Free will by Marinus Jan Marijs
The question whether humans have free will, is an old philosophical question.
Free Will means: “A significant kind of control over one’s actions. Questions concerning the nature and existence of this kind of control (e.g., does it require and do we have the freedom to do otherwise or the power of self-determination?), and what its true significance is (is it necessary for moral responsibility or human dignity?)
Overviews of thought on free will, are broadly construed, in Western, Chinese and Indian philosophical traditions,
In ferreting out the kind of control involved in free will, we are forced to consider questions about (among others) causation, laws of nature, time, substance, ontological reduction vs emergence, the relationship of causal and reasons-based explanations, the nature of motivation and more generally of human persons.
In assessing the significance of free will, we are forced to consider questions about (among others) rightness and wrongness, good and evil, virtue and vice, blame and praise, reward and punishment, and desert. The topic of free will also gives rise to purely empirical questions that are beginning to be explored in the human sciences: do we have it, and to what degree?
Stoics believed that all human choice and behavior was causally determined, but held that this was compatible with our actions being ‘up to us’.
The details of Augustine’s positive account remain a matter of controversy. He clearly affirms that the will is by its nature a self-determining power—no powers external to it determine its choice—and that this feature is the basis of its freedom. But he does not explicitly rule out the will’s being internally determined by psychological factors,
The first was that free will has two aspects: the freedom to do otherwise and the power of self-determination. The second is that an adequate account of free will must entail that free agents are morally responsible agents and/or fit subjects for punishment.
free will has traditionally been conceived of as a kind of power to control one’s choices and actions.
Indeed, some go so far as to define ‘free will’ as ‘the strongest control condition—whatever that turns out to be—necessary for moral responsibility’
free will is moral responsibility as accountability
It depends on the agent’s cognitive capacities, such as being capable of understanding moral reasons and the implications of their actions
Philosophers sometimes claim that our belief in the reality of free will is epistemically basic, or reasonable without requiring independent evidential support.
In Book IV of The Republic, Plato posits rational, spirited, and appetitive aspects to the human soul. The wise person strives for inner ‘justice’, a condition in which each part of the soul plays its proper role—reason as the guide, the spirited nature as the ally of reason, exhorting oneself to do what reason deems proper, and the passions as subjugated to the determinations of reason. In the absence of justice, the individual is enslaved to the passions. Hence, freedom for Plato is a kind of self-mastery, attained by developing the virtues of wisdom, courage, and temperance, resulting in one’s liberation from the tyranny of base desires and acquisition of a more accurate understanding and resolute pursuit of the Good.”
(Free Will: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.
Free will is closely linked to the concepts of moral responsibility,
Some conceive free will to be the capacity to make choices in which the outcome has not been determined by past events. Determinism suggests that only one course of events is possible, which is inconsistent with the existence of free will thus conceived.
Different compatibilists offer very different definitions of what “free will” means and consequently find different types of constraints to be relevant to the issue.
It is difficult to reconcile the intuitive evidence that conscious decisions are causally effective with the view that the physical world can be explained entirely by physical law. The conflict between intuitively felt freedom and natural law arises when either causal closure or physical determinism (nomological determinism) is asserted
mental properties form a separate ontological class to physical properties: that mental states (such as qualia) are not ontologically reducible to physical states. Although one might suppose that mental states and neurological states are different in kind, that does not rule out the possibility that mental states are correlated with neurological states.
Free will as a psychological state
Compatibilism often regards the agent free as virtue of their reason. Some explanations of free will focus on the internal causality of the mind with respect to higher-order brain processing – the interaction between conscious and unconscious brain activity.
To abandon these notions of freedom would be to abandon moral responsibility.
The encyclopaedic articles here above, give a general overview of the philosophical development relating to the question: “Is there free will.”
This is not just an abstract theoretical subject:
Every legal system is based upon the assumption that humans have free will.
Without free will there is no moral responsibility, and morality which deals with the ethical choice between good and evil, becomes in principle non-existent if people have no choice, no free will.
Determinism or free will
This absolute dichotomy is incorrect, it is obvious that a great majority of the processes related to human functioning are completely deterministic:
The laws of nature
The functioning of D.N.A
The functioning of the immunity system
Social and cultural conditioning
and so on…….
If one postulates causal closure, no physical event can have a cause outside the physical domain, and with physical determinism, the future is determined entirely by preceding events (cause and effect).The idea that everything is caused by prior conditions, making it impossible for anything else to happen, future events are necessitated by past and present events combined with the laws of nature.
Quantum mechanics predicts events only in terms of probabilities, casting doubt on whether the universe is deterministic at all
That the physical world is deterministic, because it is a closed system is not a scientific point of view but a metaphysical point of view.
There is no scientific evidence that the physical world is a closed system and if there is platonic instigation, than the physical world is by definition not a closed system.
That the laws of nature are the way they are cannot be determined by random processes, the data from the fine-tuning excludes that possibility.
