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Do human beings have free will?
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There is no escaping fate

Since the Ancient Greek story of Oedipus, there have been many who believe there is no escaping fate.
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The Argument

The main challenge to free will is determinism: the view that everything that happens (human decisions and actions included) is the consequence of sufficient conditions for its occurrence. Often people who say they believe in free will usually also believe that every event has a cause. There are many types of determinism such as genetic, theological and causal. Causal determinism means that as a physical being in a physical universe the ways things interact are in accord with set physical laws.[1] Theological determinism argues that everything is destined occur in a certain way because that is God’s will. Hard determinism is the belief that all events are caused by past events and that nothing other than what does occur can occur.[2] In the 18th century, hard determinist Baron D’Holbach said that everything is part of a chain – the inevitable result of what came before including everything we do.[3] Therefore, people have no freedom and no choice.[1] Every event is caused by a previous event and people can never do anything apart from what they did. Therefore, they are never free. Although we can not pinpoint the exact factors that led us to an action, we could in theory isolate them if we knew enough about all the beliefs, desires and temperaments swirling around in our brains. Decisions are the result of a combination of mental processes that come together in a specific way so that whatever choice of action is made, the result is ‘fixed in stone.’ The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, and Einstein paraphrased, that “a human can very well do what he wants, but cannot will what he wants.”[4]

Counter arguments


[P1] Everything is a result of what came before. [P2] Therefore, all action is predetermined by what came before it. [P3] Therefore, there is no real free will.

Rejecting the premises

Further Reading

Guolipour, B. (2019) A Famous Argument Against Free Will Has Been Debunked. The Atlantic. Kane, R. (2016). The complex tapestry of free will: striving will, indeterminism and volitional streams. Synthese 1–16. Lavazza, A., and Inglese, S. (2015). Operationalizing and measuring (a kind of) free will (and responsibility). Towards a new framework for psychology, ethics and law. Riv. Int. di Filos. e Psicol. 6, 37–55. doi: 10.4453/rifp.2015.0004 Nahmias, E. (2014). “Is free will an illusion? Confronting challenges from the modern mind sciences,” in Moral Psychology, Vol. 4, Free Will and Moral Responsibility, ed. W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 1–26. Overbye, D. (2007) Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t. The New York Times. Schurger, A., Mylopoulos, M., and Rosenthal, D. (2016). Neural antecedents of spontaneous voluntary movement: a new perspective. Trends Cogn. Sci. 20, 77–79. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.11.003 Trevena, J., and Miller, J. (2010). Brain preparation before a voluntary action: evidence against unconscious movement initiation. Conscious. Cogn. 19, 447–456. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2009.08.006 Wegner, D. M. (2002). The Illusion of Conscious Will. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Wegner, D. M. (2003). The mind’s best trick: how we experience conscious will. Trends Cogn. Sci. 7, 65–69. doi: 10.1016/s1364-6613(03)00002-0 Wegner, D. M. (2004). Précis of the illusion1 of conscious will. Behav. Brain Sci. 27, 649–659. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X04000159


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 21 Apr 2020 at 08:41 UTC

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