Here is what I think: Every action that takes place in this universe (Including me, writing this) is a consequence of motion and interaction of particles and energy transformation. All our thoughts are also the result of those same interactions of matter and energy in our minds. And they are happening in this exact way because the things were arranged in this exact manner. So, something else is actually deciding what happens everywhere. Then , can we conclude that we don't have freewill ? What are the contradictions to this ?

  • 2
    You have assumed determinism. So, if that assumption is granted, how would there be free will? – IsThatTrue Apr 24 '18 at 18:35
  • 3
    What exactly do you mean by free will? See eg compatibilism – Canyon Apr 24 '18 at 20:38
  • This is a naive version of Laplacian determinism based on classical physics. But quantum particles do not behave "in exact way" due to the uncertainty principle, and nothing determines what they do, it is random. So the premises of your argument are considered false by modern physics. But there are more careful variations on it with more modest conclusions that are more plausible, e.g. Tegmark's "brain is too wet, warm, and noisy". – Conifold Apr 24 '18 at 22:15
  • Erwin Schrodinger applies much the same logic and concludes that the only possibility is that he is God and controls the motion of the atoms. This is the 'perennial' philosophical view. For this view freewill would be a misunderstanding. Afaik no view requires that 'something else' decides what happens. The laws of the world would decide what happens. – user20253 Apr 25 '18 at 9:51
  • @PeterJ and who decided those laws of world ? – 0xVikas Apr 25 '18 at 17:52

This is the standard argument against free will on the basis of physical determinism.

And there are several standard replies to this:

  1. Maybe your premise that everything is physical (i.e. that everything is a "consequence of consequence of motion and interaction of particles and energy transformation" as you put it) is false. Dualism is the view that human consciousness is not physical, and most dualists believe that human consciousness can causally effect things. Of course, how exactly non-physical things effect physical things is not clear. And even more pressingly, if we have determinism, whether it is physical determinism or non-physical determinism (i.e. whether our decision are determined by out physical and/or non-physical constitution), the "we can't do otherwise" argument against free will still stands.

  2. It is also possible that not everything is causally determined by the current state of things. This view is called Indeterminism. Many people point to quantum physics as supporting a kind of indeterminism. Of course, how quantum indeterminism saves the notion of free will is not clear either. For one, even if we have indeterminism at the micro-quantum, we may still have, what is for all intents and purposes, determinism at, say, the neuronal macro-level And again, even more pressingly, while determinism seems to rule out the 'free' part of free will, with indeterminism we seem to lose the 'will' part of free will, as this would seem to imply that we can no longer 'control' our actions.

  3. Finally, we can think of 'free will' as 'voluntary' or 'not being forced to do something'. For example, if someone forces me to give you $100, then that action is not out out of my free will, but if no one forces me, then I can give that $100 out of my 'own volition', or 'free will'. Psychologists certainly make a difference between compulsive behavior and voluntary behavior, and this difference is also used in court cases to determine how 'responsible' someone is, and whether someone needs punishment or treatment. This kind of 'free will' is compatible with determinism. For example, a chess computer makes its moves on the basis of contemplating possible moves and deciding which of those seems to have the best prospect. The moves are, as such, the result of the computer's own doing or volition; no one is reaching in and swapping bit strings while the program is running. And if the computer comes equipped with grippers to move the actual pieces, no one is forcefully grabbing those grippers and making them move a piece. So, we can say the chess computer has its own 'free will' ... even as its moves are fully determined by its program; were we to put the computer in the same state, it will make the exact same move. And if physical determinism is true, then the same would be true for humans and their minds and brains: put in the exact same situation, and with the exact same brain state, we will go through the exact same neural and cognitive processes, and make the exact same decisions. And yet, because it is exactly because it is our mind that lead to that decision, rather than someone else grabbing our arms to make us do something, we can say that we have 'free will'. This position is called compatibilism.

| improve this answer | |
  • Great answer. Just to add: Galen Strawson would deny that (1) is a refutation. His point is that we do what we do because of who we are, and whether we are partly immaterial or not, we do not choose who we are, so we are ultimately not the source of our actions. For (3), you might as well mention the label for this view, "Compatibilism" and link it to the SEP. (Also, do you really mean "effect" instead of "affect"? Because it actually is a correct use here, depending on what you mean, and you don't often see "effect" used as a verb, but it's a good verb. – Chelonian Apr 25 '18 at 13:14
  • Strawson's point on video: youtube.com/watch?v=KV5_bHwaUBM – Chelonian Apr 25 '18 at 13:24
  • @Chelonian Thanks! Yes, I had already thought about adding that point about 1 ... now I certainly will! – Bram28 Apr 25 '18 at 14:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.