The simple and logical argument against free will is that either determinism or indeterminism is true.
If determinism is true, we are not free.
If indeterminism is true, our actions are random, so we did not will them.
We are not responsible either way. Ergo, no free will. Q.E.D.
The flaw in the argument concerns indeterminacy. Because logic is time and space independent, many philosophers assume that if indeterminism if true, randomness is significant and relevant at all times and all places, independent of scale or size.
But indeterminacy is normally important only for microscopic structures. Macroscopic structures, including our brains and bodies, are adequately determined - except when some useful indeterminacy helps us to generate alternative possibilities, or (and this is very important) allows us to be creative and bring genuinely new information into the universe.
So could you accept some chance in your own causal chain that would not make your decisions random?
I suggest seven places where even compatibilists and determinists might accept some chance in the causal chain leading up to their latest decision, which I hope they might agree is an "adequately determined" decision that is truly "up to them."
1) Only at the original moment of the "big bang."
(This leads us to Peter van Inwagen's Consequence Argument).
2) During genetic mutations that created the species homo sapiens.
(Without this chance, none of us would be here.)
3) Nine months before your birth. (It was one in a million which of your father's sperm would win the race to your mother's egg. Without this one, you wouldn't be one of us.)
4) During your moral education.
(These are those rare events that C. S. Peirce calls the "fixation of beliefs," and Bob Kane calls "self-forming actions." These are important because they may contribute to your latest decisions.)
5) When you decided to become a philosopher.
(Again, without this one, you wouldn't be part of the Garden. How many of you think chance might have played a part?)
6) During deliberation about your current options.
(In these sometimes extended moments, your subconscious processing of possibilities may consider thousands of input factors and evaluate enormous numbers of possible outcomes. If you are creative, you may come up with ideas never thought of by anyone before you. Thus chance and indeterminacy is involved up until a fraction of a second before your "moment of choice." This is my Cogito model. www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/cogito/)
6) During the decision itself.
(Bob Kane, Laura Ekstrom, Mark Balaguer and others argue that your decision must not be "determined" by all the considerations that arise during your deliberation. You are not free enough , they say, even if some of the alternative posssibilities might be random combinations of your own past experiences that you have dreamed up yourself.
Compatibilists should be quite content to think that this decision is adequately determined (that randomness is negligible ) by an evaluation process that included our character and values, our habits and preferences, our current feelings and desires, etc. This then is a "kind of freedom available to us," as Galen Strawson recently agreed.)
I think the Libertarians have been right about the need for some indeterminacy, but they are wrong to try to push it into our decisions themselves, with one exception. Mark Balaguer's "torn decisions," perhaps some of Kane's "decisions requiring great effort," and in general Buridan-type "liberty of indifference" decisions, might all be made by flipping a "mental coin." If we are fully aware that it is a random choice, and if we are prepared to accept responsibility either way, perhaps we can still regard this as an act of our will.
On my Information Philosopher website, I have researched over twenty recent philosophers (including a few Gardeners) who have published versions of this simple and logical argument. It apparently has convinced them, and perhaps hundreds or thousands of their philosophy students and readers of their textbooks.
None of them appear to have seen this flaw. Do you agree that there is a flaw here that might be corrected by a clearer description of how indeterminacy can be limited - to do no harm to an adequate determinism.
More important, do you see how indeterminacy can help to provide a kind of freedom from the fixed past (and the laws of nature, as the argument goes) and an ability for humans to be creative individuals?
For your convenience, I quote below many of these versions of the standard argument, which I expect some of you have used from time to time.
Can you read them over with the suggested flaw in mind?
But nevertheless he states the standard argument succinctly:
belief that all human actions are subservient to causal laws still remains to be justified. If, indeed, it is necessary that every event should have a cause, then the rule must apply to human behaviour as much as to anything else. But why should it be supposed that every event must have a cause? The contrary is not unthinkable. Nor is the law of universal causation a necessary presupposition of scientific thought.
But now we must ask how it is that I come to make my choice. Either it is an accident that I choose to act as I do or it is not. If it is an accident, then it is merely a matter of chance that I did not choose otherwise; and if it is merely a matter of chance that I did not choose otherwise, it is surely irrational to hold me morally responsible for choosing as I did. But if it is not an accident that I choose to do one thing rather than another, then presumably there is some causal explanation of my choice: and in that case we are led back to determinism.
