What is the relation between free will and intelligence. I'll identify free will with conscious mind and wonder what their relation is.

Obviously there is free will without intelligence. Just have a look in the news and join in with Albert Einstein saying

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity

But does intelligence need free will or a conscious mind. Just have a look in the news and you'll find e.g. that AlphaGo won four 4 times against Lee Sedol! Any other conscious being would be judge pretty smart doing that. But Google is not conscious yet (to my knowledge). So we have intelligence without free will(?).

Albert Einstein again is a good example for free will with intelligence.

So every relation between free will and intelligence seems possible, which points towards no correlation at all.

What does modern philosophy say about this issue?

  • Your identification of free will with conscious mind is odd since there is no relation either way, same as with intelligence. Schopenhauer ascribed th will to every creature, in a way even to inanimate objects, and characterized it as irrational unconscious urge. Nietzsche took after him quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/p/pod/dod-idx/…
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 23:22
  • Would you perhaps revise the sentence, "I'll identify free will with conscious mind and wonder what their relation is."? It is awkwardly phrased and I don't quite understand the definition of how you "identify free will". Perhaps you can elaborate? Commented May 24, 2016 at 16:22

6 Answers 6


I would recommend looking into Professor Bennet Helm. Free will and the nature of how we define it is his primary academic study.

Link to item description

The book, "Emotional Reason: Deliberation, Motivation, and the Nature of Value", poses that free will is a product of emotional attitudes, and not reliant of higher intellect. Prof. Helm has also used this in discussions as a distinction that defines the difference between the free will that an animal may exhibit versus that of higher order intelligence by discussing first and second orders of volition - I think that this can be extended as far as to include all forms of life in varying degrees if autonomous volition. Therefore, this also addresses a divid between intellect and free will. You can have a massive intellect (like a computer), but without emotions you will not exercise free will.

However, there are actually a few high functioning Artificial Intelligence experiments currently active.



Most of these are targeted at passing the Turing Test


Free will is your power to be able to have choices, to do what you want when you want and how you want it. It's more like an instinct, not directly related to the level of intelligence. It is not directly related, but that does not mean intelligence is not a contributor factor in the result of one's free will. It is linked to it in another way. Just having free will can lead to nothing practical if you don't have sufficient intelligence.

Intelligence helps you act on your free will, allows you to see more possibilities to exert your free will. Practically, higher intelligence offers you more free will choices and, if high enough, it helps you tell the fake choices from the real ones.

  • The question asks what modern philosophy has to say about this, not what your thoughts are.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 11:48
  • Does modern philosophy contradict what I stated ?
    – Overmind
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 12:02
  • That's not even the point. Some of it does, yes. You chose definitions like Free Will being a desire, which is far from standard understanding. But more importantly, it is on you to show us that this is what modern philosophy says and hence the answer to the question. As of now, these are some thoughts by a random guy on the internet. On quite a number of SE sites, this would simply have been deleted. It lacks references for its claims.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 12:27
  • Free will is not a desire. How about contributing to the topic instead of voting every answer down ?
    – Overmind
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 12:36
  • Quote from your answer: "Free will is your desire to be able to have choices". If I had time to compose a suitable answer with references, I'd do that. But this takes ~1-1,5h. And my (and everyone's, really) voting is my concern and my concern only.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 12:40

You can have information, without meaning. The Chinese Room argument considered by Searle and others aims to illustrate and grapple with this.

Certainly you can have intelligence without self-awareness. You might look at how chess for humans was considered a source of transferable skills, utilised for military education from India where the game was created, to Vikings (see 12thC Lewis chessman, & the game tafl). Alpha Go can't do that. Algorythms can be repurposed like the mine-searching one used by Rhumba. Alpha Go can be too in principle, though I can't find any examples. It seems more a proof of principle.

The bigger picture, is about the problems of model evaluation where machine learning is involved - https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_learning#Model_assessments And more widely, about whether supervised learning can ever form distinct intelligence, or only reflect the supervisors'. Human minds seem to seek simplifying insights from complex data, and to pursue simplification and unification of premises. Machine learning can only pursue a kind of 'metis', a heuristic process of data mining. So far.

