Assuming that some free will exists or is real, what major philosophical arguments have been offered regarding the origin of free will? The Philosophy StackExchange post Is the theory of evolution a good basis for an argument against freewill? addresses a typical example of how philosophers are wrestling with this idea.

What other philosophers and theories are there who have answered questions like 'When did free will come to us?' and 'In what way can we can explain ontological free will?'

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    What is Free Will?: " a kind of power to control one’s choices and actions." Maybe it is intrinsic to the "agent's nature". Nov 12, 2020 at 11:39
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    – J D
    Nov 12, 2020 at 16:21
  • If we accept evolution, why would free will need an "origin"? Why would it not be the "default state" once there was enough consciousness or understanding? Nov 13, 2020 at 2:38
  • Edited to avoid the "opinion objection".
    – J D
    Nov 14, 2020 at 15:39

5 Answers 5


I know one argument for this free will problem. I think that it proves the existence of free will. it is the lazy argument or called idle argument. If you are sure that I have no free will and everything came ,coming or will come to me through some determinators like nature or god. If you belıeve You were programmed by some determinators then everything you do ,doıng or wıll do is pre determined. So you don't have to act ,You always have been programmed to act and you cant change your acting, your behavıours. but when you think about that, and try no acting, then you will not act at all.So If you can choose not to act You can choose by free will then you have free will.

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    What if you are determined to lose faith in free will and therefore become lazy? I think this a circular argument. Also, it would be nice if you would track down a source or someone who actually made that argument. This strengthens your answer.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Nov 12, 2020 at 13:23
  • ıt can be found in Aristotle's De Interpretatione, chapter 9. Nov 12, 2020 at 13:45
  • I'm upvoting, but we encourage users to use references like Wikipedia, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and PhilPapers to strengthen the quality of responses.
    – J D
    Nov 12, 2020 at 16:21
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    Your argument has an internal contradiction. If you don't have free will, you can't choose to not act. That's apparent in your conclusion: "If (!) you can choose not to act ... then you have free will" - this is just a tautology, nothing more, and as such, proves nothing.
    – IMil
    Nov 13, 2020 at 0:24
  • Why do you regard nonaction as something different from acting? To reserve doing a thing is an act, too - it is a decision.
    – ttnphns
    Nov 13, 2020 at 6:39

Free-will means making conscious choices... basically when you know what you are doing -- which most people don't, sleepwalking through their lives, never bothered to look for a sound explanation of their own actions.

Despite the fact that everything we do serves a purpose, and, often, a part of some elaborate script.

As an exercise, imagine you want to make sure you are not manipulated by some foreign entity, planting thoughts in your head. And the only way for you to tell they aren't yours is by asking yourself "why did a say or that thing? how it helped, and if it didn't, what was the real reason?

Expect to be surprised ;)

"What we do might not be necessarily conscious, but it is always deliberate." -- Anonymous NLP coach.

  • Thank you, and I think I don't clarify question better. My means the very ability to choose consciously or deliberately, what is origin for this free will? Like how free will which if we have, what give or how it comes it us this very ability to choose. Nov 12, 2020 at 15:14
  • We encourage users to use references like Wikipedia, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and PhilPapers to strengthen the quality of responses.
    – J D
    Nov 12, 2020 at 16:21
  • "...which most people don't". Wow, talk about sweeping generalizations. Is it a claim that's possible to back up by research?
    – svavil
    Nov 13, 2020 at 0:35
  • @HareKrishna -- the origin of consciousness (and, hence, free will) lies in the person's capacity to think for her Self, which is NOT what most of us do. Most people are "having thoughts", experiencing them the way they experience emotions or physical senses -- thus, having no more choice, no more control over their thoughts than they have over their feelings <== that is NOT how a human mind should work. Nov 13, 2020 at 19:49
  • Humans should think, not "having thoughts". Just as, say, walking is a conscious effort on our part, so should be the thinking -- accomplished by the Self, the part of our mind that IS us. In most people, the Self is riding in the backseat, helpless and deprived of agency. In that state, we refer to it as Ego. Observing, if it can be bothered to look outside, or simply fast asleep. Nov 13, 2020 at 20:14

