Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

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.

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2 Responses to “Free Will and Compatibilism”

  1. phynnboi said

    Not sure it matters whether we have free will or not. After all, we can’t cogently argue, “We have no free will, so it’s wrong to punish criminals because they had no choice in what they did,” since that presupposes free will on the part of the punishers. Lacking free will, neither the punisher nor the punished is morally responsible for what they’re doing (and it doesn’t matter, anyway, since we’ll do what we’re pre-destined to do regardless).

  2. lrflew said

    I agree with all you said, except for 1 thing: I believe everything is not either deterministic or random, but that everything is just deterministic. There’s no way to prove that something is truly random, only that no known variables account for it’s outcome. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t some variable out there that controls it, and I believe there always is, hence, everything is deterministic.

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