If I have a free will, but I don't get to choose to not have a free will, I just have to accept what is forced on me, doesn't that imply that I don't have a free will?

  • I do. Do you? Perhaps it's a personal choice.
    – user4894
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 2:59
  • 2
    Free will in an interesting sense is not about being able to do whatever you want. I was born, I have to accept that - that's a terrible argument against free will, though. Interesting free will amounts to our metaphysical power within the causal process, vaguely speaking. In any case, your question is extremely broad. I don't think we can tell you whether or not we have free will because there's still plenty of disagreement about it. Have you taken a look at other questions about free will?
    – commando
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 6:17
  • Oh, then you say a more interesting definition of free will, is not to be able to choose whatever you want to choose. But to be able to choose from what is that is on the table?
    – Véronique
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 8:58
  • Possible duplicate of How can someone have a free will if they act based on their experiences?
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 20:20

4 Answers 4


Free will is not the ability to do whatever you want if was like this then try to fly!

Free will is the ability to make a choice. If this wasn't true we are in trouble:

Man has free-will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain.

man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought

This is just an extract but have a read on I answer that of: Summa Theologiae, Question 83, Thomas Aquinas He continues:

Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will.

click on the link to examine in depth the question on the relative oppositions.


As another answer correctly pointed out, the mere fact that we don't have the option to do something does not exclude the possibility that we have free will. It is not a necessary condition of free will that we can choose to do all possible actions, but it is a sufficient condition that our set of possible choices is greater than one.

As to the more general question, there are three schools of thought regarding free will. Those are libertarian free will, compabitilism, and hard determinism. ("Libertarian", in this context, is not to be confused with "libertarianism" as a political philosophy.) Here is a brief description of the three positions, and then I will elaborate on them further.

Libertarian Free Will: We are free to make choices, and are not bound by the deterministic laws of of the universe. That is, for any decision we make, we "could have done otherwise".

Hard Determinism: We are not free to make choices. The universe is bound to deterministic laws, and that includes everything that composes what we are. We "could not have done otherwise".

Compatibilism: We are free to make choices, but we "couldn't have done otherwise". We are bound to the deterministic laws of the universe, but this is not incompatible with free will.

The thing that differentiates libertarians from the other two categories is the notion that you "could have done otherwise". That is, if we reversed the universe back to the identical state that it was in before you made a certain decision, could you then do otherwise? Or would you be doomed to making the exact same decision again? Libertarians believe you could have done otherwise. Hard determinists and compatibilists do not. The latter two accept that the universe is bound to deterministic laws, including everything that composes you. Libertarians reject this claim. According to the libertarian, there must be some sort of agent that has a fundamentally unpredictable means of making a choice, and that choice directs the actions that you take. According to the libertarian, if everything you examine about the human body and brain appears to obey deterministic rules, this would imply that there is something as of yet undiscovered about the human that dictates decisions. A famous libertarian philosopher who voices his justifications for such claims is E. J. Lowe.

The thing that separates compatibilists from hard determinists is a lot more subtle and hard to pin down. To most people, the notion that you "couldn't have done otherwise", and yet still have free will (as compatibilists believe) is unintuitive. But as a compatibilist would argue, free will does not necessitate the option to have done otherwise. After all, it is still true that we have a mind, and that that mind deliberates, and that many (not all) of our actions are a result of said deliberation. Had the result of the deliberation been different, we would have performed different actions. This observation does not require that the result of the deliberation could have been different. This is not an obvious concept to grasp, and there are plenty of arguments to help absorb the claim of compatibilism, with examples such as Daniel Dennett and Sean Carroll who have famous thoughts regarding this subject. In fact, compatibilism is the position most commonly held among academic philosophers.

Hard determinists, like compatibilists, believe that we are subject to the deterministic laws of the universe, and thus our actions are fundamentally predictable (even though they're not practically predictable). However, unlike compatibilists, they reject the notion that determinism is compatible with free will. To the hard determinist, there is no notion of free will that can sensibly describe a world in which you could not have done otherwise. In many cases, they consider the compatibilist free will notion to be one of an equivocation of the term.


