While reading this question about the existence of free will, I thought that the implications of stating nonexistence of free will can be at least as important (and interesting) as the main question itself.

Assuming that one accepts no free will. I thought about two levels in which it can affect our lives:

  1. as an individual:

Assume a person is told that she lacks free will. As a typical person, she ends up thinking:

"OK. Since whatever I do is predetermined, then I can do whatever I want (in some sense)."

and then she goes crazy (e.g. starts smoking, stops exercising and starts breaking the law etc.) completely deactivating her self-control.

Well, in my opinion, her thought seems only partially true. It is true that whatever she does is already predetermined and she can't control it whatsoever. But she is forgetting that all our actions have consequences (smoking significantly increases the chance of lung cancer, inactivity can lead to a heart attack). So although she can't choose what she does, her actions depend on her current state of mind which should've changed, after reading this statement (or in some other way).

So now she realises that her actions are as inevitable as their consequences, and to avoid those consequences, she should avoid the actions (and hopefully activate her self-control again)!

  1. as the society (the system of justice):

At first, not having free will may seem really horrible for our justice system. After all, no one can be held responsible for their actions. It is just the circumstances that led them to this point.

Again, I should disagree. Not inculpating anyone for their actions can be a perfect idea! In our current standpoint, we tend to demonise the criminals and cage them like animals (e.g. solitary) and then reason since they had free will, something intrinsically evil about them caused them to do bad.

Instead, if we accept they didn’t have a free will, we can concentrate on the causes of their actions like poverty, poor education or even psychological disorders. So, this view definitely doesn't say that we should let all criminals free. We should control and monitor them in whatever way appropriate and more importantly try to solve their problems as well.

Also, I think there should be some punishment involved. Not because we want to punish the person since they are evil, but to impact the mental state of society. So, in my first example (when that person decides to do whatever they want), thinking about this punishment would change their state of mind and prevent them from breaking the law.

I wish to know:

  1. Are there any other dilemmas when accepting the premise of no free will? What are the solutions to them?

  2. How reasonable are my solutions to the two problems above?

  • The implications are well-explored in the Wisdom literature. On this view freewill would be an illusion, as would agency.
    – user20253
    Feb 27, 2018 at 12:13
  • This might be of interest: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/84518/… Jun 29, 2022 at 6:25
  • Maybe we could agree that we are less free than we would like.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 30, 2023 at 3:40

10 Answers 10

  1. are there any other dilemmas when accepting the premise of no free will? what are the possible solutions to them?

There are logical dilemmas. If there is no free will, you can not do any accepting. You have no choice. Acceptance would be an illusion, and you would be simply watching, observing, recording all that is happening. You couldn't even have thoughts about what you were observing because that would require decisions. A solution would be to show people they do have free will.

  1. how reasonable are my solutions to the two problems above?

If one believes they have no free will then the solutions are unreasonable. Without free will, there can be no deciding how to solve problems. Without free will, no one can do anything about anything. For someone who wants to solve problems caused by people believing they do not have free will, there are some good solutions proposed, but they would be difficult to apply on a large scale. Also, excessive law and punishment becomes an infringement on free will, which historically has magnified issues.

  • 1
    The OP was asking about implications of having no free will. This just claims having no free will is impossible with non sequiturs.
    – k0pernikus
    Jul 22, 2017 at 22:06
  • 1
    Logically, this is the implication of having no free will. It is possible to have no free will, that is not my claim. Jul 22, 2017 at 22:08
  • 1
    Anyway, that is not what the OP was asking, I quoted what was asked. If anything else, the solution is to clarify to people that they have free will. Jul 22, 2017 at 22:23
  • I edited my answer after some thought on your comment. Jul 22, 2017 at 22:39
  • Thought! Hah, likely story.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 27, 2023 at 21:34

How reasonable are my solutions to the two problems above?

I mean most of the language you use in 1. and 2. is still active verbs. You're still arguing from a framework of free will. Like "she" wouldn't be deliberately acting, contemplating, making decisions, reflecting upon her decisions. Because in determinism "she" would never have existed in the first place. The concept of her, would only ever have made sense to an external observer who sees a body doing stuff and so projects attributes upon it.

