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Free will, compatibilism, & determinism.

Which are you, why, or does it even matter?

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Hominid 7 Mar 14

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I voted "Other". I think the answer depends to some extent on what we mean by the word "free". By "free", we can mean different things, e.g. being physically free (e.g. not being in a prison), not being under duress or coercion, not being caused, or simply having the power to make conscious choices. It just on how you definte the term "free".

Philosophically, I think that everything is definitely determined and there is no such thing as free will, in the sense of making uncaused or random choices. The arguments given here seem pretty sound to me. But we can be physically free, we can think freely, and we can make choices based on our own feelings, needs, goals, or desires.

Also, I believe that if one considers the term "free thinker" to be valid, then "free will" is just as valid. If determinism is true, ithen that concept applies to our thoughts or feelings just as much as to our conscious choices.

Thirdly, I do find discussions and reflections like this interesting, but I also think that some philosophical ideas such as this one have little or no bearing on real life, at least not in a practical sense.

@MST3K - My thoughts exactly. The various high profile atheists are currently spending / have spent a lot of time on it, and for the life of me can't see why. I even gave Matt Dillahunty a bad time for it, and he gave me a dressing down. I'm stupefied.

@Hominid It's always important to define our terms. Just what do we really mean? We need to be clear on that.

@MST3K - I'm all for defining terms that are central to practical and important concepts. This free will discussion is just - to me - mental masturbation.

@Hominid I believe that philosophy is often something done for its own sake. It can bring pleasure. Like masturbation! jk

@MST3K - Lol


I have adequate freedom of choice. The rest is just mental masturbation.

My thoughts exactly.


I think we all have free will, but out choices are limited in great part by the family of our birth.

Take a random sample of those who are in the top 1% of income earners, and ou will find that less than 6 out of 10,000 were not born into familes who were aledy top 1% earners. So economic movility is not a matter of free will, but more a condition of birth.

So, yes we have free will to choose, but what choices we get to make are greatly dependant on what families we are born into. Also, which country and culture play a role into which choices are available to us.


I'd say free will is a paradox. I didn't choose my birth, my gender, my parents, my genetic makeup, hair color, eye color, family, background. I won't get to choose my death, but I may have some influence on it (or not).

I think we're given a starting point, and for most of our young life are highly subject to the whims of those around us. As we grow, though, we start to recognize our “self” and exercise a certain degree of independence. But even so we’re still at the mercy of a brain that’s making billions of decisions behind the scenes that we’re not even aware of.

We are also very much influenced by our societies. Our governments set huge swaths of our agenda whether we’re aware of it or not, and even dating is as much up to the person I would like to date as it is to me.

We do seem to have some “influence” on our lives, but how much? How much is us and how much is just our brains and biology and sociology and community making these decisions for us.


I'd like to think I have free will to travel and explore.


Richard Carrier in Sense and Goodness without God covers this very topic extensively. Well worth the read.


I firmly believe for every action there is a reaction. Formulation of an idea gets your synapses firing other chemicals in your brain become active. Something positive happens you become elated serotonin and endorphins kick in. something stressful often adrenaline gets stirred up and the tension begins. So now outside stimuli come into play your senses pick up cues the aroma in the air the sounds around you or the lack there in. The temperature on your skin. The visual cues. All this stimulation plays a role on the decision you make. Some of it can be controlled some of it is chaotic and random. So all that being said environment plays a major role. With the progression of events your decision is formulated.


It's an esoteric question.

Does free will exist in an sbsolute sense? Well ... it only can if something (your decision, choice, etc) can 'come into spontaneous existance' without cause.

Free will is therefore incompatable with the concept of cause and effect - because to believe in free will you have to believe that something can happen (your 'free choice' ) for which there is no cause.

That said, if we 'choose to act well' or 'choose to act badly' we might be making that decision because our personallity (shaped by experience, genetics, and a whole load of other factors) 'cause' us to make that decision - but those decisions still affect others. So they might not be 'free' in the absolute sence - but that still doesn't 'justify' you being a cunt.

But planning and working towards a future, even if it is foiled by circumstances outside of your control, is surely a type of free will? It comes down to your circle of influence and within that you have control, some more than others, due to: personality type; health; social opportunity; finance etc.

