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Sorry for the length of this question, but could anyone suggest reading material

Sorry for the length of this question, but could anyone suggest reading material for me that might help me learn about the type of 'freedom' I'm wondering about in the following example: If a friend asks me to pick any color, I am free to choose whichever color I would like. It seems as free as a choice can possibly be. And yet, the process of choosing the color seems to take place without conscious involvement on my part. Well, I'm clearly involved but the name/image of a color simply emerges into my consciousness. I don't actually choose which color will come to mind, since any deliberation between colors on my part is only possible after the colors have simply popped into my head. So, if orange comes to mind, I might tell my friend "I pick orange". But then I might decide that, since orange is my favorite color, I was probably biased towards picking it, so I decide to choose a different color to express my 'freedom to choose'. But again, whichever color comes to mind as a replacement for orange just...

I'd flag the word "ultimately" in your sentence "But this does seem to give weight to the notion that even conscious deliberation is not ultimately free." The search for "ultimate freedom," like the search for "ultimate purpose," is doomed to fail, but only because the search itself is incoherent and hence ill-conceived. As you point out, ultimate freedom would require completing an infinite regress there's no reason to think we could complete. In that case, there's good reason to doubt that "ultimacy" is essential to the concept of freedom we ordinarily use and view as important especially in moral contexts. You summed it up nicely: "So you're free, but you don't have the impossibly infinite consciousnesses necessary to be ultimately free, right?" Right. Or at least the impossibility of ultimate freedom doesn't cast doubt on the possibility of freedom, just as the impossibility of an ultimate prime number doesn't cast doubt on the possibility of prime numbers.

Let me recommend (again) this book; the chapters in it authored by Robert Kane strongly emphasize the importance of ultimate responsibility (wrongly, in my opinion).

Is it ever possible to do something we don't want to do? If I think/feel that I

Is it ever possible to do something we don't want to do? If I think/feel that I prefer not to do something but I do it anyway aren't I really just "wanting" not to face the consequences of not doing it more than wanting to do something different? A really simple example could just be preferring to watch the baseball game rather than driving to the airport to pick up my in-laws. If I suck it up and go to the airport and skip the game aren't I really "wanting" to not deal with the consequences of stranding them at the airport more than "wanting" to watch the game? Thanks!

It seems to me that there are many layers of meaning to your question: are we free to be moral? Is altruism possible? Can I shape my desires or am I just kidding myself?! In a sense you are in a pretty pickle here, because if I understand you correctly, you can neither prove nor disprove the nature of your choices. Psychological egoism asserts that all actions are done out of self-interest - and any attempt to deny this is simply not acknowledging that your wants might include pleasing your in-laws by picking them up. As a description of our human state, I find this to be a poor account of the complexity of our moral lives. As a theory, it is not open to revision or willing to entertain counter-factual evidence, so it is not even a great theory. Desire is so complex and the human heart so mysterious, I'm not sure we gain much by reducing every action to one (selfish) motive. Perhaps I'm going against Ockham's razor here, but the simplest answer, even if correct, doesn't get me to the airport!

Greetings philosophers! I’ve always wondered if free will is a problem for

Greetings philosophers! I’ve always wondered if free will is a problem for atheism. In particular, if there was no designer (God), isn’t it unlikely that something as strange as free will would arise?

As always with questions about free will, the answer to this one depends on how one understands free will. If one defines free will as a God-given power, then yes, atheists who accept that definition would conclude that there is no free will. But that's not a very good definition of free will. If one thinks free will requires a non-physical soul, then atheists who believe there are no such souls, would also think there is no free will. Atheists could believe in such souls, however (just not that they are God-given). Some scientists who say free will is an illusion (I call them 'willusionists') seem to think that the materialist worldview that science seems to provide evidence for rules out free will, because they assume free will, by definition, requires non-physical powers.

But I don't see any good reason to define free will as God-given or instantiated only in souls (and some of my work studying folk intuitions about free will suggests that most people agree with me). Rather, free will is the capacity to make choices and control actions such that one can be responsible for one's actions. This capacity is extremely complex (and for a naturalist like me, it's no surprise that it requires something as complex as the most complexly structured thing in the universe, the human brain--indeed, it's hard to see how a soul, whatever that might be, has the right sort of complexity). But I don't think "strange" is the right word for it.

How could the capacity for free will arise without a designer God. Like everything else in the biological world--the process of evolution. Some of the capacities involved in free will, such as the ability to consciously envision various possible future situations, each of which depends on what one chooses to do, were likely selected for directly because of their contribution to survival (and reproduction). Others, such as the ability to consider one's own mental states, such as desires, may have been a byproduct of abilities selected for other benefits, such as the ability to represent other individuals' mental states (the better to see, for instance, if they are trying to deceive you in complex cooperative ventures).

The upshot is that, once we hone in on a useful and plausible understanding of what it takes to have free will, it looks like it can be naturalized in such a way that it does not depend on God or souls.

I should add that the existence of God notoriously raises problems for free will that atheists don't face. If God knows everything we will choose before we choose it--or worse, if God is the cause of everything, including what we choose--then it is hard to understand how we can choose freely or be in control of what we choose.

It is said that happiness should be attained from the "inside out". That it

It is said that happiness should be attained from the "inside out". That it should be unilaterally seeked, and not externally determined. On a philosophical standpoint, is this view tenable, considering that we do not live in a vacumn? It is, to a large extent, true that we can choose the way we respond to a situation. But wouldn't undesirable or negative events (or even harassment) trigger the need to choose to respond in a way that does not allow for the event to determine one's happiness, and that that itself connotes that external events have a role to play? I may be stretching the notion too far, in which case, a rephrasing of the question would involve asking the extent to which happiness should/could be unilaterally determined? On a general level, is happiness a concept that is consensually determined (a social construct) or is it a subjective pursuit, such that one can "choose to be happy" for real?

Excellent question or set of questions! The Ancient Greeks were especially vexed by this concern, some of them (like the Stoics) stressing happiness as something that is almost always an internal matter, but those influenced by Greek tragedy tended to take the opposite view (chance or fate can have a major impact). Probably the best book on this historically and as a substantial question on its own is The Fragility of Goodness; Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy by Martha Nussbaum (Cambridge University Press, 1986). I suspect that some kind of middle ground is the most reasonable: your flourishing or happiness cannot be entirely internal (it would be hard to be happy while being slowly tortured to death), but it cannot be entirely external (we can imagine a chap having the best conditions possible and yet responding with spiteful unhappiness).

As for your general question on happiness, the current debate is quite interesting! Some philosophers are impressed by some empirical evidence that suggests (to them) that a person is not the best judge of whether he or she is happy. There are studies to the effect that most people report being happy with their lives (see "Most People are Happy" in Psychological Science, vol. 7, 1996). There was a 1978 study that reports that accident victims who become paraplegic usually return to their original state of happiness within one year. And another study in 1996 which suggests that few of us (except in non-fatal conditions of course!) are badly effected after three months of a bad event. (There is an excellent paper on this by Jason Marsh entitled "Quality of Life Assessments, Cognitive Reliability and Procreative Responsibility.") Some philosophers think all this is pretty good news, but others conclude that the data must reveal that people are self-deceived and while they think they are happy, they are not. I personally have a hard time believing these studies (I think it would take me more than a year to recover from being paraplegic), but if these studies are accurate they perhaps support a middle ground position: a person's happiness is neither entirely internal nor entirely external.

I don't think Marsh's paper is published yet; I heard it presented to my department. But keep an eye out for his treatment of such cases!


Hello. Thanks for all the great answers so far. A (seemingly) quick question. If everything is determined, does this mean that everything is necessary and nothing is contingent. Because if determined means 'could not be otherwise' then isn't that the same as saying it is necessary? Thank you, Christina

Determinism is a thesis about the relations between states (or events) in the universe. A deterministic universe is one in which, holding fixed the past states (or events) and the laws of nature, there is only one possible future set of states (or events). So, it might appear that determinism means that nothing is contingent or could happen otherwise. But that appearance is misleading, because the past or the laws were not necessary and they could have been different. If they had been different than they actually are, then the future events would be different than they actually will be.

If determinism meant that everything is necessary, then it would mean that there is only one possible universe. Nothing could be or could have been different than it is. That doesn't fit with the way we think about possibility. There are lots of possible universes--lots of ways things might have been or might be. But if determinism is true, the only way the present or future could be different than they actually are is if the past or laws were different than they actually were. I think this actually accords with the way we think about most (or all) events in our universe. The tree fell in the forest at this time and in this way. Could it have fallen in a slightly different way (or time)? Sure, but only if something had been slightly different leading up to its falling--the speed or direction of the wind, the saturation of the ground, the strength of the roots, etc. But for those things to be different, earlier things would have had to be different. And so on.

Perhaps our decisions are no different (I'm assuming you had the issue of free will in mind when you asked this question). You consider various options about what to order for lunch (or what major to pick or career path to follow or whom to marry!) After deliberation, you decide on X. Could you have chosen Y? Well, if determinism is true, only if something had been slightly different, such as the considerations you thought about or the strength of certain desires you had. And for those to be different, something earlier would have had to be different. And so on. But determinism does not rule out those possibilities. And if determinism is false, then it seems your decisions could be different for no reason at all, which doesn't sound so great either.

Lots more to say, but I hope this gives you something to think about...

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

Or another mode of reply: First suppose that science DOES suggest determinism. How would anything be different in our lives? Wouldn't democratic processes work precisely the same way as they have been? (After all, our behavior has been deterministic all along, so why would discovering/proving/merely believing that it is deterministic change anything?) Or since 'freedom' seems to be the larger concern for you, again, what would be different? All the cases where we've held people responsible for their behaviors, we still would hold them, wouldn't we? we'd still lock up bad people, teach our children to be good, etc.... So it isn't clear to me why scientific results would threaten anything, really. Ditto for religion: if we think religions are in the business of generating true claims about the world, then, where they succeed, we should be happy to endorse their claims (assuming we want the truth). Whichever dogmatic religions you're thinking of ARE dogmatic because they believe they have the truth which, I suppose, isn't necessarily a bad thing. Of course, greater humility about knowledge is probably more appropriate -- but then very little stops most people from believing their religious beliefs along WITH the humility of recognizing they may be wrong -- so it isn't religion itself which 'suppresses freedom (of thought)', but dogmatic bossy people (some of whom are religious, but many of whom are not) ....

hope that's useful! ...


“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” (Proverbs 15:3) This implies to me that God is omnipresent, through time and space. With that premise, what argument can be made for free will? If he can see every action we make, he knew the actions that Adam and Eve would make before their creation. Thanks, James

Just because God knows what is going to happen does not mean it has to happen, in the sense that human beings have to do what they end up doing. For example, I always have sugar in my coffee, if sugar is available, but that does not mean that I am incapable of having coffee without sugar. I used to smoke after a cup of coffee, but no longer do so, and here again I did not have to give up smoking. God doubtless knew what I was going to do before I did it, but the decisions to use sugar, and discontinue smoking all belong to me.

Everything can be determined. Therefore, the world is deterministic. What do you

Everything can be determined. Therefore, the world is deterministic. What do you think? (1) Everything can be determined. (2) Determinism is the thesis that everything can be determined. __________________________________________________________ Therefore, (3) the world is deterministic. For example, suppose I am raking the leaves outside my house. Then the fact that I am raking the leaves can be determined. It can be determined by anybody driving past my house. It can be determined by a high resolution satellite (on a clear day with no overhanging trees). It can be determined by merely witnessing me raking the leaves. The same goes for anything else that happens. Its occurrence can be determined. For (1) not to be true would be to undermine the assumption used in court trials. All court trials assume that the occurrence of anything, crimes included, can always be determined (even if not by the available evidence). For (2) not to be true would be to say that there are things that cannot be...

As the Stanford Encyclopedia article on the subject defines it, causal determinism "is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event isnecessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the lawsof nature".

This is a much stronger claim that is made at (2). To say that "everything can be determined", in the sense in which that phrase is used at (1), seems to mean just that every current fact can be known, i.e., can be determined to be true by some sort of ideal observer. That is itself a very strong claim, and not one that is obviously true. (Can it now be known what the temperature is inside some star millions of light years from here? What about facts in the past?) But even if it is true, that does not show that, to use your example, your raking the leaves now was causally necessitated by past events.

Could ADHD drugs like Adderall be accurately described as strengthening a person

Could ADHD drugs like Adderall be accurately described as strengthening a person's will?

We tend to regard the will as something that is marked off from the rest of the person, because, somehow, it is a direct manifestation of the person's being. So an ADHD drug could not be described as "strengthening people's will", because it if were described in this way it could not then be said to be be their own will that was being strengthened; they would be having it down for them.

Similarly, one might think, you can do my work for me, but not my thinking, because then it would not be my thinking that was being done. (Still, in that sense you would not be doing my work - my working - and it is just as impossible for you to do my work as it is for you to think my thoughts or even perhaps to wear my boots, taken to be the ones I am wearing ("Look, his boots (borrowed boots) have mud on them")).

One might on the other hand regard the will as the energy or strength to carry something through. Or one might regard it as determination, though here too the paradox shows through. If my determination is bolstered by a drug, is it really determination? But one can surely lack psychic energy or strength for just the sort of reason (anaemia, say) that one lacks physical energy. In such a case, one could well speak of "strengthening a person's will" or ability to carry through.

It seems to me possible by the way that one could learn from a drug, as Peter Kramer seems to imply can happen with Prozac, in his 1993 book Listening to Prozac. So the possibility seems to exist that the drug can actually teach someone who lacks it what strength of will is, and perhaps then they could do more easily "on their own" later.

Your problem is very interesting and difficult.

A common objection to determinism is the notion that if our thoughts and actions

A common objection to determinism is the notion that if our thoughts and actions are causally determined by preceding states and events, then the notion of responsibility vanishes in a puff of logic, and there are no longer any valid grounds for enforcing laws. This seems absurd on so many levels I can't begin to even understand how someone might seriously support this opinion. Causality would also determine whether we punish or not, and why should this realization alone be enough to causally force us to stop punishing people? Do we really only punish people because we think they as they were, confronted with the same situations, could have done otherwise? Why should causal determination eliminate responsibility if the person "responsible" is still the most salient source of the events in question? If our choices are not determined by a combination of our own nature, logical considerations and exterior circumstance, than we must be behaving randomly, and how does that justify punishment or law...

You raise an excellent issue here! It's true that it is often claimed that if determinism is true, and every event--including choices or decisions--is determined by preceding events, then choices will not be free, and hence agents will not be responsible for their choices or decisions, and so the agent cannot be responsible for the actions that follow upon choices or decisions, and consequently, there is no basis for sanctioning the agent for those actions that break the law.

It seems to me that the reason that this belief is as common as it is is because philosophers with incompatibilist intuitions think that agents are not free, and, hence, not responsible for their choices/decisions unless either the agent is able to do otherwise or the agent is the ultimate source of her choices. (It seems to me that these conditions are distinct: one might hold that it is a condition on freedom that agents be able to do or choose otherwise than they did without also holding that the agent is the ultimate source of her choices; however, if one holds that an agent must be the ultimate source of her choices in order to be free, it generally also is the case that it is maintained that agents have alternative possibilities. One reason that I think that this distinction needs to be drawn is because certain compatibilists--who think that determinism does not undermine human freedom--can accept the principle of alternative possibilities, although of course they will give it a compatibilistic interpretation, but no compatibilist can hold that agents are the ultimate sources of their choices, in light of the fact that compatibilists believe that determinism is no threat to freedom, and the truth of determinism would imply that agents are not the ultimate sources of their choices.) But if laws are taken to govern the acts committed by agents who are not free, this might seem to be an instance of what Thomas Nagel, in his wonderful paper, "Moral Luck" (collected in his volume, Mortal Questions, which includes many other wonderful papers as well and which I highly recommend), calls 'moral luck', and any legal judgment made about those actions would be unfair. The basic idea here is that laws can only apply to agents who are capable of obeying or disobeying laws, but if determinism is true, agents do not have that ability--at least, they do not have the ability, at the moment that they choose, of choosing otherwise than they actually do--and consequently, only if determinism is false can laws hold for agents.

While this view may rest on questionable assumptions about the nature of human freedom and the nature of law, I don't think it's absurd: such a view only seems absurd if one has either deep-seated compatibilist intuitions or deep-seated intuitions about the nature of law that take it to be a practice that is not tied to incompatibilism about freedom, or perhaps not even tied to the ascription of freedom to the agent in question. (Indeed, both compatibilists and incompatibilists about human freedom--from Thomas Hobbes to Moritz Schlick to J. J. C. Smart to Derk Pereboom--have maintained that law is either compatible with compatibilism about freedom or that it can function even if human beings are not free.) After all, the discovery that the world does not allow a necessary condition of an ongoing practice to hold might well provide a reason--if not a cause--for not continuing that practice.

The deep question, however, is what relation there is--if any--between law and conceptions of human freedom. This is a deep and interesting question. that many philosophers--including all the philosophers that I have mentioned in this rresponse--have addressed; I think, however, that in addition to reading articles by philosophers, one might gain some purchase on this issue by considering the law of torts, which has to do with ascriptions of responsibility. By looking and seeing just how issues of responsibility are treated in the law, one might thereby be in a better position to determine just how relevant philosophical discussions of responsibility are to the practice of law.