But inside herself there wouldn't be a sense of a self. It would just be an organic computer or some sort of machine that simply interacts passively with it's environment. So knowledge about it wouldn't make "her" change, you'd just manipulate it's inputs and so maybe get a different result maybe get the same result.

Now you can argue "But what if the human consciousness is a result of a deterministic process". Like tons of different organs and organisms formed a Leviathan to do the macro-management and make decisions. And that "thing" actually makes decisions, processes things and reflects upon is inputs and generates algorithms on how to deal with nature and sets them into action by signalling the respective organs. And because of it's usefulness to the other organs, actually "thinks" of itself as an agent because not being an agent and able to run ones algorithms is detrimental and works against the inner workings which would deterministically act against that.

Then the question is: Will that be substantially different from a free will. Would the individual be able to tell the difference? And does it even matter to the individual?

Like seriously the most likely scenario is that the other person will simply laugh at you if you tell them that they are a human robot. For all intents and purposes they have no reason to believe you. I mean cogito ergo sum (I think therefor I am) has once been postulated as pretty much the most fundamental piece of knowledge and marks the foundation for all further knowledge, so whatever you come up with as an explanation for why I shouldn't exist can only be wrong. Because the rejection of ones own self is incomprehensible for one's own self. So if it makes literally no sense, why should you reasonably accept that conclusion rather than questioning the premises?

Like even if you think of dream or coma, then no, dream is the self interacting with itself (I'm still present in that) and coma isn't real for the self. Sure people might tell you that tons of time have passed while you were in deep dreamless sleep (I don't know how coma actually works), but for all intents and purposes they are probably just lying. I mean you can convince yourself that they aren't actually deliberately lying by idk looking at other people in coma, figuring out how recordings work and that people are not smart enough to fake them, but that still doesn't change the fact that for the self it's on/off situation with nothing in between so there is no concept of what the in between is like. It's almost impossible to comprehend that ("almost" only because I don't know if you couldn't enter a stage of insanity where it makes sense). So no the most likely reaction is to ignore it, reject it, get defensive because of what this act of dehumanization might entails and so on.

What you seem to be thinking of is not so much if you were actually a deterministic machine, but if someone erroneously told you that you are (or you think they are erroneous in that). Like if people told you they can't actually see you and you thought "Great! I'm invisible" and started fooling around with that idea until you get bored with it.

  1. as the society (the system of justice):

Well nothing really changes. If you can't comprehend the ways in which another things is acting you might as well assume it's a subject rather than an object. I mean seriously look at how people treat their computers or cars for that matter. They essentially assume a "personality" in things for which beyond any reasonable doubt know, that they are inanimate objects with a deterministic logic. But as they don't comprehend how it works and just observe inputs and outputs of it they still derive a way to interact with them.

So you could argue that we're doing it wrong, because we don't understand how humans work. But then again what has changed? I mean it's not like we aren't already trying to understand how humans work. Or that even if our actions are based on completely fallacious logic, still don't achieve at least some desirable outcome (for the people doing them, not necessarily for the people upon whom they are done). So similar to kicking your computer and seeing it work again, things might not work because of our narrative but despite of it. But again that isn't remotely new and doesn't change anything, does it?

So it's a question of whether you apply a reductionist perspective that tries to understand humans by it's parts and their interaction or whether you look at them in terms of a holistic approach and try to make sense of them as a blackbox and the sum of their interactions with their environment. Though both approaches are currently so shallow in their explanation of humans that it doesn't yet matter and we kinda apply both, aren't we. So regardless of the question of free will and determinism to which most are kinda agnostic ("it matters when it matters otherwise we don't know and don't care").

Also in terms of your statements on what that would entail. Well it could be that or it could be the complete opposite of that.

At first, not having free will may seem really horrible for our justice system. After all, no one can be held responsible for their actions. It is just the circumstances that led them to this point.

Even with free will many crimes are a result of their circumstances. Like yes it might be a choice between options, but being left with shitty options and no positive perspective (either because there is none or because you're not aware of it) is a result of your circumstances.

Not inculpating anyone for their actions can be a perfect idea! In our current standpoint, we tend to demonise the criminals and cage them like animals (e.g. solitary) and then reason since they had free will, something intrinsically evil about them caused them to do bad.