There is something of a schism, between those who hold minds to have some capacity to move at least by degree between unfreedom and more-free (we all have physics and biology, culture language etc limiting freedom in some ways, though also enabling it.. ), and those including most AI researchers who tend to see minds as essentially deterministic, and fundamentally interchangeable and intergoperable (universal Turing Machines and the Turing Comleteness of languages), and so seeing free will as an illusion. Steven Pinker sees the 'magic' difference as coming from quantum processes in the brain. Dennett sees free-will and qualia as resulting from evolutionary usefulness (compatibalism). Bostrom see the whole universe as a mind-process with inherent subjectivity (this is embedded in the simulation argument).

There is a kind of middle way, admittedly rather tentative in the rigour with which it's been established, in Hofstadter's Strange Loops model (as discussed on here Has Hofstadter's concept of strange loop been given a more formal treatment (by him or anyone else) than "GEB" and "I am a strange loop"?). Strange Loops are hierarchical recursive structures with any looping around in the hierarchy, back on itself, creating a tangled hierarchy. As a model for how consciousness works this can address a number of difficulties. Consciousness can be viewed as building gradually with complexity of self-reference, as we in fact find. It can be understood as both an internal subjective experience -symbolising oneself in internal discourse with implications for identity and decisions- but also having external aspects as we in fact find, illustrated by the Private Language argument. Strange Loops seem to offer a way to describe degree of free will, through examining the degrees of feedback which inhibit 'unconscious', material or non-Strange Looping causes.

Buddhist ideas are about understanding 'unshakeable liberation' from causes and conditions, the maximizing version of 'awakeness', and reordering behaviour through a recursive practice (the eightfold way) which has a, I think paradigm-changing rather than transcendental aim. This is pictured as 'crossing the stream' and then leaving the boat, or ascending a ladder and then letting go of the ladder, and in Japan as using vines to unravel vined(intertwining with the teaching symbolised by long-lived wisteria, found at all temples, and bad habits symbolised by kudzu vines, an invasive weed). Also in Nagurjuna's discourse in which even emptiness is found to be empty of inherent nature https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/absoluteirony.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/nagarjuna-nietzsche-rorty-and-their-strange-looping-trick/amp/ In this way Buddhism can be seen as a practice to maximise 'freeness', not of an ego self but as a how to occupy the stage our self-history has set, not what but how to be moment by moment, through self-reflective 'recursive' practices like meditation and directed contemplations, eightfold way, and four noble truths (interpreted like Stephen Batchelor as directives for the mind rather than ontology). This suggests free 'will' is possible not only by degree but radically, as a different paradigm.


This all depends on your definitions.

Some say there is no free will, that people do things based on their current state and that they are fully predictable given enough resources to do the predicting (and a complete scan of what the scenario is made of). Basically something like "if you can calculate how a stone rolls down a hill, if you can calculate how three neurons work, and four, and five, and so on (because they're all the same), then you can calculate how a human will react to a stone rolling down a hill, and given such a human and such a hill and such a stone, if you observe that happening then that what was predicted will happen; thus there is no free will".

You define it as a conscious mind - perhaps as "freedom of thought"? The ability to think what you want to think?

Then you have intelligence... depending on your definitions, this could be "how fast you can think" or "how fast you can calculate" or "how fast you can solve a problem". If you try quantifying this with a test, you'll get mixed results: I'm pretty sure that AlphaGo will fail an IQ test, if only because it cannot hold a pencil and thus cannot answer the questions, or because it cannot parse the English text and thus not answer the questions...

If we go by "how fast you can think", we could say that a computer does not "think", it just calculates. Maybe it could simulate the way a human thinks through calculations. Then you could have a "thinking speed"... but a computer that simulates the thought processes or brain of a human is going to lose to a computer that runs a program for playing GO, if both computers can perform calculations at the same speed.

If we go by "how fast you can calculate", we could get one of those really old CPUs (like an Intel 8086 from 1978) - I think it can do calculations faster than you can. But again, it cannot take an IQ test, it probably wouldn't have the clock cycles needed to parse English...

