The tag for "free-will" currently has the following with my emphasis in bold:

for questions concerning the freedom of choice of rational agents

Are there philosophers who have considered freedom of choice or free will for agents more generally, not only for those agents that are considered "rational"?

Examples of potential agents that are not (perhaps, usually?) considered rational might be pets, house plants or even gastrointestinal tract bacteria. They move and grow. Is there any philosopher that claims they exercise free will in the process of doing so.

I am adding "hartshorne" to the tags since Charles Hartshorne was the source of the answer.

  • 1
    Is a schizophrenic human rational? Can a dog be schizophrenic? Could a purely rational AI have free choice? - There is a large scope of meaning to "rational", which adds a complete second dimension to the question. – christo183 Oct 29 '18 at 6:03
  • @christo183 Good point about schizophrenic humans. In general we may not be as rational as we think we are whether we are schizophrenic or not. I don't understand the question about a dog being schizophrenic. Other animals than humans are often not considered to be "rational". I think that is a mistake. I don't think the rational AI would have free will because it is deterministic. BTW, thank you for your original question about Hartshorne. I don't think I would have found this answer without it. – Frank Hubeny Oct 29 '18 at 11:22
  • 1
    The dog bit signifies that we have imperfect knowledge of the rationality, or impairment, of creatures of lesser communication capacity. I have a dog that have displayed some surprisingly rational behavior, and I have heard people call a dog "mad". I trust my dog to a degree, but the mad dog's 'choices' a less predictable. So in a sense the rational dog display less free 'choice'. Taken with the AI example, rationality may not be correlated to free choice, but rather the appreciation thereof. – christo183 Oct 29 '18 at 12:50
  • 1
    There is a slippery slope here. The Epicurean argument (man is free, man is made of atoms, therefore atoms swerve) ostensibly ascribes freedom already to atoms themselves, and panpsychists like Fechner or Whitehead can be interpreted as assigning some form of free will to, well, everything. Peirce was the first major modern to embrace absolute randomness ("tychism"), and described the entire universe as "quasi-mind" partitioned into smaller "quasi-minds" of various grades. – Conifold Oct 30 '18 at 2:30

Charles Hartshorne claimed that Charles Sanders Peirce introduced the idea that freedom applied to all creatures:

But Peirce took one more step. He generalized this so that not just human beings make their own decisions but all the animals do and all the creatures do in some degree. They have a very humble kind of freedom compared to ours. We have more freedom and God has supreme freedom....Peirce was pretty close to the first philosopher in the world who generalized the idea of freedom so that it applied to all the creatures....

Hartshorne and Paul Weiss edited Peirce's collected papers for the Department of Philosophy at Harvard.

Peirce wrote an essay "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined" which presented a view opposed to determinism, "necessitarianism" as he called it, which also confirms that he may have held positions similar to those Hartshorne described.

Let's consider the question I posed earlier: Are there philosophers who have considered freedom of choice or free will for agents more generally, not only for those agents that are considered "rational"?

The answer is yes. Such a view was likely held by Charles Sanders Peirce.


A New Worldview_An Interview with Charles and Dorothy Hartshorne, Center for Process Studies https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4CLEpIY0hY&list=PL1HA-Ghi6Kv1WmMb4rWQCn9yRgJ5w6uoN&index=2

Peirce, C. S. "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined", The Information Philosopher http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/peirce/doctrine_of_necessity.html

Peirce, C. S., & Buchler, J. (1955). Philosophical writings of Peirce: Selected and edited, with and Introduction, by Justus Buchler. Dover Publications.

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.