Free Will and Compatibilism
Posted by Michael Dickens on January 1, 2012
I have argued that free will does not exist. In short, I argue that any action is either deterministic or random, and neither is free. This is a well-known philosophical position that is similar to determinism. Some posit that determinism is true and free will does exist; this is known as compatibilism. I do not object to this position, so I must explain why I continue to suppose that free will does not exist.
From an incompatibilist perspective, there is no reason to support free will. Evidence (not to mention logic) clearly demonstrates that every event is either deterministic or random. But I can see the merits to compatibilism, which effectively redefines free will so that it exists. Under the definition I gave in the article linked at the beginning of this essay, free will clearly does not exist. But under a different definition, it may exist. I can understand that a different definition may be useful in a different situation. I continue to assume that free will does not exist, because it does not exist under the definition of free will that I like best.
This debate’s significance primarily lies in the question of moral responsibility: If free will does not exist, some argue that we are not responsible for our actions. However, based on what I see as the most sensible definition of moral responsibility, free will is irrelevant. The only reason to define someone as morally responsible is if that definition will influence people to do more good than they would have done otherwise. (I will write about this more in a future essay, which I will (hopefully) publish soon.)
For my purposes, the incompatibilist definition of free will makes more sense. Some prefer the compatibilist definition; as long as we are clear on what our terms mean, I have no problem with using a different definition. I simply see no reason to.