What I am asking is this: does the notion of free will require

  1. A weak form of dualism
  2. Top-down causality

as necessary conditions? Does this entail that not everything which is a physical effect have a physical cause?

Note: I am merely asking if those are necessary conditions, not if free will does, indeed, exist.

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    I made small edits which you may roll back if you find them inappropriate or continue editing further. You could say that quantum indeterminism is an example of a physical effect having no physical cause. Mark Balaguer's Free Will shows how one could, given physicalism, have free will based on an indeterminism in our brains. That would imply neither dualism nor top-down causality as I read it. Jun 22, 2018 at 14:53
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    Yes. If there is no mental causation (or no mental interference in the causal process) then there is no freewill.
    – user20253
    Jun 23, 2018 at 11:20
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    The "notion of free will" is too vague a concept for this to be answerable. Physicalism gives "no" answers to both.
    – Conifold
    Jun 26, 2018 at 17:46
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    This is called agent causation. To the extent that it simply refers to initiating new causal chains it neither coincides with free will (electrons do that during double slit experiments) nor requires anything fanciful. And to the extent that it refers to "agency" beyond that it is no less vague than "free will". Loose notions of this sort "require" nothing in particular. The big problem is to spell out what "free will" or "agency" means beyond the determinism/chance dichotomy.
    – Conifold
    Jun 26, 2018 at 18:22
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    "Free will" is not nonsense, it is a provisional concept like "water" was before the advance of chemistry. One would have had hard time extracting necessary conditions out of "transparent tasteless liquid found in lakes and good for drinking", especially with all the qualifiers attached. At this time we simply lack theory to provide an analog of H2O for free will, it labels an open field of research.
    – Conifold
    Jun 26, 2018 at 18:49

2 Answers 2


The notion of free will does not require either dualism where mental activity controls physical effects nor top-down causality. That is, there exist descriptions of free will that could be called "causal indeterminist or event-causal libertarian" views of free will as Robert Kane describes his own position.

The overview to Mark Balaguer's Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem describes a similar position to Kane's:

...contrary to the traditional wisdom, the libertarian question reduces to a question about indeterminacy—in particular, to a straightforward empirical question about whether certain neural events in our heads are causally undetermined in a certain specific way; in other words, Balaguer argues that the right kind of indeterminacy would bring with it all of the other requirements for libertarian free will.

That indeterminacy is present at the quantum level implies that it cannot be ruled out at the human level and so the problem of free will is open and from a physicalist perspective is a scientific problem.


Mark Balaguer, Free Will, MIT Press, 2014.

Mark Balaguer, Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem, MIT Press, 2012

Robert Kane, "Free Will: New Foundations for an Ancient Problem", Proceedings of the British Academy: 48 (1962), pp. 1-25, (Reprinted 2009 in Hackett Readings in Philosophy, Free Will)

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    But, even if "certain neural events in our heads are causally undetermined in a specific way" that doesn't mean we have free will. Indeterminacy does not entail free will. Afterall, we could be subject to a certain form of randomness without this entailing we have control. Have i understood your position correctly? Jun 22, 2018 at 16:29
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    @NikolajDiRondò Indeterminacy only allows for the possibility of free will given a physicalist position. It doesn't require it. Both Kane and Balaguer provide a way for libertarianism to be true without dualism or top-down causality. In other words a libertarian is not required to believe in dualism or top-down causality. Jun 22, 2018 at 16:36
  • Would you care to elaborate further your answer? I am interested in such a perpesctive. The difficulty i am running into is the following: when i make a choice a neural event cause another neural event in a non deterministic fashion , can i truly say I am making a choice? Am i really in control of what happens? Jun 22, 2018 at 16:45
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    @NikolajDiRondò You may be in control. According to Balaguer the claims that we don't have free will, often heard today, are premature. The science does not support that yet and a result is unlikely even during our lifetimes. Balaguer provides a very clear presentation of the problem in his short book, Free Will. Also there is a chat room open for questions related to this which you are welcome to be part of: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/76868/… Jun 22, 2018 at 16:56

The biofunctional analogy may help: biofunctional explanations are causal, involving interactions among the concepts of inhertitance, random mutation, and natural selection. Yet it seems undeniable that lower level causes - biochemical, physical - can fully account for these biofunctional events. We observers detect the biochemical causes, but they don't seem to have any other function; they aren't part of what the emergentist Lloyd Morgan aptly called the "Go of the world". And yet if the lower level causes are there, so, automatically given the nature of reality, are the higher.

Can we carry this reasoning to the case of mental causation? Suppose my wanting a drink and as a result filling a glass just is another description of an immensely complex lower level causal process - it is not caused by that process but simply is that process. I don't think that renders beliefs and desires epiphenomenal in a perjorative sense; they are both real, being the same thing, and not only that but the higher level, intentional characterization is very much richer, more informationally compressed, more meaningful than the lower. I think it should strike us as awesome that the basic stuff of the universe evidently has the ability to organize itself in this way

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