3 most common positions on free will

There are several branches to the tree of opinions on the subject of Free Will and moral responsibility. I will briefly describe the main three of them.


A libertarian simply says that what they do is their choice. They don’t really look further at the causes that led them to do it. Often they believe that humans make choices randomly. Often this means that people can do things for no reason whatsoever. This is something they must convince themselves because they want to feel that it is “up to them” what they do in their life. Those who become libertarian philosophers are almost always either extremely rich or extremely religious and believe that they deserve credit for using their god-given free will to choose better than other people did. This means they have little or no sympathy for the poor, sick, or mentally ill because they believe that anyone who is suffering must “deserve” it because they made bad choices.


Determinism, briefly stated is that everything that happens is the effect of all the prior causes that led to it. This applies to the so called choices of humans and all other animals just as it does to billiard balls or falling dominoes. Basically if someone did something, there is a reason why they did it exactly as they did. The actions may be good or bad. The reasons behind them may be good or bad, but nonetheless, the people did what they did and there is no way they could have done differently at the time when the choice was made. So in a sense, the daily choices are not “up to” the individual but are a combination of nature/genetics(everything we are biologically), and nurture/conditioning(everything we are taught by every experience). This does not mean that all actions are equally moral or intelligent, but that it is at least theoretically possible to reduce the negative things we don’t like if we search for the causes that lead to them and reform the education system.


Compatibilists are those people who attempt to be both libertarians and determinists at the same time. They say that we are still free to choose what we want and that we still deserve credit or blame for our choices even though they are the effect of prior causes. This sounds like the height of insanity to me. The compatibilists I have talked to so far will say that you are free to choose if no one is holding a gun to your head. Their idea of freedom is a person doing what they want without any other human physically present at the time threatening them with punishment for doing something. In a certain sense, this is understandable, but what they are doing is ignoring the causal factors that lead to their will to do something. On a rainy day, they will say that they chose to carry an umbrella, but the rest of us know that they were caused to do this because it was raining and they didn’t want to get wet. Compatibilism is the height of insanity.

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