(Philosophical Essays, 1954, p.275)
Dl. I shall state the view that there is "unbroken causal continuity" in the universe as follows. It is in principle possible to make a sufficiently precise determination of the state of a sufficiently wide region of the universe at time to, and sufficient laws of nature are in principle ascertainable to enable a superhuman calculator to be able to predict any event occurring within that region at an already given time t'.
D2. I shall define the view that "pure chance" reigns to some extent within the universe as follows. There are some events that even a superhuman calculator could not predict, however precise his knowledge of however wide a region of the universe at some previous time.
For the believer in free will holds that no theory of a deterministic sort or of a pure chance sort will apply to everything in the universe: he must therefore envisage a theory of a type which is neither deterministic nor indeterministic in the senses of these words which I have specified by the two definitions DI and D2; and I shall argue that no such theory is possible.
("Free-Will, Praise and Blame," Mind, July 1961, reprinted in Dworkin, 1970)
...the notions of moral guilt, of blame, of moral responsibility are inherently confused and that we can see this to be so if we consider the consequences either of the truth of determinism or of its falsity. The holders of this opinion agree with the pessimists that these notions lack application if determinism is true, and add simply that they also lack it if determinism is false.
(Freedom and Resentment, 1962, reprinted in Watson (ed.), Free Will)
The metaphysical problem of human freedom might be summarized in the following way: "Human beings are responsible agents; but this fact appears to conflict with a deterministic view of human action (the view that every event that is involved in an act is caused by some other event); and it also appears to conflict with an indeterministic view of human action (the view that the act, or some event. that is essential to the act, is not caused at all)." To solve the problem, I believe, we must make somewhat far-reaching assumptions about the self of the agent — about the man who performs the act.
("Freedom and Action," 1964, in Freedom and Determinism, ed. Keith Lehrer, 1966, p.11)
Both determinism and simple indeterminism are loaded with difficulties, and no one who has thought much on them can affirm either of them without some embarrassment. Simple indeterminism has nothing whatever to be said for it, except that it appears to remove the grossest difficulties of determinism, only, however, to imply perfect absurdities of its own.
Determinism, on the other hand, is at least initially plausible. Men seem to have a natural inclination to believe in it; it is, indeed, almost required for the very exercise of practical intelligence. And beyond this, our experience appears always to confirm it, so long as we are dealing with everyday facts of common experience, as distinguished from the esoteric researches of theoretical physics. But determinism, as applied to human behavior, has implications which few men can casually accept, and they appear to be implications which no modification of the theory can efface..
(Metaphysics, 1963, p.46)
Without free will, we seem diminished, merely the playthings of external forces. How, then, can we maintain an exalted view of ourselves? Determinism seems to undercut human dignity, it seems to undermine our value.
Some would deny what this question accepts as given, and save free will by denying determinism of (some) actions. Yet if an uncaused action is a random happening, then this no more comports with human value than does determinism. Random acts and caused acts alike seem to leave us not as the valuable originators of action but as an arena, a place where things happen, whether through earlier causes or spontaneously.
("Free Will", chapter 4 of Philosophical Explanations, 1981, p.291-2)
Here is an argument that I think is obvious (I don't mean it's obviously right; I mean it's one that should occur pretty quickly to any philosopher who asked himself what arguments could be found to support incompatibilism):
If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.
I shall call this argument the Consequence Argument.
[A variant argument van Inwagen called the Mind Argument after the Mind journal] proceeds by identifying indeterminism with chance and by arguing that an act that occurs by chance, if an event that occurs by chance can be called an act, cannot be under the control of its alleged agent and hence cannot have been performed freely. Proponents of [this argument] conclude, therefore, that free will is not only compatible with determinism but entails determinism.
(Essay on Free Will, 1983, p.16)
Van Inwagen dramatized his understanding of the indeterministic brain events needed for agent causation by imagining God "replaying" a situation to create exactly the same circumstances and then arguing that decisions would reflect the indeterministic probabilities.
If God caused Marie's decision to be replayed a very large number of times, sometimes (in thirty percent of the replays, let us say) Marie would have agent-caused the crucial brain event and sometimes (in seventy percent of the replays, let us say) she would not have... I conclude that even if an episode of agent causation is among the causal antecedents of every voluntary human action, these episodes do nothing to undermine the prima facie impossibility of an undetermined free act.
("Van Inwagen on Free Will," in Freedom and Determinism, 2004, ed. Joseph Keim Campbell, et al., p.227)
As far as human freedom is concerned, it doesn't matter whether physics is deterministic, as Newtonian physics was, or whether it allows for an indeterminacy at the level of particle physics, as contemporary quantum mechanics does. Indeterminism at the level of particles in physics is really no support at all to any doctrine of the freedom of the will; because first, the statistical indeterminacy at the level of particles does not show any indeterminacy at the level of the objects that matter to us – human bodies, for example. And secondly, even if there is an element of indeterminacy in the behaviour of physical particles – even if they are only statistically predictable – still, that by itself gives no scope for human freedom of the will; because it doesn't follow from the fact that particles are only statistically determined that the human mind can force the statistically-determined particles to swerve from their paths. Indeterminism is no evidence that there is or could be some mental energy of human freedom that can move molecules in directions that they were not otherwise going to move. So it really does look as if everything we know about physics forces us to some form of denial of human freedom.
(Mind, Brains, and Science, 1984, pp.86-7)
It is a compelling objection. Surely we cannot be free agents, in the ordinary, strong, true-responsibility-entailing sense, if determinism is true and we and our actions are ultimately wholly determined by "causes anterior to [our] personal existence"* And surely we can no more be free if determinism is false and it is, ultimately, either wholly or partly a matter of chance or random outcome that we and our actions are as they are?
(Freedom and Belief, 1986, p.25)
The argument is exceedingly familiar, and runs as follows. Either determinism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all our chosen actions are uniquely necessitated by prior states of the world, just like every other event. But then it cannot be the case that we could have acted otherwise, since this would require a possibility determinism rules out. Once the initial conditions are set and the laws fixed, causality excludes genuine freedom.
On the other hand, if indeterminism is true, then, though things could have happened otherwise, it is not the case that we could have chosen otherwise, since a merely random event is no kind of free choice. That some events occur causelessly, or are not subject to law, or only to probabilistic law, is not sufficient for those events to be free choices.
Thus one horn of the dilemma represents choices as predetermined happenings in a predictable causal sequence, while the other construes them as inexplicable lurches to which the universe is randomly prone. Neither alternative supplies what the notion of free will requires, and no other alternative suggests itself. Therefore freedom is not possible in any kind of possible world. The concept contains the seeds of its own destruction.
(Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry, 1993, p.80)
...the well-known dilemma of determinism. One horn of this dilemma is the argument that if an action was caused or necessitated, then it could not have been done freely, and hence the agent is not responsible for it. The other horn is the argument that if the action was not caused, then it is inexplicable and random, and thus it cannot be attributed to the agent, and hence, again, the agent cannot be responsible for it. In other words, if our actions are caused, then we cannot he responsible for them; if they are not caused, we cannot be responsible for them. Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility.
(Freedom and Moral Sentiment, 1995, p.14)
Let us now consider the libertarians, who claim that we have a capacity for indeterministically free action, and that we are thereby morally responsible. According to one libertarian view, what makes actions free is just their being constituted (partially) of indeterministic natural events. Lucretius, for example, maintains that actions are free just in virtue of being made up partially of random swerves in the downward paths of atoms. These swerves, and the actions they underlie, are random (at least) in the sense that they are not determined by any prior state of the universe.
If quantum theory is true, the position and momentum of micro-particles exhibit randomness in this same sense, and natural indeterminacy of this sort might also be conceived as the metaphysical foundation of indeterministically free action. But natural indeterminacies of these types cannot, by themselves, account for freedom of the sort required for moral responsibility.
As has often been pointed out, such random physical events are no more within our control than are causally determined physical events, and thus, we can no more be morally responsible for them than, in the indeterminist opinion, we can be for events that are causally determined.
(Noûs 29, 1995, reprinted in Free Will, ed. D. Pereboom, 1997, p.252)
a random event does not fit the concept of free will any more than a lawful one does, and could not serve as the long-sought locus of moral responsibility. (How The Mind Works, 1997, p.54)
Among the grandest of philosophical puzzles is a riddle about moral responsibility. Almost all of us believe that each one of us is, has been, or will be responsible for at least some of our behavior. But how can this be so if determinism is true and all our thoughts, decisions, choices, and actions are simply droplets in a river of deterministic events that began its flow long, long before we were ever born? The specter of determinism, as it were, devours agents, for if determinism is true, then arguably we never initiate or control our actions; there is no driver in the driver's seat; we are simply one transitional link in an extended deterministic chain originating long before our time. The, puzzle is tantalizingly gripping and ever so perplexing — because even if determinism is false, responsibility seems impossible: how can we be morally accountable for behavior that issues from an "actional pathway" in which there is an indeterministic break? Such a break might free us from domination or regulation by the past, but how can it possibly help to ensure that the reins of control are now in our hands?
(Moral Appraisability, 1998, p.vii)
Accounts of free will purport to tell us what is required if we are to be free agents, individuals who, at least sometimes when we act, act freely. Libertarian accounts, of course, include a requirement of indeterminism of one sort or another somewhere in the processes leading to free actions. But while proponents of such views take determinism to preclude free will, indeterminism is widely held to be no more hospitable. An undetermined action, It is said would be random or arbitrary. It could not be rational or rationally explicable. The agent would lack control over her behavior. At best, indeterminism in the processes leading to our actions would be superfluous, adding nothing of value even if it did not detract from what we want.
(Libertarian Accounts of Free Will. Oxford, 2003, p. xiii)
If the truth of determinism would preclude free will, it is far from obvious how indeterminism would help.
(Incompatibilist (Nondeterministic) Theories of Free Will. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, September 2008)
Any event that’s undetermined is uncaused and, hence, accidental. That is, it just happens; i.e., happens randomly. Thus, if our decisions are undetermined, then they are random, and so they couldn’t possibly be ‘‘appropriately non-random’’. Or to put the point the other way around, if our decisions are appropriately non-random, then they are authored and controlled by us; that is, we determine what we choose and what we don’t choose, presumably for rational reasons. Thus, if our decisions are appropriately non-random, then they couldn’t possibly be undetermined. Therefore, libertarianism is simply incoherent: it is not possible for a decision to be undetermined and appropriately non-random at the same time.
(A Coherent, Naturalistic, and Plausible Formulation of Libertarian Free Will, NOÛS 38:3 (2004) 379–406)
There are but these two alternatives. Either an action is causally determined. Or, to the extent that it is causally undetermined, its occurrence depends on chance. But chance alone does not constitute freedom. On its own, chance comes to nothing more than randomness. And one thing does seem to be clear. Randomness, the operation of mere chance, clearly excludes control.
(Free Will: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2004, p. 16)
Either causal determinism is true, or it is not. If it is true, then we would lack freedom (in the alternative-possibilities and source senses). If it is false, then we would lack freedom in that we would not select the path into the future — we would not be the source of our behavior. Indeterminism appears to entail that it is not the agent who is the locus of control.
(Free Will:Critical Concepts in Philosophy, Routledge, 2005, vol. I, p. xxix)
There are three standard responses to the problem of free will. The first, known as 'hard determinism', accepts the incompatibility of free will and determinism ('incompatibilism'), and asserts determinism, thus rejecting free will. The second response is libertarianism (again, no relation to the political philosophy), which accepts incompatibilism, but denies that determinism is true. This may seem like a promising approach. After all, has not modern physics shown us that the universe is indeterministic? The problem here is that the sort of indeterminism afforded by modern physics is not the sort the libertarian needs or desires. If it turns out that your ordering soup is completely determined by the laws of physics, the state of the universe 10,000 years ago, and the outcomes of myriad subatomic coin flips, your appetizer is no more freely chosen than before. Indeed, it is randomly chosen, which is no help to the libertarian.
(Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B (2004) 359, p.1776)
Either determinism is true or it's not. If determinism is true, then my choices are ultimately caused by events and conditions outside my control, so I am not their first cause and therefore...I am neither free nor responsible. If determinism is false, then something that happens inside me (something that I call “my choice” or “my decision”) might be the first event in a causal chain leading to a sequence of body movements that I call “my action”. But since this event is not causally determined, whether or not it happens is a matter of chance or luck. Whether or not it happens has nothing to do with me; it is not under my control any more than an involuntary knee jerk is under my control. Therefore, if determinism is false, I am not the first cause or ultimate source of my choices and...I am neither free nor responsible.
(Arguments for Incompatibilism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007)
Kane says that if free will is not compatible with determinism, it does not seem to be compatible with indeterminism either.
Imagine that the task for libertarians in solving this dilemma is to
ascend to the top of a mountain and get down the other side. (Call the
mountain "Incompatibilist Mountain": figure 4.1). Getting to the top
consists in showing that free will is incompatible with determinism.
(Call it the Ascent Problem.) Getting down the other side (call it the
Descent Problem) involves showing how one can make sense of a free will
that requires indeterminism.
(A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, 2005, p.34)
Note that compatiblism with determinism has always been a great deal easier to accept than compatibilism with indeterminism. Professed "agnostics" on the truth of determinism and indeterminism implicitly equate the two difficulties, whereas there is a great asymmetry between the two. Indeterminism (irrational chance) is much more difficult to reconcile with freedom than is (causal and rational) determinism.