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Do human beings have free will?
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All humans have free will

We each have agent causation - the ability to start a chain of events not caused by anything else.
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The Argument

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will, a significant kind of control over one’s actions.[1][2] People are largely free to act or not to act in a certain way.[3] Belief in free will is called Libertarianism.[4] William James wrote in 1890 that the “sting and excitement of life comes from our sense that in it things are really being decided from one moment to another and that it is not the dull rattling off of a chain that was forged innumerable ages ago.”[4] Libertarian thinking seems to runs counter to what we know about the physical world – that one event leads to another event. To account for this, Libertarians make the distinction between event causation and agent causation. Many Libertarians concede the world itself is deterministic as, with event causation, no physical event can occur without being caused by a previous physical event. However, they argue that there is also agent causation. An agent – a being propelled by a mind – can start a whole chain of causality that wasn’t caused by anything else. Humanity are that one special being in the whole universe whose mysterious nature permits making choices that is free of the rigid determinism that governs the rest of the universe.[5]

Counter arguments

Many philosophers struggle with Libertarianism. With the rest of the universe controlled by laws of physics, what makes humans different to everything else?


[P1] Individuals have the free will to commit actions not caused by anything else.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] This contravenes laws of physics.

Further Reading

Bricklin, J. (2015) The Illusion of Will, Self, and Time:William James's Reluctant Guide to Enlightenment. SUNY Press: New York. Overbye, D. (2007) Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t. The New York Times. Panza, C. & Potthast, A. (2010) Ethics For Dummies. London: John Wiley & Sons Tierney, J. (2011) Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It’s the Only Choice, New York Times,


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 21 Apr 2020 at 09:09 UTC

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