Citation for this page in APA citation style.           Close

Core Concepts

Adequate Determinism
Alternative Possibilities
Causa Sui
Causal Closure
Chance Not Direct Cause
Chaos Theory
The Cogito Model
Comprehensive   Compatibilism
Conceptual Analysis
Could Do Otherwise
Default Responsibility
Determination Fallacy
Double Effect
Either Way
Emergent Determinism
Epistemic Freedom
Ethical Fallacy
Experimental Philosophy
Extreme Libertarianism
Event Has Many Causes
Frankfurt Cases
Free Choice
Freedom of Action
"Free Will"
Free Will Axiom
Free Will in Antiquity
Free Will Mechanisms
Free Will Requirements
Free Will Theorem
Future Contingency
Hard Incompatibilism
Idea of Freedom
Illusion of Determinism
Laplace's Demon
Liberty of Indifference
Libet Experiments
Master Argument
Modest Libertarianism
Moral Necessity
Moral Responsibility
Moral Sentiments
Paradigm Case
Random When?/Where?
Rational Fallacy
Same Circumstances
Science Advance Fallacy
Second Thoughts
Soft Causality
Special Relativity
Standard Argument
Temporal Sequence
Tertium Quid
Torn Decision
Two-Stage Models
Ultimate Responsibility
Up To Us
What If Dennett and Kane Did Otherwise?


Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Karl Popper
Huw Price
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
John Herschel
Werner Heisenberg
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium

The Separability of Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Four Degrees of Separation:

  1. The Separation of "Free" from "Will"

  2. The Separation of "Responsibility" from "Moral Responsibility"

  3. The Separation of "Free Will" from "Moral Responsibility"

  4. The Separation of "Free Will and Moral Responsibility" from "Punishment" - both Retributive and Consequentialist

We must separate the concept "free" from the concept of "will" in order to better understand "free will," as John Locke recommended we do to avoid verbal confusion. He said, "I think the question is not proper, whether the will be free, but whether a man be free."
(Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, Chapter XXI, Of Power, s.21)

We must also separate "moral responsibility" from ordinary "responsibility" or simple accountability. If our intentions and decisions caused an action, we are responsible for it, but moral responsibility requires that the action has moral consequences. Immanuel Kant and the modern free willist Robert Kane think that only moral decisions can be free decisions. We think that is an "ethical fallacy."

We must go even further and clarify the relationship between free will and moral responsibility. Some philosophers (e.g., John Martin Fischer, Derek Pereboom, and Manuel Vargas) deflect direct discussion of free will and study it only as the "control condition for moral responsibility."

Finally, we should explore the connection between moral responsibility and punishment , both backward-looking retributive punishment (revenge or restitution) and forward-looking consequentialism (re-education and rehabilitation).

The Separation of "Free" from "Will"
"Free Will" - in scare quotes - refers to the common but mistaken notion that the adjective "free" modifies the concept "will." In particular, it indicates that the element of chance, one of the two requirements for free will is present in the determination of the will itself.

Critics of "libertarian free will" usually adopt this meaning in order to attack the idea of randomness in our decisions, which clearly would not help to make us morally responsible.

Unfortunately, some defenders of libertarian free will (Robert Kane and his followers, for example) continue to add indeterminism into the "torn" decision itself, making such free will "unintelligible" by their own account.

Despite the claim of some professional philosophers that they are better equipped than scientists to make conceptual distinctions and evaluate the cogency of arguments, they have mistakenly conflated the concepts of "free" and "will." They (con)fuse them with the muddled term "free will," despite clear warnings from John Locke that this would lead to confusion.

Locke said very clearly, as had some ancients like Lucretius, it is not the will that is free (in the sense of undetermined), it is the mind.

