It seems to me that talk about free will is premature, until 'will' itself has been examined.

As Hume noted, we don't have any direct experience of "causality"... two events follow each other and we might call them cause and effect after the fact.

This does not change in any way even with regards to our own thoughts and actions. For example, say I "will" my arm to move". I have certain thoughts, feelings (desire to move my arm)... and then my arm moves. There is no "direct" apprehension of me "causing" my arm to move. This is exactly the same as when we view events outside our mind/body. The events are perhaps much closer together in time... but the Humean principle still applies here.

So I don't see any "will" entity whose freedom could be debated...

In any case, what philosophers have examined "will" separate from "free will"? I'm guessing Schopenhauer is one and Nietzsche is another. Are there others?

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    Free Will As A Problem In Neurobiology by John R. Searle.
    – MmmHmm
    Dec 12, 2016 at 5:37
  • you question will in respect to its apparent effects but does not will exist regardless of its causal role? do you not will while dreaming? I am aware of my will to get up even before I have made any movement. does it not exist before I make any movement, or unless I make any movement?
    – nir
    Dec 12, 2016 at 8:56
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    Basically, we may say that a "non-free" will is simply a causal connection (as it semmes to me that you are alludiong). Thus, we have to conclude that : either the "will" is free or it is not a will at all... Dec 12, 2016 at 11:28
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA I am hungry even if that is a chemical process. I want what I want, whether or not that is somehow not physics. There is a very good reason to talk about non-free will. The whole of clinical psychology is pretty much about making peace between one's mind and one's will, your mind won't do what you want it to, and to the extent we are talking about diseases that make this unfree, it still does not go away.
    – user9166
    Dec 14, 2016 at 2:17

2 Answers 2


I believe this impression is created by surveying the more "popular" part of the literature. Leiter in Nietzsche’s Theory of the Will describes the general approach as routine:

"I am concerned with the notion of “will” familiar from general philosophy of action, both contemporary and historical, namely, the idea of a human faculty, whatever its precise character, that stands in some kind of necessary relationship with action. Such a faculty may itself be causally determined, or it may be autonomous of the antecedent causal order; its status may implicate questions of moral responsibility; and such a faculty may not exist at all. A theory of the will is one that sheds some light on these issues."

"Free will" is often used as an idiomatic label, which indicates selecting a particular aspect of the human action, namely self-determination and its relation to causal physical laws, often accompanied by implications for moral responsibility. This label, sometimes contracted to "freewill", is unsplittable and can be used even by those who believe that there is no will, free or otherwise. Philosophers (and psychologists and neuroscientists) who wish to focus on other aspects may use different terms, like "volition" (Roskies, How Does Neuroscience Affect Our Conception of Volition?) or "antecedents to voluntary action" (Nachev and Hacker), etc.

A recent trend in the philosophical literature, stimulated by experiments in neuroscience starting with Libet's, is to focus on another aspect: whether or not voluntary action is initiated consciously or unconsciously, regardless of whether it is "free". Correspondingly, the label is changed to "conscious will". But this still does not imply any "will" faculty, conscious or unconscious. Wegner's Illusion of Conscious Will is the book that launched what is now called "willusionism" into broad public consciousness. A systematic rebuttal of Wegner, Mele's Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will, uses the same label. Some arguments for unconscious will are discussed under What counters are there to Spinoza's argument that acts of free will create infinite regress?

It may surprise some people, but Nietzsche was a forerunner of willusionism, and developed a powerful phenomenology undermining the folk notions about conscious "willing". All that without the measuring sophistication of Libet-type experiments. We do not experience our thoughts as "willed", argued Nietzsche, so if "willing" is causing, and our actions are caused by our thoughts, then they are not caused by "us" at all. In Twilight of the Idols he writes:

"The “inner world” is full of phantoms and will-o'-the-wisps: the will is one of them. The will no longer moves anything, hence does not explain anything either — it merely accompanies events; it can also be absent. The so-called motive: another error. Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness — something alongside the deed that is more likely to cover up the antecedents of the deeds than to represent them. …What follows from this? There are no mental causes at all."

