Arguments for Free Will

Back to Free Will

Table of Contents

  1. Self-Evidence
  2. Moral Responsibility
  3. Making a Virtue of Necessity
  • The Argument
    • “In every act of volition, I am fully conscious that I can at this moment act in either of two ways, and that, all the antecedent phenomena being precisely the same, I may determine one way to-day and another to-morrow.”
  • Mill’s Reply
  • What’s self-evident, then, is not that I can act in either of two ways, but that I believe I can.
Moral Responsibility
  • The Argument
    • Therefore, people can sometimes act otherwise
  • Criticism:
    • The argument puts the cart before the horse. Could an addict have refrained on a particular occasion from shooting up?  Arguing that the addict was free to refrain because they’re morally responsible begs the question, since the evidence for moral responsibility includes the ability to do otherwise.
Making a Virtue of Necessity
  • David Hume and other skeptics argue that there’s no rational foundation for believing in an external world. Yet, they concede they cannot stop believing that physical objects exist. “Nature is always too strong for principle,” as Hume put it.
  • Thomas Reid, however, a contemporary of Hume’s, used the inability to give up the belief in an external world as an argument for its rationality.
    • “Methinks, therefore, it were better to make a virtue of necessity; and, since we cannot get rid of the vulgar notion and belief of an external world, to reconcile our reason to it as well as we can; for, if Reason should stomach and fret ever so much at this yoke, she cannot throw it off; if she will not be the servant of Common Sense, she must be her slave.”
  • Reid’s idea was that belief in the common-sense worldview of physical objects is rational because no rational argument can dislodge it. What’s rational to believe must be believable.
  • The same argument can be used for free will:
    • What’s rational to believe must be capable of belief.
    • Human beings can’t stop believing they have free will
    • Hence, it’s irrational to believe there’s no free will.
  • The hurdle for this line of argument is explaining how free will is possible in light of the arguments against it:
    • Where and how can the chain of neuronal firings diverge?
    • Can humans alter quantum probabilities?

View Brain-in-a-vat Argument for Skepticism