In India there is no direct philosophy of free will but the notion of Karma which essentially means you reap what you sow or you eventually have to face result of your karma. Hence, you are free will to decide what action would you take but your thought of any action is predefined by the fact of Karma that is every wrong or unethical action is also going to result the same. The concept of karma why, how and what and the motivation behind is discussed in Bhagvad Geeta

  • This explains why, in karma yoga societies, sufferers of misfortune have to deal with stigma because karma says the suffers' ordeal is punishment for the sufferers' own sins in earlier lives. As a matter of fact, this is exactly the sort of thing the oppressors say to the downtrodden where karma yoga philosophy is endemic: those who profited from inflicting cruelty upon others have none but their own good virtue to thank for; those who suffered abuse have to live with black curses on their backs for misdeeds they have no memory of but have to inferred from their sufferings in this life. Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 18:42

As we live in a generally deterministic universe, with the only unpredictable parts of nature being those that we're unable to fully comprehend, it seems reasonable that free will is an illusion, and that our choices are all predetermined.

I look at it this way: As humans, we will always pick what we believe to be the best option, considering all the options available for us to consider. How we interrogate these options differs on an individual basis, due to hormones and other chemicals, as well as slightly differing levels of information, but in the moment we are picking the choice which we believe is most likely to get us what we desire. This means it's predetermined, as if you gave the same person, in the same mental state, the same options, they would always make the same choice (this is debatable, however I've seen no compelling evidence to show otherwise).

This seems reasonable to me, and means that free will is really just an extension of our desires. So, do we have free desires, or are they predetermined too? For this we need to think about where our desires come from. Lets take a basic example: Hunger. Hunger is a predetermined desire, it will always occur, due to the body's natural decay. Does that mean deciding to eat is also predetermined? I would argue that it is, and that the illusion of free will exists in the choice of 'what' to eat - however, if we only had one option, we would always take it, so I believe the choice of foods is just a more nuanced predetermination, which I'll elaborate on now.

I believe more nuanced desires are also predetermined, but due to the complexity of our senses and the scope of our lives, they appear to be random on an individual basis. I think we can all agree that a bacteria doesn't have free will, nor does a Jellyfish which doesn't even have a brain. A plant, too, doesn't have free will, all 3 are automatically responding to stimuli from their environment. Extrapolate from this, a bit, and you start to wonder: does a fly have free will? What about a bird? These creatures are all generally agreed to be operating on instinct, which would imply no free will, however once you reach cats and dogs, they start to seem more than the sum of their parts. Does a cat have free will, because it decides when to come and go? Or is it again, just operating on instinct? I'd argue the latter, based on the trend, and a lack of dogs committing suicide or acting irrationally - there's always an explanation for why a crazy dog is crazy.

So, what makes us more advanced than a dog? Sentience, perhaps? This is where it gets tricky, we consider ourselves more advanced than a dog, based on a measure that we created, and a concept of thought mechanisms that we invented ourselves. However, if every aspect of nature, up to humanity, is devoid of free will, the more rational possibility is that humanity invented the concept out of self-centeredness (the core of the evolutionary process).

Here's a hypothetical (or not) situation: When free will first arose, what drove the thoughts of the individual who was first blessed with it? Did they make their choices based on what was most likely to benefit them, and further their objectives? Did they still eat when hungry? Drink when thirsty? Sleep when tired? I believe that free will is simply an illusion, created when the complexity of predetermined thoughts became too much. An automated system, analysing itself, and deciding it is not automated, seems much more reasonable to me than a spontaneous, exclusive power of the human mind, allowing it to ignore the deterministic nature of the universe, despite the fact that galaxies, stars, planets, elements, atoms, cells, bacterium, plants, and animals all appear to follow these laws.

Quantum mechanics is the one possible out - if the quantum level is not deterministic, there's no reason for the brain to be, but I would put forth two points:

1) we have no guarantee quantum mechanics are not deterministic, we may not be advanced enough to understand their determinism

2) if quantum mechanics are truly random, all that gives us is the potential for random chance affecting our decisions - not exactly free will, any more than a computer program has free will if it is randomly generating lines of text.

I'll leave it at that, this was kind of a brain dump so any clarifications I can give, I will, if a comment is left.

  • If someone would like to tell me which parts of this they have issue with, and believe require additional references, I will be happy to add them, however from my perspective it is fairly self explanatory, so vaguely requesting references is pointless. Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 12:21
  • I wouldn't consider QM an out at all. Even if there is an inherent randomness to it, that randomness has a given probability distribution which can be calculated entirely from the physics of the system. There is no notion of "agency" in that distribution. Also, the fact that there is a distribution doesn't imply that "one of these things will happen". Indeed, all outcomes are happening at once, and we can calculate exactly how the superposition of those states evolve in time. In that sense, QM is still deterministic and we are advanced enough to understand that level of determinism. Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 19:26
  • Thanks for the comment, I'm inclined to agree with what you're saying Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 8:34

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