I mean determinism would really dehumanize and objectify the "other thing" and it could very well be "intrinsically evil" like something in their algorithm processes harmless information in a very wrong way. So reactions like "keep it away" and "kill it with fire" might be "rational", though not very thought through but rather simplistic and brutal.

Instead, if we accept they didn’t have a free will, we can concentrate on the causes of their actions like poverty, poor education or even psychological disorders.

Nothing stopping you from doing that regardless. And you seem to be aware that this is not conclusive that determinism will lead to more understanding and less punishment as you yourself argue for punishment because of it.

So yeah that's pretty much a non sequitur and you can be a good person or an asshole regardless of free will or determinism (at least what we currently think of that).

The problem that I see with determinism is that people are too easy to accept that for other people and thus treat them as tools and as expandable, but are almost incapable of accepting it for themselves so that this assumption often has nasty side effects.

  • 1
    Good comments. +1 for agency-- all the "should" language presupposes a DECIDER, which determinism prohibits. +1 for noting that how one should pragmatically interact with people would not change, as the determinists assume their algorithms produce the same outputs as free will. ++1 for noting the moral/psychological effect of belief in determinism often leads to IMMORAL behavior and less agency by the holder. -1 for assuming that determinism must mean reductive eliminativism vs selfhood. Many current determinists are eliminative -- but determinists CAN accept causation runs thru mind/self.
    – Dcleve
    Jun 29, 2022 at 14:43
  • +1 for agency, yes. The word of the century, as we try to create it ourselves with AI. Figure out how to deny free will after that happens!
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 27, 2023 at 21:21

Your question is internally inconsistent. If it is true that we have no free will, then the consequences are already visible for you to see, since you live in a world in which we all behave deterministically. How we decide to treat criminals, for example, is all out of our control, as, indeed, is the choice about whether we accept we have free will.

Your question on the one hand assumes we have no free will, and on the other assumes we are free to choose how we respond to that limitation.

  • The question is not internally inconsistent. The free will concept is inconsistent. Cuz a free assumes that someone was a slave. So, all wills are determined by moving from slave condition to free condition. Main that wills/wishes is already determined by the initial slave state. That is inconsistent. Jan 29, 2023 at 8:26

Consequences to oneself: none (or some)

There are no (rational) consequences to oneself to accepting that one doesn't have free will.

You would still have the exact same thought processes with or without the belief that free will exists, and regardless of whether or not those thoughts are entirely driven by external forces.

To think that "I don't have free will so I can do whatever I want" is to make a decision, which undermines the very principle driving that decision, which is that you can't make your own decisions.

It would be like a (non-AI) computer trying to argue that, because they were programmed by a human, they can do whatever they want without concern. This very reasoning process will need to have been included in their programming, and what they're able to do would also need to be included in their programming. So for them to say they're able to do whatever they want is simply false, because they must still consider the ramifications of their actions (assuming they were programmed to do this). If you're looking for a reason to be a bad person, then one can certainly convince oneself that a lack of free will (or a bad childhood, or one of a number of other things) provides that for you, but it just doesn't. You'd just be choosing to be a bad person. The only real difference is whether it would theoretically be possible to know what you'd choose in advance.

You can decide to be a good or bad person, to harm others or help them, and you don't get to absolve yourself of moral responsibility for that decision by saying "well, I don't have free will", because you did get to make that decision, and your decision caused harm, and that's the part that makes you morally responsible.

Should thinking about the consequences of your actions counteract believing you don't have free will? Yes, and no. You should think about the consequences of your actions whether free will exists or not. That's just how you act morally. Consequentialism is a decent (but not perfect) moral principle.

However, this is not to say any given person's response to the idea of free will won't be one of the irrational ones described above or an emotional response like feeling hopeless (which I wouldn't consider to be rationally justified, not that emotions are rational).

* Some describe the above as "living one's life as if you have free will", but that's nonsense. You cannot live as if you have free will and you cannot live as if you don't, because any attempt to consider that, one way or the other, would undermine itself (as I argued above). Although there is one caveat: our future self (as well as our past self - see the below section on guilt). If you, for example, decide to not have snacks in your house, because you know your future self wouldn't be able to exercise restraint, this is arguably acceptance that you don't have free will (at least not in that context). This doesn't undermine itself, because you're making a decision now based not on whether that decision is free, but whether a future decision would be free. This sort of thinking is something that many (or most, or all?) people follow. So maybe I'd revise this and say you can live as if you have free will, but many or most people don't (regardless of whether they'd agree that they have "free will").

