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The Problem of Free Will and Determinism

Free «The Problem of Free Will and Determinism» Essay Sample

The philosophical problem of free will has been a subject of the argument among philosophers for many years. Various philosophers have offered different conceptions and visions of this subject. The problem lies in the question whether people are free to choose one or another action, or the freedom of choice is only an illusion. Determinism and libertarianism are two opposite views on this question. Determinism is divided into two types, namely hard and soft determinism. Even though they both are based on the same concept, there is a difference between them. This work will explain these three competing accounts and determine which one offers the most plausible approach.

Determinism is a theory, in terms of which every action or event is caused by a certain condition, while nothing different can happen in this context. According to this theory, everything in the universe is completely controlled by certain rules and laws; thus, people behave only according to these laws.

Many researchers and philosophers support this point of view, because many scientific explanations of events are deterministic. For instance, human beings, like the rest of the universe, are entirely subject to and produced by the physical laws and states of the universe. Being a determinist, Baron Paul d’Holbach explains the main principles of this philosophical theory in his work The System of Nature. He states that men are born with a determined by the nature life and are not able to swerve from it. Determinism is a view that the universe has exactly one physically possible future at any time. In this regard, something is deterministic if it has solely one physically possible outcome. For instance, if one decided to murder somebody, the choice itself would have been necessitated as well as all other events would have led to the abovementioned choice. From the deterministic perspective, such a choice was determined by neurological events occurring in one’s brain right before the choice and those events were caused by earlier events. Thus, such decision might be seen as a consequence of genetic and environmental factors beyond one’s control, which ultimately determined the brain function of an individual and his or her choice to commit the murder. In short, according to the determinism, the human’s life is like a performance in the theater. It does not matter how realistic a show might look like on the stage, all actors can only play according to the plot.


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Hard and Soft Determinism

Not all of those who believe that free will is incompatible with determinism affirm the existence of free will. Those who take such a stand are commonly referred to as hard determinists. Such designation was firstly provided by the American philosopher William James, who divided determinism into hard and soft. Both these types are based on the belief that each human’s behavior is determined. The core of the hard determinism lies in four theses. The first one states that determinism is true, because all events are unavoidable results of preceding actions. Therefore, the second thesis affirms that there are no free acts, because actions cannot be free if they are determined. Thus, the third one claims that an individual can only be responsible for free acts. Consequently, people are not morally accountable, which comprises the fourth thesis of the hard determinism.

Even though the soft determinism theory affirms that determinism is true, it denies that it has the implication that people are not morally responsible. Moreover, soft determinists have a different understanding of freedom when compared to hard determinists. According to soft determinism, an action is free if it is within the individual’s power to perform or refuse doing it. People might have a wish to perform some action and might not. However, people are not free in their desires. In other words, the nature of one’s desires can be derived from the environmental and ethnic influences, in which an individual grew up. Thereby, soft determinists accept three theses of hard determinism, but reject the last one.


Libertarianism is a political-philosophical theory that is based on the view that people’s wishes to perform one or another moral act are based on their will to do it. It does not depend on physiological, ethnic, upbringing, or other factors. Human’s wishes are not the unavoidable outcomes of causes. People’s wishes, in contrast to determinism, are spontaneous, uncaused, self-caused, or original.

Libertarians agree with hard determinists that no action is free if it must occur. However, unlike in hard determinism, in terms of libertarianism, people are accountable for their actions caused by the will. Humans are able to choose whether they act morally or immorally without blaming something or someone else. Nevertheless, they do not claim that it is true in all kinds of situations, since it can be applied to situations where one is morally responsible. In other words, libertarianism holds that each individual should be permitted to choose how his or her life will go, as long as one does not violate the rights of others. According to this philosophical theory, human relationships should be voluntary.

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David Hume has considerably contributed to the development of this theory. In his work An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, he states that natural laws of the human behavior establish ethical standards, which are impossible in terms of limiting or suppressing. According to the philosopher, human’s acts are subjects to the human’s will, and they are influenced by motives.

Libertarians agree that freedom does not guarantee efficient results. If people are free to choose, some can resolve to making bad choices. Nevertheless, only because of the freedom of choice, people are able to feel guilty. They know that in one situation or the other, they can act differently. Thus, freedom always comes with a substantial responsibility. When people are free, they have to be able to see the outcome of their actions or decisions before they perform any actions.

Comparing all the above mentioned philosophical theories, it is possible to say that the libertarian account offers the most plausible approach to the problem of free will. Certainly, people are not always free in their actions because of various obstacles and conditions. However, there are at least two options to choose from in each situation. People usually choose their actions based on the notion, in accordance with which the outcome if more beneficial for them. Thus, Hume is right in connecting motives to acts. However, it does not make people deprived of freedom to choose.

Hard determinism is false, because people must be responsible for their actions. Otherwise, the world will turn into chaos, where people commit crimes and are never guilty. Even though, soft determinism accepts moral responsibilities for one’s actions, it cannot be true because similarly to hard determinism, it denies freedom of choice in the sense that an individual can act differently.

Libertarianism, in contrast, promotes freedom of choice, which makes this theory true. Each person makes hundreds of decisions each day. For instance, people decide how to spend their free time or what to have for supper. Such decisions are usually freely made according to the personal preferences and tastes. People can live their lives the way they want, and no one should be forced to fit anyone else’s vision of a good life. Libertarians want all human interactions to be based on the consent, not force. This philosophical theory advocates the concept of responsibility. In any free society, people must take responsibility for their own decisions. They must not externalize the consequences of their bad decisions on others. Having a freedom of choice is not always easy. However, it is one of the main things, which distinguishes humans from programmed robots. Only free people can be truly happy and create a happy society.

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