Many people have suggested that if we don’t have free will, then life is essentially meaningless because everything we’ve ever thought or done has already been determined. I’m not sure why determinism demands that conclusion, but I hear it a lot.

However, if I can freely choose stuff without the need for any reason or cause to determine my decisions, I’m not sure how that suddenly gives life meaning.

I found this at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/

If the truth of determinism would preclude free will, it is far from obvious how indeterminism would help.

I agree with that, but I’m interested to know why people use this argument against determinism, because I’ve never heard an argument about how free will provides the meaning that determinism would preclude.

How does free will give life meaning?

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    This seems to suggest that predeterminism precludes meaning, not that free will necessitates it. Sep 15, 2018 at 0:11
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    @DonBranson I agree this argument doesn’t necessitate that free will gives life meaning. That’s why I’m asking, because I don’t understand why this argument is used.
    – Cannabijoy
    Sep 15, 2018 at 20:11
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    @anonymouswho - Asking to gain understanding instead of launching into argument. What a noble and novel idea. :) Sep 15, 2018 at 20:49
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    I enjoy watching a movie even though every frame is determined. In fact I often like to watch the same movie twice. This shows that it's possible to derive entertainment and find personal value even when the outcome is determined and even known to me. You could think of your life that way. Besides, you don't KNOW how your life is going to turn out. Even if every moment of your life was written at the moment of the big bang, you still don't know how it's going to turn out. Just enjoy the show. In the end it really doesn't matter if we have free will.
    – user4894
    Sep 16, 2018 at 4:37
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    @anonymouswho I didn't mean to imply otherwise. My comment was just a silly remark, pointing out the virtue you display by asking about others' views with genuine interest. We could stand to see more of that nowadays. :) Anyway, I'd like to see the argument for meaning from free will, also. Sep 16, 2018 at 13:35

1 Answer 1


How does free will give life "meaning"?

Free will

Beginning with the Oxford dictionary definition:

free will NOUN mass noun The power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion.

Synonyms: volition, independence, self-determination, self-sufficiency, autonomy, spontaneity, freedom, liberty

We can see that the concept of free will is closely associated with personal freedom. However, if I have free will, then so does every other human being. And if human beings have free will, and God exists as our creator, then God also has free will. Therefore, the inherited gift of free will requires one to practice moral responsibility; because if we did not, we might have to answer to all others with equal power of free will.

...some go so far as to define ‘free will’ as ‘the strongest control condition—whatever that turns out to be—necessary for moral responsibility’...

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Free Will (First published Mon Jan 7, 2002; substantive revision Tue Aug 21, 2018)

And we know that there are many conflicting views regarding:

These conflicting philosophical views have divided many of us into those who believe in free will versus those who rather believe in determinism. Therefore, the concept of free will can only give life meaning for those of us who believe in it. And our belief in free will is motivated by certain personality traits:

  • we tend to believe in the existence of one true creator God, itself possessing the characteristic of free will along with the associated moral responsibility required
  • we tend to seek happiness
  • we tend to seek freedom
  • the idea of personal freedom (free will) makes us feel happy
  • we are willing to accept the moral responsibility that goes along with knowing that if we possess free will, then so does God and our fellow men and women
  • Thanks for the answer. I’m having issues with your list of “personality traits”. I actually have all of those same traits (except for the free will stuff of course). I believe in God (the God of the Hebrew Scriptures to be specific), I seek happiness, and I believe governments are an unnecessary evil (I’m a big fan of Thomas Jefferson) so I definitely seek freedom. What you seem to be saying is that free will doesn’t necessarily give life meaning, but God is who gives life meaning. I would agree with that.
    – Cannabijoy
    Sep 18, 2018 at 3:21
  • This doesn't actually seem to answer the question. Nothing in here states that free will gives rise to meaning, rather it is asserted with no justification that a certain number of qualities follow from a believe in free will.
    – Cubic
    Oct 3, 2018 at 12:05

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