Recontextualising guilt

Accepting that we don't have free will can help one accept one's past mistakes.

Rather than feeling guilty, you can realise that your past mistakes were influenced by your environment, and you can figure out how to not make such mistakes again in future.

I think, in general, guilt is not a particularly healthy emotion (with or without free will). Yes, it helps us to realise when we did a bad thing, and that's good, but we should strive to not do bad things in future, rather than dwelling on the bad things we did in the past.

On a related note, I consider the best apology to be not doing it again.

Consequences to society / justice: some

(but it's a complicated question)

You certainly touch on many of the correct ideas.

On a basic level, yes, we can realise that other people's actions are driven by their environment.

This would mean we:

  • Fix societal problems leading to crime, like poverty, poor education and poor mental health support. Although just being a decent human being should make one want to address those things.
  • Possibly let some criminals go free, if they aren't deemed to be a threat to others.
  • Have human conditions in all prisons. But again, just being a decent human being should make one want this.
  • Don't just lock people up in prison and forget about them for a while, but try to figure out how to help them understand why their actions were wrong and how to stop them from doing it again. As an example, if someone did harm to others due to racism, one might push them towards social work with people of other races, in order to get them to not see those people as inferior, but rather as equals (this particular idea may or may not work, it's just a very basic idea).
  • Retain some consequences for harmful actions, as a deterrent for future criminals, and as "justice" for victims*. Although prison sentences (particularly long sentences) is a questionable/unlikely deterrent to crime, and may even have the opposite effect, and even the US Department of Justice, of all institutions, agrees.
  • View incitement and hate speech more negatively. If someone's words leads to others committing crimes, we may say some moral responsibility of that rests upon the speaker. There are already many laws to this effect, including in the US, which is known for having the least restrictions on speech. These laws are arguably already based on the idea that people aren't all that free, but we might also extend these laws further. Or we might merely say the speaker has moral responsibility without enshrining this into law.

* "Justice" may perhaps not be entirely rational, but then humans aren't entirely rational. We may want to "punish" a criminal just because they did a bad thing. While we shouldn't run too far with that, we could potentially keep some remnants of that for particularly egregious crimes where criminals may otherwise meet criteria for release, just because we don't want to live in a world where someone can do such a thing and "get away with it".

  • "To think that "I don't have free will so I can do whatever I want" is to make a decision" but if there is no free will, that "decision" is not a decision, but a consequences by the genetics that built your brain originally and the inputs it received since its construction. The "decision" (and "decision", and thus also any action one takes) would just be an output based on inputs. Like a machine, largely deterministic. Mar 4 at 12:56

The philosopher Peter F. Strawson did a lot of thinking on this topic. He was in the determinist camp but he had some interesting thoughts and conclusions on the subject that may save the OP from having to reinvent the wheel. Do search: Peter F. Strawson on free will; check out the first one up. As with all reading in philosophy, it takes a bit of work to acclimate yourself to the philosopher's particular use of terms, vocabulary and so on.

  • 5
    “Do search: Peter F. Strawson on free will; check out the first one up.” — Why are you so confident that the first link will be useful? Note that the first link you get on your search is not necessarily the first link someone else will get on their search. To begin with, they may use another search engine. Or use the same search engine, but in another country. And thanks to personalization, even the same search engine in the same country may give different results, or order them differently.
    – celtschk
    Feb 27, 2018 at 5:57
  • @celtschk Yes, you are correct. Thank you for pointing this out to me.
    – Gordon
    Feb 27, 2018 at 14:02
  • Search engines seem strangely non-deterministic. I wonder what they are trying to pull?
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 27, 2023 at 21:32

If she is forgetting the consequence, then either she was pre-determined to forget them, or determinism is wrong.

Also, for our justice system, whether we demonize criminals, or hold them responsible, or let them off entirely, is also pre-determined. If we concentrate on a cause, that was as predetermined as anything the criminal did as a consequence.

You can not choose anything in a system of determinism.

