Philosophy (free will)

1. Write out your answers to all of the following questions in detail.
2. Your answers should be written in your own words only – do not quote.
3. Your answer should be detailed and written clearly.

Based on your reading of the articles, explain what you see to be the strongest arguments in defense of hard determinism (d’Holbach or Blatchford), libertarianism (Sartre), and compatibilism (Stace).
From your own point of view explain which of these views seems to be most nearly accurate and which one seems to be the least accurate one.

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This week will be devoted to the problem of the freedom of the will. One way of stating the problem is this: it seems (or feels) as though when I make a choice I am in control of my choice, and it does not seem as though I am a puppet, that something else is making me choose what I choose.

However, the more scientists find out about our psychology and physiology, the more there is reason to think that some, if not all, of our “choices” are actually caused (determined) by physical and/or psychological factors beyond our control. For example, we are used to thinking in terms of having a subconscious that influences or determines our choices and actions, and thinking of our moods and thoughts being caused by our brain chemistry.

In addition to this, just on a personal, day-to-day level, I will occasionally say things and then wonder, “Why did I say that?” I should know, of course – I said it – but still I wonder, “Where did that come from?” Also, I am very aware of how caffeine or sugar will alter my moods and my ability to think clearly, which indicates a very close relationship between my brain chemistry and my moods and thoughts.

So that is the problem. In the Middle Ages (roughly 500 -1500 CE) the problem of free will arose in a different light: if God knows everything that am going to do (including make choices), before I do it, then in what sense is any choice free and in my control?

The problem of the will has been discussed by philosophers, theologians, and a host of scientists since at least Plato’s day (5th century BCE), and I think that each generation has to address it again against the background of its history, religion, and scientific understanding.

The Positions

Often people will say that there are no answers in philosophy, but this is not true. There are answers, in fact, but it is just hard to tell which one is the right one. With respect to the issue of the will, there are three common answers to the question, “Do I have a free will?” These answers are:

1. Hard Determinism:

— There is no free will.

— The word ‘free’ is defined as ‘an uncaused action’.

— All actions are caused by physical and/or psychological factors, and since there is no uncaused action, then we cannot have free will.

Here is a defense of hard determinism by Robert Blatchford:

Hard Determinism.docx

and here: (Links to an external site.)

Another defense by Baron Paul d’Holbach from his System of Nature (1770): (Links to an external site.)

2. Libertarianism:

— We do have free will.

— The word ‘free’ means ‘an uncaused action’.

— At least some of our actions are free in the sense that they are not caused by physical or psychological factors. Still, some of our actions are caused by the same factors that a hard determinist thinks cause actions, but the crucial difference is that libertarianism allows for some free actions also. (Note that this has nothing to do with the political theory, called ‘libertarianism’. These are theories have the same name, but they are about two completely different things.)

Here is an explanation of libertarianism: (Links to an external site.)

Jean Paul Sartre defends libertarianism: (Links to an external site.)

3. Soft Determinism (Compatibilism):

— We do have free will.

— The word ‘free’ means ‘unconstrained by external forces’.

— Same as for the third point in libertarianism, except that compatibilists define ‘free’ differently.

Here’s an explanation of compatibilism: (Links to an external site.)

Another version: Compatibilism article.docx

Walter Stace in defense of compatibilism (soft determinism): (Links to an external site.)

Here’s a lecture on compatibilism: (Links to an external site.)

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