They are structured by platonic instigation from a platonic realm, by the logos, by a kosmic mind
Libertarianism holds onto a concept of free will that requires that the agent be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances.
Accounts of libertarianism subdivide into non-physical theories and physical or naturalistic theories. Non-physical theories hold that the events in the brain that lead to the performance of actions do not have an entirely physical explanation, which requires that the world is not closed under physics. This includes interactionist dualism, which claims that some non-physical mind, will, or soul overrides physical causality. (Wikipedia)
“It has been noted that the laws of physics have yet to resolve the hard problem of consciousness: “Solving the hard problem of consciousness involves determining how physiological processes such as ions flowing across the nerve membrane cause us to have experiences.” According to some, “Intricately related to the hard problem of consciousness, the hard problem of free will represents the core problem of conscious free will: Does conscious volition impact the material world?” (Wikipedia)
The readiness potential
Neuroscience of free will
“It has become possible to study the living brain, and researchers can now watch the brain’s decision-making process at work. A seminal experiment in this field was conducted by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s, in which he asked each subject to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he measured the associated activity in their brain; in particular, the build-up of electrical signal called the readiness potential (after German Bereitschaftspotential, which was discovered by Kornhuber & Deecke in 1965.). Although it was well known that the readiness potential reliably preceded the physical action, Libet asked whether it could be recorded before the conscious intention to move. To determine when subjects felt the intention to move, he asked them to watch the second hand of a clock. After making a movement, the volunteer reported the time on the clock when they first felt the conscious intention to move; this became known as Libet’s W time.
Libet found that the unconscious brain activity of the readiness potential leading up to subjects’ movements began approximately half a second before the subject was aware of a conscious intention to move.
These studies of the timing between actions and the conscious decision bear upon the role of the brain in understanding free will. A subject’s declaration of intention to move a finger appears after the brain has begun to implement the action, suggesting to some that unconsciously the brain has made the decision before the conscious mental act to do so. Some believe the implication is that free will was not involved in the decision and is an illusion. The first of these experiments reported the brain registered activity related to the move about 0.2 s before movement onset. However, these authors also found that awareness of action was anticipatory to activity in the muscle underlying the movement; the entire process resulting in action involves more steps than just the onset of brain activity. The bearing of these results upon notions of free will appears complex.
Some argue that placing the question of free will in the context of motor control is too narrow. The objection is that the time scales involved in motor control are very short, and motor control involves a great deal of unconscious action, with much physical movement entirely unconscious. On that basis “… free will cannot be squeezed into time frames of 150–350 ms; free will is a longer term phenomenon” and free will is a higher level activity that “cannot be captured in a description of neural activity or of muscle activation….” The bearing of timing experiments upon free will is still under discussion.
More studies have since been conducted, including some that try to:
- support Libet’s original findings
- suggest that the cancelling or “veto” of an action may first arise subconsciously as well
- explain the underlying brain structures involved
- suggest models that explain the relationship between conscious intention and action
Benjamin Libet’s results are quoted in favor of epiphenomenalism, but he believes subjects still have a “conscious veto”, since the readiness potential does not invariably lead to an action. In Freedom Evolves, Daniel Dennett argues that a no-free-will conclusion is based on dubious assumptions about the location of consciousness, as well as questioning the accuracy and interpretation of Libet’s results. Kornhuber and Deecke underlined that absence of conscious will during the early Bereitschaftspotential (termed BP1) is not a proof of the non-existence of free will, as also unconscious agendas may be free and non-deterministic. According to their suggestion, man has relative freedom, i.e. freedom in degrees, that can be increased or decreased through deliberate choices that involve both conscious and unconscious (panencephalic) processes.
Others have argued that data such as the Bereitschaftspotential undermine epiphenomenalism for the same reason, that such experiments rely on a subject reporting the point in time at which a conscious experience occurs, thus relying on the subject to be able to consciously perform an action. That ability would seem to be at odds with early epiphenomenalism, which according to Huxley is the broad claim that consciousness is “completely without any power… as the steam-whistle which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine is without influence upon its machinery”.
Adrian G. Guggisberg and Annaïs Mottaz have also challenged those findings.
A study by Aaron Schurger and colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) challenged assumptions about the causal nature of the readiness potential itself (and the “pre-movement buildup” of neural activity in general), casting doubt on conclusions drawn from studies such as Libet’s and Fried’s.
A study that compared deliberate and arbitrary decisions, found that the early signs of decision are absent for the deliberate ones.
It has been shown that in several brain-related conditions, individuals cannot entirely control their own actions, though the existence of such conditions does not directly refute the existence of free will. Neuroscientific studies are valuable tools in developing models of how humans experience free will.” (Wikipedia)
Basically Free will is a state in which decisions are consciously made.
Illustration at the top of the page: by Ilja Repin, 1870 – 1873.