This all depends on your definitions. If intelligence is how fast you can think, well, computers don't think, they calculate. And because they don't think, they don't have the ability to think what they want to think (no freedom of thought, no free will). If intelligence is how fast you can calculate, well, then computers are really smart. If intelligence is how good you are at a game... then computers are woefully inefficient, needing that many calculations just to beat humans.

  • The question asks what modern philosophy has to say about this, not what your thoughts are.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 11:48

Not much at all, is the answer to question. However, it looks like the OP answers the question himself, since the question itself shows that all combinations of free will and intelligence exists.

Modern philosophers still debate "free will", even the word itself is debated with compatibilists against non-compatibilists. In any case, definitions of free will have to do with the capacity to make choices among alternatives.

Similarly, "intelligence" is something extremely vague with many desired attributes along a range. Its meaning not debated in philosophy at all, but generally definitions relate to the quality of said attributes.

So as intelligence increases or decrease, quality increases or decreases. So as free will increases or decreases, the capacity to choose increases or decreases. On a graph, free will and intelligence could be the axes, and people would the the dots on the scatterplot. Plotted on the scatter plot will be people with great intelligence freely making choices, foolish people unable to make choices, or computers with powers of intelligence without consciousness, and animals being conscious without smarts. As the question implies, there's no pattern in the scatterplot.

I'm sure you can keep changing the definitions of free will and intelligence so that they may have the barest connection, but generally there's not much relationship between free will and intelligence as they talk about different things by definition.

(Disclaimer: I personally do not believe free will exists at all, so this question and answer is personally irrelevant to me. Note: Also, the question is about philosophy, not science. If it were about the nature of reality, then this answer would be much different... such wondering if a "brain" is the requirement for intelligence and the capacity to choose.)


What is the relation between free will and intelligence.

It is commonly understood that free will is an illusion, because the universe we live in behaves in a deterministic fashion and our brains / minds are no exception... regardless of intelligence!

Here's two contemporary approaches to the nature of free will in a deterministic system :

But Google is not conscious yet

It depends on your definition / model of consciousness. In the model for consciousness that I apply, consciousness is merely a product of complexity and connectivity.

From this perspective, EVERYTHING in the universe is conscious (including Google or whatever computer you're using at the moment), albeit to varying degrees and structured in many layers of consciousness. I used to refer to this as a Matryoshka model of consciousness, but it's more commonly known (among eg. anthropologists or religious scholars) as "animism".

I elaborate on this in my article The Atheistic approach to God… or how to bridge the gap between Atheists and Theists.

Edit :

Some additional sources on the illusionary nature of free will :

  • 1
    You don't have to go as far as animism to find pervasive consciousness in a philosophical system. It is a part of Leibniz assertion there is nothing but mind in the Monadology, and it remains in Whitehead's cleaned up version. In a less quirky form, most forms of Neo-Platonism and Hermeticism assume it, and most "New Age" religions inherit it from them. Terrence McKenna's talks about the Eschaton ramble around this territory in an amusing way.
    – user9166
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 16:36
  • 1
    Part of the point is that it is not necessarily an Atheistic approach. Regulated pantheism is part of the philosophies of traditional idealist philosophers who were outright religious, but need to feel like God had to be bound by some set of rules vaguely similar to science or logic.
    – user9166
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 16:49
  • 2
    "It is commonly understood that free will is an illusion" --- this is not true and you don't provide references. Most legal systems, if not all, assume free will, as do many religions.
    – user2953
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 6:36
  • 1
    Instead of writing 'Edit', you should really edit your post and add sources where necessary, instead of expecting the reader to put everything in a logical order. Also, sources like gizmodo don't really have scientific value. Do you have proper sources? There is also a difference between "some paper claims that ..." and "it is commonly understood that ...". Which of the two do you mean?
    – user2953
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 15:11
  • 1
    I'm with @Keelan here that it is very far from being 'commonly understood' that free will is illusory. See e.g. plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/#ComCom. Especially the interpretations of fMRT outputs and the like including assertions on the realm of reason and free will are rather fallicious, because they are based on scientific realism as a sort of reductionalistic materialism. Only being an epiphenomenologist and claiming to fully understand the connections between matter and mental phenomenon they are able to deduct such claims. That's very bold.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented May 27, 2016 at 17:25

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