A lot of arguments on free will seem to try to prove its existence in humans? However, what characteristic(s) makes human beings (arguably) free agents and could this be possessed by another thing?

5 Answers 5


Hugh Gibbons

I studied Torts and Legal Philosophy with Professor Hugh Gibbons back in 1990-1991. He describes the will as a subjective experience and does not try to define the term "free will".

Hugh wrote this paper - The Purpose of Law:


2 Freedom: The subjective experience of having a rich and realistic set of alternative actions that one may undertake.

4 Duty: A duty is an obligation to behave in a certain way. Duties are of two sorts: duties that have been undertaken willingly and the duty of care, which is a universal feature of the human mind.

9 Prospects: The set of potential actions that the person is objectively able to undertake and subjectively considers attractive.

11 Constraint: A constraint is any limitation upon a person’s prospects. They are of two sorts: natural constraints, which are caused by natural law, such as the laws of gravity, entropy, or scarcity, and willed constraints, those which are the result of another’s undertaking, such as a physical attack or an embezzlement. Willed constraints are themselves of two types: private constraints, which are caused by breaches of duty, and public constraints, which are caused by the actions of law to redress breaches of duty.

13 Will: Will refers to the experience that people have of themselves as the cause of their actions. Will is the foundation of the normative, or “moral,” aspect of existence. It is only meaningful to establish norms where the objects of those norms are willed, where they perceive themselves as having a choice between alternatives. Without that power, norms are irrelevant.

This is a cognitive-behavioral social-psychology model derived from Hugh's contemplation of patterns expressed in the domain of American law. The psychological model of "free" will as the lack of interference with the self as a dominant or effective source of cause seems to fit with human biology which transcends local cultural norms.

Basically, the will is effective, or what one might call "free", when the self is perceived as the dominant or sole cause of choice and action. Social duties, natural, and willed constraints interfere with the perception of the self as the effective source of cause. Free will is the subjective ability to choose a course of action, and the liberty to take such action, without interference from another source of cause. External constraints are imposed from outside the self. Internal constraints, such as fear, inhibitions, or internalized prohibitions (strict conscience), may form in the context of social interaction and become stored as unconscious or conscious personal memories.


I am somewhat of an agent of freedom. And try a bit more than some others to remain so.

That being said, situationally, I seel/rent actually, myself quite regularly.

And there is once upon a time when my will was very much less "free" for 57 days when judged (rightly so) of holding the legal system in a contemptuous regard.

One could call me, by first-hand experience, somewhat of an expert in the areas of will, and freedom.

I almost find like I have to much to say, and that you haven't really asked much question.

#1. To be free requires opportunity. A lack of bars/doors/walls/locks.

#2. In retrospect. Maintain good or minimally acceptable levels of relationship with those holding the keys.

#3. Recognize you are only ever temporarily free from your physiological needs. Food, water, sleep, warmth, dryness, that sort of thing. Along these lines, it is really worth becoming familiar with Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs... read a couple of takes on his Pyramid of Human Needs. Time = worth it.

#4. Typically there are borders that put some hard geographical limits on your free will. Define your "territory" or "range". You can get out... but typically not without some paperwork.

#5. Others. Your so-called "free will" might feel like dancing in the streets nekked. Others don't necessarily agree. (this is not a personal judgement, I don't know you, I am speaking in generalities). Do you think yourself entirely free? Then test that... go... go dance nekked... show the world how "free" you are, now, at least.

#6. Time. Oh boy, time. "Free"?? Nuh uh. Beholden to the impacts of time, and paying the price every second. Sorry bout that, and I'm using many. But you asked.

#7. Another other. Earth. One. Singular. We know where it was. We know where it is going. Not quintillions of them splitting off every second... one Earth... one path forward. You have "free will"... but will remain with EArth the rest of your life. "Trapped" here. By the vastness of space and the nature of time.

The good news... Earth is danged big. So we have a lot, not unlimited freedom. And we humans live quite a while... average 75 years, I think... so that's a fair bit of time to experience and take advantage of and use freedom. (minus the percent you must spend sleeping, learning, eating, commuting, etc).

Mostly free. The long arm of the law does have some reach. And the taxman will want a cut. Some may put toll booths in way of your journeys. But... mostly free will exists, yes. It is not 100% free.


I would say that two important human qualities for free will are planning, and self-evaluation. By planning, I mean the ability to imagine various actions and trying to estimate their likely consequences, then picking one of the best prospects (to use Hugh Gibbons's word, cited by SystemTheory). Many animals can do this, including mammals and birds, although they are less adept than humans are.

By self-evaluation, I mean that we try to see ourselves as others might, and hold ourselves to norms. This requires a highly developed self-concept, which arguably might be unique to humans, although at least other great apes (for example) show empathy and have notions of fairness, so arguably they have similar qualities in lesser degree.


A free agent can choose his own actions. A free agent can strive to achieve goals in the future instead of being forced by the past.

That is the very essence of free will.


According to Kant, free will is a logical conclusion that follows from the phenomena of duty. Compare Pato's Euthphro, is something good because the gods like it or do the gods like it because it is good? The latter implies something that transcends natural causality, it's even above the gods.

Kant would say that one becomes aware of freedom when one realizes one can, perhaps even ought to, act against their desires. When one feels the impulse to do something one would rather not do, because it makes one's life less comfortable, then freedom manifests itself, even if one decides to act against the pangs of conscience, those pangs, and therefore the free choice, is there.

  • it seems you have read relevant material, but i am a bit baffled by your reasoning here. why does euthphro talk about kantian duty? why does kant believe that the experience of conflict is a realization of free choice, that we can act otherwise?
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 14 at 0:38
  • if you want to just state a philosopher's opinion, rather than why they believe it, then do so, without alluding to arguments you are unwilling to clarify etc.. that's all i meant
    – andrós
    Commented Apr 14 at 4:40

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