Well yes, @girlwithsmiles - it really boils fown to whether you can believe ANYTHING (including your own decisions) can actually come 'out of nowhere' with nothing whatever causing them.

I don't accept as a concept that that even your decisions are entirely based on nothing at all - and if your decisions are based on something, then that something makes you decide the way you decide. You cannot 'escape the effects of cause and effect' because even if you try to do do, your decision to make that attempt is caused in itself.

Thanks for the responses, I can understand, relate to them and take them aboard. In fact I have a saying sometimes when talking about the past; which is, I did the best I could with the information that I had at the time. I used to think this was free will, but can now see I didn't understand the concept properly.


We are taught from birth. In a loving environment, we build the self esteem necessary for the confidence to take risks. As we grow in years, we learn there are certain things we will not say or do because of the consequences. If we truly had free will could we go against the unconscious restrictions that make us who we are?


I have free-ish will, it is still governed by biology, experiences and the reminants of my up bringing.


Most people outside of philosophy think of free will in terms of libertarian free will. I don't believe in that sort of freedom, because there's no practical way for us to be the authors of our own values and desires (no matter how free our decisions feel to us subjectively). So, I'm technically a compatibilist, but I consider that to be a bit of a linguistic copout because the free-to-do-as-I-choose mindset isn't really what the average person means by "free will." It's a type of freedom, of course, and is the best freedom that's practically available to us, but it feels to me to be a bit like a dodge. Our actions, as best as I can tell, are deterministic. Everything we do or think is the result of causality forces, which are ultimately reduced to forces outside of our control (e.g., antecedent events, upbringing, environment, genetics, other biochemistry). We have the experience of wrestling with decisions, deliberating over pros and cons, but whatever tips us in favor of one option over another seems like it's inherent and based in something we cannot control or take credit (or blame) for.

@resserts - This is the distinction most people don't make until forced to think about it. Libertarian free will is easily debunked, even though it's the default position of most people as you say. My take is that determinism brought me to this point, and going forward I have a will to exercise options. 😉


Free will is good in your mind but as you arnt free to do anything with it unless its aloud in your society then its a dead end.


I have the ability to determine where I live to the extent of affordability, who I relate with, my political views, what I do with my free time. To attain these freedoms I have spent years working for others, paying my share to society and the hardest, determining what I really want, If I have the time to get it, and how I will attain it. Thoreau was closest in attaining freedom yet still depended on friends for food and often shelter. Freedom isn't an illusion, its a perspective.


So much about me was determined at conception, including my personality, and after I was born, the culture of my parents and community. But within certain parameters, I have "free will."


I freely chose to vote for free will..


I believe I have free will to make my own choices, and to allow myself to be manipulated by guilt, praise, a sense of responsibiility, laziness or what have you. Each choice I make has natural consequences, so that also affects decisions. We are often the authors of our own fate, and our stories sometimes take turns out of our control, but we have free will on how we react and adapt to those changes, twists and turns.


I think we are far more creatures of our upbringing and instincts than we like to admit. I also think those things can be overwritten,though it takes a lot of work and help. I'd like to see determinism taken into more account in public policy. It would be nice to eradicate the myths of the "lazy poor" and the "unmotivated mentally ill" for instance.


I think it's a load of crap. It seems really odd to me that so many people are steadfast determinists... and non-believers. It just seems like some non-religious substitute for fate.

Hmmm. I understand your concern..
But to say "my mind is free" harkens back to cogito ergo sum & Decartian duality - because the only thing that can thumb its nose at cause and effect is god, magic, a soul, or a voice inside your head that is not linked to the biological brain.

And quantum physics won't help because even the uncertainty principle doesn't stop an elelcton from having a position and momentum which will interact with something else causing an effect.


To me, it's an area of metaphysics that doesn't matter as much as other things. Dan Dennett does worry about how people would potentially react if they discovered they don't have free will, but I think he's being gracious about the critical thinking skills of most people. 😉

There's lots of discussion about this in the atheist community; I personally don't see the value of differentiating between them. Thoughts?

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