  • Right, it is a self-invalidating mind mistake.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 27, 2023 at 21:23
  • This is strictly true but operationally false. Operationally, I experience choice although intellectually I believe that experience to be an illusion. In the OPs post, their point is that circumstances (such as knowledge of consequences) will constrain the persons choices regardless of whether they do or do not believe in free will.
    – philosodad
    Jan 5 at 14:55
  • @philosodad Then that was pre-determined.
    – Mary
    Jan 5 at 23:38
  • Obviously, yes. But we experience choice operationally, and that informs our behavior deterministically. So what you're sort of saying is "you can't behave the way you behave and feel the way you feel unless this thing that isn't necessary for your behavior and feelings exists". And that's clearly not true, you can experience choice and experience caring about choices while not believing in free will.
    – philosodad
    Jan 6 at 3:20
  • @philosodad "I believe" is also an illusion w/o free will. Everything you think is an illusion. But an illusion of whom… or rather what? If we're just biochemical machines, it's illusions all the way down. "Cogito ergo sum", what an idiot. Mar 4 at 13:06

If we have no free will, then when we go from believing we have it, to unbelief, there is some deterministic cause for the switch. Afterwards, we might not ever think of ourselves in general deterministic terms, because whatever would trigger that thought might not come into play. The cause of our unbelief would be a one-off event, perhaps.

So afterwards, how many of our actions would be caused by our unbelief? But suppose they were caused by other beliefs, or by things besides beliefs altogether. Then we would be doing whatever those things caused us to do, and we might not even take into consideration how the old free-will question was "relevant." If we saw a person being violent, we might be caused to run away in fear, and ignore information about how the violence turned out on a larger scale. Or some local cause (perhaps some local belief) might prompt us to intervene. But I don't know that the mere general unbelief in free will would be doing much causing of actions, then.

This whole issue reminds me of Kant's talk of "acting under the idea of freedom." Suppose all our actions are caused by our desires. But then suppose we strongly desire, indeed more than anything else, that our actions be effects of free will. So our mere (quasi-physical) concept of free will, under our desire, will cause our actions. So how would this cause have a deterministic effect? But then it seems that, if we had no free will, nothing would ever cause us to have a belief in it, much less a desire for it to be real (if we thought it might not be real in the first place).

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    This answer gets into the internal psychology of how our minds would work in a deterministc world. One argument is that they would be no different, hence belief in determinism would have no effect whatsoever. However, I have read in multiple places, determinists admit they find they cannot live their lives according to a determinist mindset, so while they think determinism to be true, yet they LIVE like they have free will. This last point, is actually evidence FOR free will -- as belief in determinism DOES have a detrimental effect on the person, and society,
    – Dcleve
    Jun 29, 2022 at 14:56
  • "nothing would ever cause us to have a belief in it, much less a desire for it to be real" An agent in a deterministic universe might develop a desire not to be manipulated, controlled, or too easily predicted by other agents, and then upon learning about determinism, might anthropomorphize laws of nature + initial conditions as a sort of super-agent that is manipulating/predicting them, and dislike the idea for this reason, defining "free will" in a basically negative way as something that defies that sort of determinism (IRL the def. of libertarian free will seems purely negative).
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 29, 2022 at 17:51
  • @Hypnosifl, true, depending on what concept of free will we're talking about, we might be talking about a concept whose possession by us can be deterministically caused. I have had a hell of time over on r/philosophy arguing over this very point 🤣 Jun 29, 2022 at 21:15
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    @ScottRowe - I would say an important distinction here is Darwinian natural systems vs. non-Darwinian ones like falling rocks or rainbows. You yourself mention peacock tails as having function right after saying "Nature doesn't seem to produce non-functional attributes", but isn't Darwinian evolution an example of how nature can produce function without a conscious mind needed? (unless you don't believe the theory is right) As for minds, there are theories of how the brain produces intentional behavior that involve quasi-Darwinian processes of variation and selection among groups of neurons.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 28, 2023 at 19:49
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    @ScottRowe must they be? Must no contradiction ever be true? Or, at least, what if some people have free will, and others lack it, or some have weaker wills than others? Perhaps those who live lives of "indulgence" both fail to cultivate their free will, and even undermine what they start out with. So perhaps some people can literally "perceive" their own lack, or possession, of free will. I'm not really sure... Jan 29, 2023 at 12:55

(adapting my other answer regarding consequences of (dis)belief in free will)

How (dis)belief in free will and agency affects human behavior has been tackled by scientists and obliquely by some philosophers. Philosophical arguments, for example, about responsibility or rationality related to free will are obviously relevant to consequnces about (dis)belief in free will.