Compare this to Wegner's:

"The initiation of the voluntary act appears to be an unconscious cerebral process. Clearly, free will or free choice of whether to act now could not be the initiating agent, contrary to one widely held view. This is of course also contrary to each individual’s own introspective feeling that he/she consciously initiates such voluntary acts".

Of course, Nietzsche and Wegner have quite different motivations for their views, the latter cites causal physics and Libet experiments, the former, while also being unduly impressed by deterministic physicalism of his time, has a deeper motive. No will - no moral responsibility:"the whole realm of morality and religion belongs under this concept of imaginary causes". One can find this aspect more recently developed by Strawson in Impossibility of Moral Responsibility among other places. But there is one big difference between Nietzsche and determinists, like Wegner and Strawson, the Leiter points out:

"it is precisely because Nietzsche is a radical empiricist skeptic about laws that he eschews the language of classical determinism. Nietzsche’s “official” view (strange as it may seem) is that ours is a world of token necessities, not lawful necessities..."


They don't. The notion of Free Will arises in reaction to the threat divine power makes to remove all moral responsibility from humans. So before we talked about Free Will, we talked about divine and human will. That thread of conversation remains in almost every philosophy with the smallest component of idealism.

In particular, it is quite important to advanced idealism. Kant's theories depend heavily on the notion of Will. Hegel's whole worldview is about a convergent Universal Will. Neither of them is principally concerned, in their notions of Will, with defending Free Will as a notion. The vast majority of what they said, and the important parts of both worldviews would remain valid if the Will involved were predetermined by forces outside time. Both are seeking to link our internal and external worlds together into a cohesive whole. And almost no one after those two remains unaffected by them, so no one has jumped over anything, and analysis of Will itself has not been neglected.

If you don't believe in cause and effect then the wish for your arm to rise and its rising are not related, the same way your letting go of a ball and its falling are not related. There is no reason to go farther than complete skepticism, and the logic applies no more to Will than any other cause. So it is a red herring, and is not about will in any real way.

But whether or not it or anything else "really" causes effects in the outside world, we cannot deny that humans constantly communicate wishes, and that pursuing one's will is a major component of intelligence by our societies' standards. Those who lack will are diseased mentally, in the Western understanding of the world: along with the inability to properly follow language referents, lack of attachment to one's own will is a central component of schizophrenias.

Whether or not will is ever free may be irrelevant, but it is almost impossible to live as though it did not exist. What would one do? sit catatonic? circle endlessly in pointless ritual? follow appearances at random without considering their internal logic or consistency in any way? (In short, "Be acutely schizophrenic?") Or maybe just die? The idea that you are actually asking this question implies a will to explore it. If you had no will, you would not bother. So I am having a hard time finding any logic in the question that is not undercut by its existence.

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    "So I am having a hard time finding any logic in the question that is not undercut by its existence." So the fact that Hume wrote and talked undercuts that he was a skeptic about causality? I think this is ufair and really prevents philosophy at all. We temporarily put aside our intuitions in philosophy to examine an issue, even if we can't really put it aside in real life. A human being can't "really" believe there is no free will in everyday life... That doesn't mean we can't examine it philosophically. Dec 12, 2016 at 6:44
  • Hume accepted causality on faith, or he could not have continued to make deductions about anything else. He did not claim causality did not exist, only that we had to accept its truth on some basis other than observation. There is nothing unfair here. What explains your actions in the theory you propose that will does not exist? Hume at least just fell back on faith.
    – user9166
    Dec 12, 2016 at 6:47
  • So you apply this same criticism to philosophers that deny the existence of free will? Dec 12, 2016 at 6:53
  • It is not impossible to act as if there were no free will, and the very act of challenging free will does not, in fact contradict the position itself. So no, I only give arguments when their conditions are met. Please either answer my question or stop asking more. If you seen no reason to believe that will exists, what explains your actions?
    – user9166
    Dec 12, 2016 at 15:39

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