If a world is a record (a film), then this scenario does not have conditional rules, i.e., if it can be implemented as a computer program, it will not have "if ... then ..." commands.

If a world is a game, then this scenario can have conditional rules. Such a world uses "if ... then ..." commands, but given a machine more powerful than the one running the reality, it can predict the future precisely.

The third position holds that it is impossible to construct a machine predicting the future. One of the options here would involve a truly random number generator in our universe.

So, is it correct to associate the first option with hard determinism, the second with soft determinism and the third with libertarianism, or not? Is there a consensus among philosophers on this topic?

  • It is not correct, and these metaphors are way too simplistic to even grasp what the problem of free will is, let alone approach its solutions. It is roughly to combine indeterminism (or credible illusion of it) and control in a single scheme and make it compatible with a version of physics, randomness and predictability are side issues.
    – Conifold
    Jul 15, 2018 at 22:42
  • Possible duplicate of Is free will a third option aside from chance and necessity?
    – Conifold
    Jul 15, 2018 at 22:43
  • @Conifold, sorry, but I don't see how this question is similar. I mean that actions in a record (a film) a hardly predetermined and actions in a game are predictable, but it's unclear if they are predetermined.
    – rus9384
    Jul 16, 2018 at 9:19
  • @Conifold, and the problem of free will is no more than a problem of physical laws. Does a computer program have free will? I don't accept mind-body dualism, so, for me, if humans have free will, a computer program has it either. But even with dualism mind should be seen as a part of reality (it affects the universe which is real, hence it's real). This question is just about what various philosophical stances really mean.
    – rus9384
    Jul 16, 2018 at 10:27
  • The leap from the lack of mind-body dualism to computer programs escapes me, and what they mean can not be expressed in such simplistic analogies. Your may benefit more from reading SEP's Free Will at this point.
    – Conifold
    Jul 16, 2018 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


The OP considers three scenarios that I will make more specific by relating them to characters in a movie and asking whether these characters have free will.

First, consider the scenario of a movie that has no conditional rules, that is, there is no button the characters can click to get an alternate ending. This is associated with "hard determinism" because the characters in the movie have no free will.

Second, consider the scenario that takes that same movie, but allows for two alternate endings. On Mondays, one ending will play. On the other days of the week, the other ending will play. This scenario includes conditional rules and because of that is associated with "soft determinism".

Third, consider the scenario where the ending of the movie is not picked by whether the day of the week is Monday or not, but by a truly random number generator and so in this scenario it is impossible to construct a machine to precisely predict which of the two movie endings a character will be in. This is associated with "libertarianism".

There are two questions.

So, is it correct to associate the first option with hard determinism, the second with soft determinism and the third with libertarianism, or not?

Is there a consensus among philosophers on this topic?

Answers to the second question are primarily opinion based unless there exists a reliable poll of philosophers on this question that can be cited.

This answer will only address the first question.

Briefly, hard determinism should have no problem with any of the three scenarios because a deterministic program could accommodate all three scenarios. Any of these three scenarios would be acceptable to a compatibilist as long as the movie had a happy ending. Libertarians would likely reject all of these three scenarios as representing free will valuable to a libertarian.

To make this specific, consider the definition of libertarian free will and compatibilism offered by the Robert Kane in "Free Will: New Foundations for an Ancient Problem". The quotes below come from a reprint of this paper on page 269 in Free Will (Hackett Readings in Philosophy, Second Edition, 2009).

For Kane, compatibilism is based on an idea of freedom that is different from that valued by a libertarian, or incompatibilist, such as himself. The question whether freedom is compatible or incompatible with determinism is

...too simple and misleading. The reason is there are many meanings of "freedom" (as one would expect of such a protean and much-used term); and many of them are compatible with determinism. Even in a determined world, we would want to distinguish persons who are free from such things as physical restraint, addiction, coercion, compulsion, covert control, or political oppression from persons who are not free from these things; and having these freedoms would be preferable to not having them even in a determined world.

As long as the determinism does not make someone feel as if they lack some freedom, then they have freedom. In the first scenario, if the movie is a comedy where the characters are happy then they have free will. If they are not happy, then they don't. In the second scenario, it depends on the endings of the movie. If the ending makes the characters feel happy with their freedom they are free. If the ending does not, then they are not free. The same would go for the third scenario where a random number generator picks the ending.

Kane claims that libertarians, or those taking positions that are incompatible with determinism, are looking for something more in free will:

What incompatibilists should rather insist upon is that there is at least one kind of freedom worth wanting that is not compatible with determinism. This additional important freedom, as I see it, is "free will," which I define as "the power to be the ultimate creator and sustainer of some of one's own ends or purposes."

Note that because we are talking about characters in a movie in all three scenarios mentioned above, none of the characters are the "ultimate creator and sustainer" of what happens to them in the movie no matter if there is an alternate ending or not or if a random number generator picks that ending. For this particular definition none of the scenarios can be associated with libertarian free will.

  • Interesting answer. But then freedom is impossible. I believe that even if there is a creator, then he merely discovered his own ability to create and ability of nothing(ness?)/chaos/etc. to be capable to produce something from itself with his force. Creation for me always is a subcase of discovery.
    – rus9384
    Jul 17, 2018 at 16:11
  • I'm not quite following... What does happiness have to do with freedom?
    – ritlew
    Jul 17, 2018 at 20:18
  • @ritlew I am using happiness to illustrate how I see a compatibilist views free will given a belief in determinism. I am an incompatibilist. For me this happiness has nothing to do with freedom. Jul 17, 2018 at 21:02
  • @rus9384 The idea of an agent making a free choice should appear somewhat shocking and perhaps even impossible, but that may be the subject of a different question. Jul 17, 2018 at 21:04

I don't think there is a very defined consensus but physicists (or at least most of them) think that the universe is deterministic. Now some of them say the universe is deterministic but it is not possible to predict the future because you need a very precise machine.

But even if you have a very precise machine it may not be possible because the machine you created to predict the future actually influences the environment so you need to map the machine with your map of the environment. So all of this suggests that you will always have limited precision when predicting the future. How limited? No one knows yet.

So you cannot have a "record" with 100% precision. But if you had it, it would be more like a photo or video rather than a computer program with conditionals because everything is mapped.

In the second scenario if you have two computers and if you run a Universe simulation on one computer and a future predictor on another then that is perfectly possible because they don't belong to the same system.

In the third statement, if you have a simulated system you can build a future predictor. However, if you want to predict the future from inside the simulation then you will have limited precision as I mentioned previously.

The first option would be kind of hard determinism which is possible as I said but only if you are outside the simulation. I will call soft determinism creating a predictor from inside the simulation. I am not a believer of free will but for the third option if free will means that you have choices but limited choices then yes that would be a kind of free will.

  • I made some edits. You may roll them back or continue editing. I wonder if you have any references for the claims? For example, how do you know that most physicists think the universe is deterministic given quantum indeterminism? Jul 16, 2018 at 22:53
  • There is the actusl calculations nature i mean the act of calculating and predicting itself has determinism implied now as you mentioned stuff like quantum indeterminism are seen as our lack of ability of going deeper either because ourselves or what people call "fundamental" limit, of course there are.lots of people in the physics community that won't agree but thats ok i guess because we dont have something 100% definitive but of course the determinism form inside the simulation is the obvious and most promising-coherent one.So the fact that we cannot predict does not imply free will
    – Abaqus
    Jul 16, 2018 at 23:09

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