SEP's entry on Arguments for Incompatibilism contains a curious passage:

Empirical discoveries about our brain and behavior might tell us that we don’t have as much conscious control as we think we have (Wegner 2003; Libet 1999). (For critique of arguments claiming that recent scientific research has shown that “conscious will is an illusion”, see Mele 2009, some of the essays in Sinnott-Armstrong & Nadel 2011 and Roskies & Nahmias 2016.) And there are worries, arising from certain versions of physicalism, that our mental states don’t have the causal powers we think they have (Kim 1998). But these threats to free will have nothing to do with determinism.

It seems intuitive to me that denying the existence of free will implies affirming determinism. Nonetheless, according to the last sentence, it appears that one can deny the existence of free will without being committed to determinism. I am confused.

  • 1
    Just because something in the world is free, that does not mean that the free thing is necessarily your will. We can accept that quantum mechanics causes nondeterminism, and at the same time believe that biology and social reality are so pervasive and so strong in their control over our choices that when we feel like we are choosing, we are actually just following orders from one or the other of those two driving forces. Maybe there is only microscopic quantum-level freedom, and everything from the scale of a nerve up is determined by how those micro-forces balance out. That is not free-will Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 17:32
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    No. Indeterminism is a much broader concept than free will. True randomness, as in quantum mechanics, is indeterministic, but does not involve free will, unless we want to ascribe that to electrons.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 20:22
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    Yes, if you had an A.I. computer program whose behavior was partially randomized with input from a random number generator making use of random quantum events (radioactive decay, for example), many would not say this is true "free will", and so some who believe there is genuine indeterminism in nature might argue it doesn't mean we have any free will fundamentally different from a machine randomized in this way.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 19:16

4 Answers 4


Just because there are philosophical problems with freewill and determinism together, it does not mean there are problems with non-determinism and no freewill together. Non-determinism and no freewill don't have the same compatibility issues as freewill and determinism.

Try to imagine a situation where some being doesn't have freewill. All its actions are occurring due to external influences which it cannot actually affect. It's just along for the ride and behaves according to it's nature. There's nothing that requires such influences to be deterministic. It could still be a process which includes random elements, so that there are different possibilities for what can occur; but the being has no personal agency over those processes, possibilities, or results. It would have no freewill, and the universe would not follow the exact chain of cause-and-effect that determinism suggests. This doesn't present the same type of problems as a combination of freewill and determinism.

  • How about fusing chaos theory to produce a chaotic determinism in random phenomena? Of course, the agency to perceive would not be free
    – vidyarthi
    Commented Apr 28, 2020 at 18:17

If we have no free will then determinism is true . By determinism I mean that every event has a cause and all past events are the consequence of prior causes that either are or are not within our control . I say within our control because some ( Honderick ) speak of agents as a source of origination and so free though determined . I doubt this is possible given the meaning of determinism . At best we are lucky to be free - compare the freedom you have not to take a drink compared to that of the alcoholic . Both are not free ( in the normal of free will ) when determinism is true .


No. Picture a 'human puppet' whose limbs are controlled from outside the body - e.g a human dangling from marionette strings. Now imagine the strings are pulled at the behest of a randomness generator - to pin this down, let us assume 'true Quantum-Mechanical randomness' not a computer's RNG. Then as the human has no control over their body, I believe it can be asserted that the human has no free will (at least where motion is concerned), but the body's behavior is certainly not deterministic.


Since the term "denial" most often only refers to an assertion bereft of supporting reasoning we can't conclude anything (other than the fact than an assertion has been made) on the basis of mere denial.

The actual non-existence of free-will would logically entail determinism or randomness. Since it is self-evident that there is order in the universe we can rule out randomness. Most people are unaware that the genetic algorithm of Darwin's theory requires a fitness function that instructs the selection process of natural selection.

  • "The actual non-existence of free-will would logically entail determinism." Not necessarily, not for those thinkers who think free will is something different from determinism and from pure randomness. In that case, a universe departing from determinism only by virtue of a random element would still be seen by such thinkers as one in which free will was false.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 19:45
  • @Hypnosifl Yes that may be correct. My main point is that from "denial" taken to mean an empty assertion without supporting reasoning we can't conclude anything at all besides that an assertion has been made.
    – polcott
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 20:12

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