It really depends what concept of free will you are considering. Generally, there is compatibilist freewill and libertarian freewill.

compatibilist freewill is the idea that, even if the world is deterministic, we have free will in the sense that our brain makes decisions. Even if they are determined by our sensory input and our previous brain state, they are ours. With this concept, free will is just an emergent capacity to make decisions based on the highly complex treatment of sensory input and memory, and it needs come from nothing but complex biochemical procedures that appeared through evolution. In other words, we have free will but so do shrimps, lizards and bees, albeit their decision process is much simpler. And if we were to replay the same situation 1000 times, we would still act the same each time (baring possibly random effects at the quantum level, but we wouldn't control them anyway).

Libertarian freewill is the idea that our decision process is not limited by the laws of physics. Within the limits of the information available to us, we always have the possibility to decide otherwise. This is what most people think about when speaking about free will, the free will we feel we have. In this case, I have no explanation about how it is possible, but it clearly seems to have some kind of supernatural origin because it escapes the determinism we observe in nature (at least, at the macroscopic level). Wether it is a gift from God(s), or an ability of our immortal souls to control our body, it requires a definite "us" that wants to act (the "will") and is not determined in what it wants to do or how to do it (the "free"). This "us" controls our bio chemistry in a way that ends up moving our muscles the way it needs them to.

  • Thank you, but one think difficult to understand. Compatibillist free will means we are just observer, and whatever decision or whatever happens is process in which we don't have any control, but just happens. Even our thoughts are determined and we just observe thoughts but it is not in our control what we think, as all determined by atomic process and other beyond our control. I can't understand, how can it be even said to have free will? Nov 13, 2020 at 6:53
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    To be honest, I have the same problem with this notion. Maybe someone who actually support it can explain better than I can.
    – armand
    Nov 13, 2020 at 9:54

In order to answer this question in full it will be required to respond to the three aspects of free will mentioned;

1-When and 2-how did free will originate?

3-How to explain ontological free will?

The concept of free will arose as a psychologically driven fear that if the universe is completely deterministic in every aspect of existence, then humans are merely automatons, doomed to a pre-determined life. This is not a very appealing option.

A further complication of this sorry state would be that no ethics or morals would be possible, since determinism would render culpability for evil inapplicable.

All of this originate in the 17th century when the existence of an anthropomorphic God, who personally oversees and intervenes in human lives, became to be dispelled. This gave rise to a new and greater fear; that if there is no God, to direct and protect what becomes of all the 'bad' players and 'evil' in the world.

In line with resolving this dilemma Descartes 'discovers' that the human mind can operate freely because we have a pituitary gland which can 'twitch' its way to providing humans with free choice Descartes asserted that the mind through its own power can exert control over its own decision-making process:

*"Descartes’s notions concerning freedom of the will, can lead one to wonder how his belief in a mechanical universe is compatible with his notions of an immaterial mind, a totally free God, and one’s innate ability to express their freedom. To Descartes, an immaterial mind is possible due to his belief that God is a force which precedes the laws of the universe, and by freely causing these laws, it is unlimited in all ways. By being unlimited, God has the power to create, and one can infer that to Descartes, something such as miracles are possible due to God’s ability to intervene in nature, because God’s existence is outside of nature’s domain." Furthermore, Descartes believes one’s ability to express their freedom derives from them being independent substances that are reflections of God’s essence, and because God’s essence is free, it follows that people are naturally free as well.

Yet, the consequences of holding to these beliefs, I believe, can lead one to misunderstand their ability to be free. This is because, his notions can give way to questions, such as: How can a free, and immaterial mind be united to a body whose movements are determined? How could God be uncompelled in all ways, if all beings are subject to the laws of nature? And finally, how can it be the case that people are free, even when Descartes openly states people are not only physically compelled by the laws of nature, but they are also limited mentally?*

Author, Rocco A. Astore graduated in 2019 with a Masters degree in Philosophy from New School For Social Research in New York, NY.