Experiments have hinted at how disbelief in free will and agency tends to increase both aggression and conformity as well as attitudes towards criminal behavior and punishment.

Does disbelief in free will reduce people's willingness to exert the effort needed for autonomous thought and action rather than simply conforming to group norms? Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be associated with greater conformity than a belief in free will. In Study 1 (correlational), participants who expressed a greater belief in free will reported that they were less likely to conform in a variety of situations than participants who expressed greater disbelief in free will. In Study 2 (experimental), participants who were induced to disbelieve in free will conformed significantly more to the opinions of ostensible other participants when judging paintings than participants in free will and control conditions. In Study 3 (experimental), participants who were induced to disbelieve in free will conformed significantly more to experimenter-provided examples than participants in a meaning-threat control condition, as well as more than those encouraged to believe in free will. These findings suggest that belief in free will contributes to autonomous action and resisting temptations and pressures to conform.

Determined to conform: Disbelief in free will increases conformity

Laypersons' belief in free will may foster a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy, thereby promoting helpfulness and reducing aggression, and so disbelief in free will may make behavior more reliant on selfish, automatic impulses and therefore less socially desirable. Three studies tested the hypothesis that disbelief in free will would be linked with decreased helping and increased aggression. In Experiment 1, induced disbelief in free will reduced willingness to help others. Experiment 2 showed that chronic disbelief in free will was associated with reduced helping behavior. In Experiment 3, participants induced disbelief in free will caused participants to act more aggressively than others. Although the findings do not speak to the existence of free will, the current results suggest that disbelief in free will reduces helping and increases aggression.

Prosocial benefits of feeling free: disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness

Do free will beliefs influence moral judgments? Answers to this question from theoretical and empirical perspectives are controversial. This study attempted to replicate past research and offer theoretical insights by analyzing World Values Survey data from residents of 46 countries (n = 65,111 persons). Corroborating experimental findings, free will beliefs predicted intolerance of unethical behaviors and support for severe criminal punishment. Further, the link between free will beliefs and intolerance of unethical behavior was moderated by variations in countries’ institutional integrity, defined as the degree to which countries had accountable, corruption-free public sectors. Free will beliefs predicted intolerance of unethical behaviors for residents of countries with high and moderate institutional integrity, but this correlation was not seen for countries with low institutional integrity. Free will beliefs predicted support for criminal punishment regardless of countries’ institutional integrity. Results were robust across different operationalizations of institutional integrity and with or without statistical control variables.

Free will beliefs predict attitudes toward unethical behavior and criminal punishment

Philosophically it has been argued that free will is a necessary ingredient for rationality and acting in rational ways.

In this thesis, I give an a priori argument in defense of libertarian free will. I conclude that given certain presuppositions, the ability to do otherwise is a necessary requirement for substantive rationality; the ability to think and act in light of reasons. ‘Transcendental’ arguments to the effect that determinism is inconsistent with rationality are predominantly forwarded in a Kantian manner. Their incorporation into the framework of critical philosophy renders the ontological status of their claims problematic; rather than being claims about how the world really is, they end up being claims about how the mind must conceive of it. To make their ontological status more secure, I provide a rationalist framework that turns them from claims about how the mind must view the world into claims about the ontology of rational agents. In the first chapter, I make some preliminary remarks about reason, reasons and rationality and argue that an agent’s access to alternative possibilities is a necessary condition for being under the scope of normative reasons. In the second chapter, I motivate rationalism about a priori justification. In the third chapter, I present the rationalist argument for libertarian free will and defend it against objections. Several objections rest on a compatibilist understanding of an agent’s abilities. To undercut them, I devote the fourth chapter, in which I give a new argument for incompatibilism between free will and determinism, which I call the situatedness argument for incompatibilism. If the presuppositions of the thesis are granted and the situatedness argument works, then we may be justified in thinking that to the extent that we are substantively rational, we are free in the libertarian sense.

A rationalist argument for libertarian free will

It has been argued, for example by G. Strawson, that ultimate responsibility is impossible, thus belief in free will, regarding (ultimate) responsibility, is in some sense useless. For an answer to Strawson's argument and similar arguments see the post: Strawson on Free Will: What are the most persuasive challenges to his position?

