I am attempting to construct an argument against free will.

An early objection has been raised, to the very first premise:

1. Decisions may be either voluntary or involuntary.

In Human Nature: the Categorical Framework, Hacker(2011) states,

"In truth however, willing (wanting, the voluntariness involved in our actions), is neither a mental act one performs nor something that happens to one; it is neither voluntary nor involuntary, neither action nor passion."

Hacker goes on to describe various accounts of 'willing', including his own. He does not however (at least, to my reading) provide any example of an instance of willing which lies in a realm other than voluntary or involuntary, and I find it impossible to conceive of such an example.

I acknowledge that a decision might be deemed to be different somehow to an act of will, but the two concepts seem close enough to merit close attention and that Hacker's point - if true - could well knock my argument dead.


Can a decision be something other than voluntary or involuntary? And, if so, what might be an example of such a decision?

  • Are you conflating willing with deciding? I don't think they are the same thing. Sometimes I'm hungry and I will for myself to be eating, but I'm otherwise occupied so I don't make the decision to do what I will. One way to put it is that willing is prior to taking into account costs and possibilities, while deciding is what happens after you have taken those into account. Aug 17, 2022 at 15:54
  • Yes, I actually mention this is the OP above. If they are different things, then I might not need to be too concerned (or as concerned), but I think they are close enough to warrant asking the question and to address the challenge. I would actually equate an 'act of will' pretty closely with a decision. Aug 17, 2022 at 16:06
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    IMO a decision is voluntary; an action can be involuntary. Aug 17, 2022 at 16:13
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    This happens with all vague predicates, "in" or "non" in natural language do not conform to logical negation. There are heaps, there are non-heaps, and then there are borderline cases. Progressions from non-heaps to heaps pass through borderline cases, so a seemingly innocent premise like "a heap must be preceded by a heap with one grain less" is actually false. And it shows when applied to long enough progressions. Hacker's account is much more nuanced, but this is one reason why so many regress arguments fail. Infinite regress is a very long progression.
    – Conifold
    Aug 18, 2022 at 4:18
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    Btw, Hacker and Davidson do not rely on vagueness, which is sensible because there is little evidence that we "decide to decide" at all. They hold that the relation between decisions and (some) acts is not causation but coextension, they are different aspects of a single event or refer to it under different descriptions. Pettit explains this more plainly than Hacker, I think. He also gives an example that may help with incredulous stare: of how an act can be voluntary when there is "virtual control" without active decision-making. It reminds me Libet's "conscious veto" model of free will.
    – Conifold
    Aug 19, 2022 at 3:28

5 Answers 5


Consider the Hungry Judge Effect, or the research on how smells even that we aren't aware of impact out behaviours, like The Smell of Virtue: Clean Scents Promote Reciprocity and Charity.

There are issues around decision making of cognitive biases, unconscious biases, and our tendency towards post hoc rationalisation - to make impulsive unreasoned decisions then justify them with reason. But these phenomena aren't the end of the story, for instance many scientific methods exactly aim to correct for these, like say double-blind controlled trials. We have to balance short and long term priorities in order to make good decisions, and we have to understand ourselves well - practicing towards that has always been called, cultivating wisdom. So we can understand that there are tools to make less conditioned decisions, that relate more fully to our goals and who we are.

Another way to look at a spectrum between voluntary and involuntary decisions, is will-power, and strength of will. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche focus on this area. I would interpret it as the extent to which a person can construct and live in relation to their own meaning-cosmology, including inviting others into it, as opposed to simply taking up the values and goals for life already in their culture. I'd describe a meaning-cosmology as not about the contents of the cosmos, but about how we situate ourselves towards it, to understand meaning.


A decision is a plan for a future action. A decision is not an act, neither a physical act nor a mental act. Nothing happens or changes in a decision. It is a static piece of information.

All decisions are neither voluntary nor involuntary. Only actions can be either voluntary or involuntary.

If you decide to perform an action, it is a voluntary action.

If you don't decide, but you are forced to perform the action anyway, then it is an involuntary action.

  • Do you have a source for this analysis? It doesn't ring true to me. When I am faced with whether to order the taco or the burrito, I make a voluntary decision which one to order. When I decide to keep playing Half Life and skip the party, I'm making a voluntary decision. Aug 17, 2022 at 22:48
  • This is not an analysis. This is just a set of definitions. You are just making decisions. Only the acts of ordering the burrito or playing Half Life are voluntary. Nobody forced them on you. Aug 18, 2022 at 3:19

I suppose that anything voluntary is carried out by choice of a self-aware mind, while something involuntary is carried out either without the opportunity for choice or by a non-self-aware entity. That makes a dubious assumption that there’s a clear division between the two.


When the word "decide" is used, it implicitly includes will. One would not say, "I decided to go to the mall today" if this decision is involuntary, one would instead say, "I was forced to go to the mall today." In this sense, deciding on something itself is a voluntary action.

Though the word "decision" in your context seems to be synonymous with "act," redacting your question to be: "Can an act be something other than voluntary or involuntary."

First of all, I would narrow down the meaning of voluntary to be the state in which one is acting according to his will, and involuntary to be not. An example I can think of is immoral research. A researcher working on deadly weapons would probably not want to continue to do so since it will hurt many people, but at the same time, his salary compels him to continue development. In this scenario, there are elements of his actions that he wills, and he wills not.

An action can be in different degrees voluntary and involuntary. To claim which is the dominant is a subjective process, for an objective judgement is perhaps beyond our ability.

The other aspect to this would be causation. Our actions are considered to be caused by ourselves, or not ourselves, and there is no way to distinguish further except: what do we consider to be ourselves.


Simple logic tells that no, there cannot be any decision other than voluntary and involuntary.

Aristo solved this problem of excluded middle by telling us there is no middle when you are comparing X with Not X. The two together covers the entire solution-space.

Either a thing exist Or it don't. There is nothing outside it in the solution-space; not between them, not anywhere else. A thing don't half exist.

Your decision, any decision, cannot be a mixture of voluntary and involuntary, as long as you are speaking of same thing. Your different decisions can be voluntary and involuntary, as in some are voluntary some are not. Take any decision and study it, it has to be at one side of fence or the other, it cannot be on the fence, it also cannot be anywhere outside the fence system because if it is then its not a decision.

You may be forced to start an action - say conscripted and sent to war you dont want to take part in. Later you may have a change of heart and do start fighting at your own accord. There are two separate decisions here, about the same action. Your first decision was forced, your other decision is not forced; voluntary, involuntary.

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