Explanations are causal, at least to the extent that I'm aware. If I explain X then I basically identify and expand on the cause of X (if X involves an ontological claim the explanans is all about what causes X to exist).

Free will, by definition, has to be (?) acausal (it, if it exists, can't/shouldn't be an effect at any locus in the causal web.

Can free will be explained?

  • 2
    I think you are confusing "free will" itself and the "actions" we do under free will. Only the latter has to be (at least partially) acausal.
    – armand
    Nov 6, 2023 at 11:09
  • Yes. Even assuming that events involving free will are "acausal" and cannot be explained, that is very different from explaining free will itself. It may still have a cause, e.g. God giving such ability to his creatures, or some quantum mechanism. Moreover, already Aristotle distinguished four causes, and what you describe is only one of them, efficient cause. The rest are available for free choices without a problem. And even efficient causes are (motives, etc.), they just cannot be sufficient to determine the choice.
    – Conifold
    Nov 6, 2023 at 11:27

4 Answers 4


I suppose it depends what kind of explanation you are looking for. I'll try two ideas.

  1. Compatibilism: Mental events such as conscious choices could be partly predetermined (ie made less or more likely) by prior mental events, beliefs, memory, education, etc. They are therefore causal. But this doesn't make them fully predetermined, nor does it make them unfree. To call upon memory, or to forget, to believe or not, or to reasses one's beliefs, is still and always the work of the mind (or the will if you prefer). Partial mental predetermination may offer a causal explanation for a certain train of thoughts or for a certain decision, but the decision was still freely made in the sense that only considerations within one's mental space influenced the decision, and the person was not too severely stressed or constrained in the type of considerations to make (no gun on her head).

  2. At a very basic, Darwinian level, one explanation is that life developed the capacity to move around: locomotion, most importantly in the animal kingdom. This is a very useful capacity to the extent that you know where you're going.

If an animal had no clue whether to move in this or that direction, it might as well not move at all. And thus it should come as no surprise that locomotion developed over the eons concomitantly with senses and brain capacity to analyse sense data.

There needed to be a pilot in the plane.

To know where one is going is a surprisingly complex task. The animal perceives signals that are extremely complex and needs to interpret them correctly, integrating those signals in a sort of map of its environment, constantly updated. Such a simulation or model of the space around the animal, evidently rudimentary during the first evolutionary steps, was progressively refined over millions of years of evolution, giving animals a certain intelligence of the situation they are in. This "map" is necessarily a mental map, since it needs to be updated frequently. It would be where our innate capacity for geometry comes from.

The argument is that we, Homo sapiens and our "free will", are one of the results of this evolutionary trend. More precisely, I see us as an intelligence singularity produced by evolution: similar to a blackhole in astrophysics, but with intelligence instead of mass.


How to reconcile our first-person perception of free will with the principle of causality, the basis of nearly all successful explanations from the third-person stance, is an open question since time immemorial.

  1. Causal indeterminism is no help: Mental processes do not operate on a subatomic scale, and thermic oscillation would have destroyed any possible quantum mechanical interference. A second counter-argument: The concept of free will does not intend the reduction to probabilistic events.

    Also Kant’s view that humans are capable to initiate causal chains of itself without prior grounds, independently of nature’s causal laws (Critque of Pure Reason, Resolution of the third antinomy B 560ff) does not convince all who deal with the problem of free will.

  2. A fresh view onto the problem has been made by the philosopher Peter Bieri in Das Handwerk der Freiheit (in German). Bieri defines the first-person perception of free will as the absence of any inner obstruction and conflict of will against the final decision. The person then lives in harmony with herself.

    Humans and other animals store their previous experience together with their corresponding positive/negative assessment. When they have to decide in similar situations, they activate this assessment from their memory – often an unconscious process.

    If a balance between all stored alternatives and their assessments could be achieved, then the person does not feel any inner obstruction against the final decision. The person then considers the decision to arise from his free will. That’s the basic idea of Bieri’s explanation of free will, which saves the subjective feeeling and the objective determinism.

  • So well-structured, that makes me difficult to fit. Nov 6, 2023 at 21:56

Notwithstanding the eternal and pointless debate about the existence or otherwise of free-will, it is a fact that we all agree that we can move our own little finger if we want to, and this is the standard way that we prove that we have free-will.

Can this be explained in a rational manner? I believe that this is exactly what neuroscience does, if we just discount the ideological debate already mentioned.

Somehow, within ourselves, that is, within our own body, a chain of events leads to the will of moving our little finger and we consequently just oblige, much in the same way as a machine would mechanically move some mechanical appendage.

This is all there is to it. If you want details, read neuroscience papers.


Free will can be explained. Suppose I give you a choice of coffee and cold drink to drink then ,you have the free will of deciding how you will choose? You may think that because the weather is cold , I would like to have coffee ,or ,you may decide that your wife or love of your life loves to drink cold drink therefore you would like to have cold drink, or , you may just spontaneously decide coffee for no reason at all, or ,you may like to roll a dice and decide to have cold drink , or, you may just reject the choices and say I don’t want either just to keep an etiquette.

On the other hand if you seriously believe in God or Devil then you are just a puppet. You give up your own will and surrender to the will of God. God inspires you every moment and therefore you choose coffee.You transfer your will to God or Devil or your Boss.

Free will is not an innate property of beings. But it arises like waves in the ocean and changes(your preferences are impermanent too) and vanishes.

Free will is the property of life itself. If there is no free will there is no life.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .