his or her actions.  These actions are uncontrollable and irresponsible.

Taylor’s theory of agency proclaims that all events are caused, but unlike determinist theory, some changes or actions have beginnings.  A free action is triggered by the agent itself.  An agent, in this case, is described as a human, a self-moving body, capable of being the first cause of motion in a causal sequence.  It is important that no series of foregoing conditions is adequate for the actual happening of the action, otherwise it would not be free.  He further specifies that we should not speak of causation in terms of his free agency.  The agent, rather, initiates an action through its performance.  An agent, he asserts, is not a set of events that executes causation and therefore it is the free action of the agent that is the cause of the action that occurred. 

“In the case of an action that is free, it must be such that it is caused by the agent who performs it, but such that no antecedent conditions were sufficient for his performing just that action.”


John Searle on Free Will (2001)

The Freewill Problem:

  1. The ‘free will’ problem:
    1. What is the nature of free agency and how is it related to the conditions of responsible behaviour?
    2. For instance, is the kind freedom that is necessary for moral responsibility freedom of the will, of the agent, of the agent’s deliberations, of the agent’s choices, or of the agent’s actions?
  2. Incompatibilism.
    1. Incompatibilism is the view that the kind of freedom necessary for moral responsibility is inconsistent (incompatible) with the truth of determinism.
    2. Incompatibilists form two camps: the hard determinists and the libertarians.
      1. Hard determinists argue that since determinism is true, it follows that there is no freedom and no moral responsibility.
      2. Libertarians argue that since we are both free and responsible, determinism must be false.
    3. Incompatibilists generally hold that the kind of freedom necessary for moral responsibility is some kind of freedom of the will.
    4. However, incompatibilists generally find it difficult to explain what is meant by the notion of freedom of the will.
  3. Compatibilism.
    1. Compatibilism is the view that the kind of freedom necessary for moral responsibility is consistent (compatible) with the truth of determinism.
    2. Compatibilists generally hold that the kind of freedom necessary for moral responsibility is some kind of freedom of choice or freedom of deliberation.
    3. Compatibilists generally appeal to the social efficacy of our blaming practices in regulating behaviour in order to explain why this kind of freedom is sufficient for moral justification. However, social efficacy does not seem to be sufficient for moral justification as a socially efficacious practice may be morally unjust.

Searle’s Solution to the Freewill Problem:

  1. Reinterpreting the problem:
    1. The traditional debate conflates 2 problems:
      1. The question of the sort of freedom that is necessary for moral responsibility.
      2. The question of whether or not our actions are causally determined by their antecedents.
  2. Consider the following situation:
    1. Agent A must choose between 2 options o1 and o2 at time t1. A chooses o1 and acts accordingly. A’s action begins at t2 and ends at t3. Let us suppose that there is no time gap between t1 and t2, and that A’s action was voluntary (in the normal sense).
  3. There are 2 ways in which the brain might function in this situation (2 solutions to the freewill problem):
    1. The state of the brain at t1 was causally sufficient to determine the state of the brain at t2, and the state of the brain at t2 was sufficient to carry it over to t3. The psychologically real gap corresponds to no neurobiological reality.
    2. The state of the brain at t1 was not causally sufficient to determine the state of the brain at t2, and so forth. The psychologically real gap does correspond to some neurobiological reality.
  4. Position A is the compatibilist position: psychological libertarianism with physiological determinism. This position is implausible because, whilst it is based on an attractively simple picture of the brain, it makes the psychological processes of rational decision-making into a very biologically expensive epiphenomenal illusion. Rational decision-making is useless because everything has already been determined in the brain.
  5. Position B is more plausible but needs to be carefully stated.
    1. If stated in the form of a parallelogram, it gives a misleading picture of the relation between consciousness and the brain. This picture suggest that consciousness is a surface feature of the brain.
    2. It is not, it is a system feature in the same way that liquidity is a system feature of water. The whole system is conscious and the whole system moves towards a rational decision.
    3. Conscious states can act causally in a way that affects neurobiological elements of the system of which is they are a systemic feature.
      1. This is similar to Sperry’s wheel example: consider any single molecule in a rolling wheel. The movements of the wheel may determine the movements of the molecule even though the wheel is nothing more than a collection of such molecules.
      2. The principle difference between the wheel and the conscious brain is that the movements of the former are causally determined whereas the movements of the latter are not.
      3. The conscious state of the brain at any given time is completely fixed by its neurobiology at that time. However, the conscious state of the brain at one time is not completely fixed by its neurobiology at another time. This gap can be explained by appeal to the self.
    4. This position becomes more plausible if you think of quantum mechanics (after all, there’s no reason why we should stop at the level of neurobiology). Total determinism is not needed to make the universe intelligible. At the quantum level, the universe is not determined.
  6. One possible criticism of position B is that it postulates randomness.
  7. This criticism is unfounded. Rational agency is realized in the neurobiological structures of the brain and can causally affect those structures. Thus, the neurobiological structures are driven by the same rational agency as conscious agency.


DEFENSE of Free Will    Inspiring Philosophy Part One  Part two

There are no greater defenders or representatives of the position that humans have free will than the existentialists. They may not offer strict philosophical proof but they do present some strong language in defense of freedom.  The next section presents the existentialist view.

Proceed to the next section

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