Further references:

  1. Does encouraging a belief in determinism increase cheating? Reconsidering the value of believing in free will
  2. Determined to conform: Disbelief in free will increases conformity
  3. Prosocial benefits of feeling free: disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness
  4. Belief in free will: Integration into social cognition models to promote health behavior
  • "Participants induced" to a belief will behave differently than participants who have actually marinated in those beliefs for a couple of days, so I'm not sure I agree with the methodology of these studies. There are obvious counter-examples such as major religions that foster both a belief in free will and extreme submission to authority.
    – philosodad
    Jan 5 at 14:58
  • @philosodad of course there can be variations and exceptions.
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 5 at 16:27
  • I'm not so much pointing out variations or exceptions as I am saying that a researcher who believes that not only can they induce a disbelief in free will in an individual, but that the attitudes of that individual are not effected by having their entire world view changed suddenly (that is, the researcher ignores the variable of psychological shock), is not a researcher whose methodology I can trust.
    – philosodad
    Jan 5 at 16:33
  • @philosodad obviously it can be done to some extend. Many psychological and sociological studies are made this way.
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 5 at 16:36
  • @philosodad for example one can provide false scientific research showing that this behavior has been proven to be wholy genetic or similar. So a disbelief in free will can result for this specific behavior.
    – Nikos M.
    Jan 5 at 16:41

You have free will or you don’t. Whether you accept that you have free will or that you don’t doesn’t change that. You may have no free will and no choice than to accept that you do, or you may have free will and out of your own free will accept that you don’t. So whatever you accepted may be wrong.

Accepting that you don’t have free will doesn’t give you any excuse for misbehaving. First because you may be wrong, so you misbehave out of your own free will, and should suffer the consequences. Or you don’t have free will, then you may suffer consequences for your bad behaviour. Well, too bad for you, but nobody cares that you have no free will. If you slap your boss in the face because you have no free will you get fired. If you kill your children because you have no free will you go to jail until the end of your life. Tell the judge, and he’ll say “Well tough, I have no free will so I have to send you to jail.” And your kids are dead.


"OK. Since whatever I do is predetermined, then I can do whatever I want (in some sense)."

And this actually is fallacious, because actions being predetermined implies you can (or, at least, will) do only one thing, not "whatever you want". If anything, doing whatever you want would be a result of having the "free will".

Then again, fallacies are common in everyday thought, so of course such an outcome is not unlikely. But what's important here is that the cause of her behavior (such as smoking) would be a result of an incorrect interpretation of "whatever I do is predetermined", not of a proper understanding of that statement and therefore of a proper belief in a lack of "free will."

she can't choose what she does

This also depends on what you mean by choice. An NPC in a game can choose, in a sense, one move or another depending on its algorithm and whatever the player does, even though no one argues NPCs have "free will." The choice in this case is based on the knowledge of the environment and that knowledge is limited. Basically, the algorithm has to be "prepared" for different outcomes because of this limited knowledge, even if everything in the world is determined in advance. The algorithm simply does not know how it is determined.

Since an NPC is capable of making such a choice, the ability for a choice depending on the environment does not imply "free will" either. However, it seems that all that practically matters is the ability to choose depending on the environment and not to choose different in absolutely identical environments. Even if the latter is possible, it'd be an argument for merely a stochastic mind rather than "free will." And practically speaking, why would a rational agent choose different, as opposed to correct (within their limitations imposed by a lack of knowledge), in identical environments?

At first, not having free will may seem really horrible for our justice system. After all, no one can be held responsible for their actions.

It's merely an argument against punitive justice. For example, if serial killers with an urge to kill can't behave differently, then you try to prevent them from doing it using force: namely, by putting them in a prison. Of course, we still require that the person commits the crime first, but it's possible to argue it's just because humans can never predict the future correctly, so we can never tell a person will kill someone in advance. And it's on those grounds, and not on the grounds of "free will" that we require the crime must precede the legal action. This still would be preventive justice, just with a failsafe check.

Also, I think there should be some punishment involved. Not because we want to punish the person since they are evil, but to impact the mental state of society.

This could still be preventive justice, just because we know that the fear of consequences makes most people behave differently, it works as a deterrent.

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