I find everywhere people talking about "free will" and defining what "free will" means, but could not find anyone that defines "will" as such. What is (free, or not free) "will"? Is there any definition on which philosophers agree? If not, what is the most accepted one?

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    See Will (philosophy) Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 13:37
  • Arthur Schopenhaeur has used "Will" to indicate something like a "desire/force" that is blind and is motivating force behind everything in existence. It manifests itself in many forms. This sense of "Will" is definitely different from the "will" used in "Where there is a will, there is a way" Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 13:41
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    There are similar questions about specific philosophers: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/52900 philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/65868. Else see dictionary.com/browse/will
    – tkruse
    Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 3:07
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    Per Kant, if we don't have the opportunity to decide between the right and the wrong option in regard to the universal law as categorical imperative, in the course of which our will is free, then natural causes lead us to one decision without any alternative options as a form of compatibilism. Per Socrates and Spinoza it's similar, (virtue) will is not free but passive, one truly will just as soon as one really knows what is right or good... Commented Jul 12, 2022 at 5:54
  • Wikipedia has an article Will (philosophy), which quotes definitions of various philosophers disjoint from the freedom aspect, e.g. "rational appetite" of scholastics.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jul 13, 2022 at 0:14

3 Answers 3


No, the noun "will" that is largely synonymous with wish, desire, intention, inclination, plan, decision, and similar words does not have a single definition in philosophy. There are many dictionary definitions that could be applied, several mentioned here: https://www.yourdictionary.com/will

  • To have as the object of one's will; desire; want
  • Will is your ability to make decisions or restraining yourself from doing something or something that a person desires or wants
  • To wish; desire.
  • The power of making a reasoned choice or decision or of controlling one's own actions.
  • Will is the act of strongly desiring something to happen, trying to make something happen by hoping, or describing something you intend to happen in the future.
  • ... and many more

In general, open compound words like "free will" can have definitions and meanings that are not strictly derived from the word parts. As such, one does not even need to define each word part to create a definition for the compound term. As an example consider the word "hot dog".


In philosophy, the term 'will' is usually used in Nietzsche's sense of determined, self-directed action/intent. It is opposed to the state of being entangled in the rules, mores, and strictures of society and culture, so that one is dragged along and limited by forces outside oneself. People who express 'will' make their own fates, in the "I will it to be so" sense; people without will become what others determine them to be. This helps distinguish 'will' from 'free will'. The question of 'free will' is whether and how much our determined, self-directed action/intent is constrained or influenced by social, biological, or material conditions. We may act in ways that seem to be self-determined, but which may be determined by unknown, unseen forces.


The will is that which chooses.

It is not synonymous with our desires or our inclinations: our emotional affections and our thoughts might lead us to have desires and inclinations, but we all have many competing desires and inclinations. The faculty of the will is the part of us that makes decisions, prioritising some desires and countering other inclinations.

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