Spinoza and Descartes lived in that 17th century mentioned earlier, although Descartes died before Spinoza's birth. Coincidentally, Spinoza produced a book on Descartes philosophy, the "Cogita Metaphysica", which came to be recognized as the clearest explication of Descartes philosophy.

Now a complication arises because Spinoza did not much admire Descartes work. In fact he believed him to be hypocritical in claiming that he could 'control' his thoughts in such a way as to 'doubt' all that he knew.

Of course, that raise the question of why Spinoza maintained this disparaging view? and thus we come to attempting to explain both 'free will' and 'determinism' all in one fell swoop. So here it comes.

Spinoza explicitly uses the phrase "free necessity": "I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. Thus also God understands Himself and all things freely, because it follows solely from the necessity of His nature, that He should understand all things." (This is not a personal god, no theism here!)

Spinoza defines “free” and “necessary” (or “constrained”) in this manner:

“That thing is called free, which exists solely by the necessity of its own nature, and of which the action is determined by itself alone. On the other hand, that thing is necessary, or rather constrained, which is determined by something external to itself to a fixed and definite method of existence or action” (Ethica, Definition VII.) God, (or Nature, which is the same thing) is free in the sense that of being self-caused and self-determining.

One further clarification on Spinoza's use of 'determined'(not determination). For Spinoza a contingent being (human) is 'determined to act in a particular manner', which is no more than saying that a human will , walk on the earth, will breathe air and will need to take on nourishment to survive.

In no way did he intend this to be misconstrued as humans every thought and action is predetermined.

Finally, why does this belief in 'free will' continue to dominate the philosophical airways and to play such a pivotal role in ethics and morals. Strangely enough it all comes down to the confusion that arise in formal logic's concept of the excluded middle. People tend to assume that this assertion of a proposition being either true or false extends to their own lives. They believe in what can be termed the 'either/or' fallacy.

That is that 'I as a human am either completely determined OR completely free'. This leads to all manner of confusion. But that is not part of this question, so adieu!


Short Answer

Certainly, determinism and free will are tremendously popular questions for philosophers, whether tyros or focused subject-matter experts. (See an example at Is free will compatible with determinism? (Ramsey theorem). And as such, you could spend your life studying this topic, so the important place to begin your inquiries are with encyclopediac entries. There are some entries that may answer your question in regards to the historical aspects in them.

Long Answer

A primary source is a general encyclopedia such as Wikipedia's entry free will. Two readily sources of more technical information for such a broad question are the Stanford Encyclopedia's entry 'free will' and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's Entry 'free will'. After you read those articles, you'll find a great amount of philosophy has been conducted on this topic going back to the Ancient Greeks.

The SEP's article has a subsection at the beginning that refers you to sources regarding free will with the Ancient Greeks. Wikipedia actually has an article called Free will in antiquity, which goes back to the pre-Socratics. So, if you are looking for a good Ancient Greek to start your search with in-depth, I would suggest you begin with Thales of Miletus. According to G.E.R. Lloyd in his Early Greek Science: Thales to Aristotle on page 1:

Aristotle was the first to suggest that the inquiry into the causes of things began with Tales of Miletus. Thales and the other Milesian philosophers, Anaximander and Anaximenes, undoubtedly owed a great dea lto earler ideas and beliefs, both Grewek and non-Greek, but their speculation.... makes a definite break with the past, and this justifies the claim that both philosophy and science... originated with them.

That being said, this is obviously a Western perspective and there may be other claims of origin in Indian Philosophy.

Another place to pursue answers to such a broad question is here at Philosophy StackExchange by doing searches at the bar above or at this page. By using questions that are related, you might come across answers you are Some related questions are:

  • Thank you for reference. I have actually try to find in many place about origin of ontological free will. But I can't find relevant information in details. Most source has information about origin of concept of free will, but I want to find is origin of ontological free will in reality, which is difficult for me to find. Nov 14, 2020 at 15:53
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    It's an excellent question, but I'm no expert. I'll revise my answer a bit after I poke around regarding the question of origins more thoroughly.
    – J D
    Nov 14, 2020 at 16:23
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    I added a couple of links specific to the question of origins.
    – J D
    Nov 14, 2020 at 16:38

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