Posted by: kenwbudd | October 19, 2010

Philosophically speaking: Determinism and Free Will

Determinism (specifically causal determinism) is the concept that events within a given paradigm are bound by causality in such a way that any state (of an object or event) is, to some large degree, determined by prior states.

Given any set of circumstances (A) and the laws of nature (L) then (on the assumption that the laws of nature are -in this universe at least- inviolable) then A plus L will inevitably lead to their consequent B.

It goes without saying that A will itself be the consequence of a set of antecedent circumstances in conjunction with L.

Determinism has been taken by many philosophers to be incompatible with Free Will on the grounds that our actions are the product of “choices” both of which are part of the natural world and are therefore subject to L.

Choices are also “events” and are therefore the inevitable consequence of some set of antecedent circumstances acted upon by L; as are the expression of those choices in action.

Determinism may or may not be true but if it is true then there is no room (so the incompatibilist argues) for free will.

Free will is an illusion: occasionally comforting, occasionally not.

Compatibilism on the other hand argues that if we allow that our choices are uncaused (call this indeterminism) then this makes them random and therefore not choices at all: the very concept of free will seems inimical to randomness. It is the belief that free will and determinism are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent

There must, therefore, be an account of free will that rescues it from determinism. Other philosophers (most notably Peter van Inwagen) have suggested that it might instead be the case that the concept of free will is incoherent since it seems inconsistent with all logically available positions regarding the truth or otherwise of determinism.

At best free will is mysterious on this view.

The paradox of the human condition, is that we are at one and the same time objects in a world of other objects and governed by the same physical laws as those objects, and simultaneously freely choosing subjects with an apparent perspective on that world of objects, from which it follows that we are apart from that world of objects.

Freedom, again, is mysterious on this view and to set up free will in competition with determinism is misconceived.


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