John Locke liked the idea of Freedom and Liberty. He thought it was inappropriate to describe the Will itself as Free. The Will is a Determination. It is the Man who is Free. "I think the question is not proper, whether the will be free, but whether a man be free." "This way of talking, nevertheless, has prevailed, and, as I guess, produced great confusion," he said. It has and still does produce confusion

In chapter XXI, Of Power, in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke calls the question of Freedom of the Will unintelligible. But for Locke, it is only because the adjective "free" applies to the agent, not to the will, which is determined by the mind, and determines the action.

Concerning a man's liberty, there yet, therefore, is raised this further question, Whether a man be free to will? which I think is what is meant, when it is disputed whether the will be free. (s.22)

This, then, is evident, That a man is not at liberty to will, or not to will, anything in his power. (s.24)

Freedom of human action requires the randomness of absolute chance to break the causal chain of determinism, yet the conscious knowledge that we are adequately determined to be responsible for our choices.

Freedom requires some events that are not causally determined by immediately preceding events, events that are unpredictable by any agency, events involving quantum uncertainty. These random events create alternative possibilities for action.

Randomness is the "free" in free will.

In short, there must be a Randomness Requirement, unpredictable chance events that break the causal chain of determinism. Without this chance, our actions are simply the consequences of events in the remote past. This randomness must be located in a place and time that enhances free will, one that does not reduce it to pure chance.
(Determinists do not like this requirement.)

Freedom also requires an adequately determined will that chooses or selects from those alternative possibilities. There is effectively nothing uncertain about this choice.

Adequate determinism is the "will" in free will.

So there is also a Determinism Requirement - that our actions be adequately determined by our character and values. This requires that any randomness not be the direct cause of our actions. (Libertarians do not like this requirement.)

Adequate determinism means that randomness in our thoughts about alternative possibilities does not directly cause our actions.

A random thought can lead to an adequately determined action, for which we can take full responsibility.

We must separate the "free" thoughts from the "willed" actions.

Our thoughts come to us. Our actions come from us.

The Separation of "Moral" from "Responsibility"
Responsibility for a willed action can be ascribed to an agent because the "adequately" determined will has started a new causal chain that includes the action and its foreseeable consequences.

But responsibility is not exactly the same as moral responsibility. It is merely a prerequisite for moral responsibility.

Responsibility is similar to accountability. Just as an action can said to be a cause of its consequences, so the agent can be held accountable for the action.

Different moral codes, which are the business of ethicists, may have different degrees of moral responsibility for the same actions and its consequences.

We must separate "moral" from "responsibility."

The Separation of "Free Will" from "Moral Responsibility"
From the earliest beginnings, the problem of "free will" has been intimately connected with the question of moral responsibility. Most of the ancient thinkers on the problem were trying to show that we humans have control over our decisions, that our actions "depend on us", and that they are not pre-determined by fate, by arbitrary gods, by logical necessity, or by a natural causal determinism.

John Martin Fischer says that some philosophers want to relate these two very strongly:

Some philosophers do not distinguish between freedom and moral responsibility. Put a bit more carefully, they tend to begin with the notion of moral responsibility, and "work back" to a notion of freedom; this notion of freedom is not given independent content (separate from the analysis of moral responsibility). For such philosophers, "freedom" refers to whatever conditions are involved in choosing or acting in such a way as to be morally responsible.
(Free Will, vol 1, p. )
The question of the existence of "free will" is an empirical and factual question about the nature of the mind. It does not depend in any way on the existence of "moral responsibility," which is a question for ethics.

Here is an example of the kind of problems caused by conflating free will with moral responsibility. Manuel Vargas follows John Fischer in connecting free will to moral responsibility, then he wonders how and when children can suddenly acquire free will at a certain age. Vargas says:

It is not clear that there is any single thing that people have had in mind by the term "free will." Perhaps the dominant characterization in the history of philosophy is that it is something like the freedom condition on moral responsibility. Roughly, the idea is that to be morally responsible for something, you had to have some amount of freedom, at some suitable time prior to the action or outcome for which you are responsible. That sense of freedom — whatever it amounts to — is what we mean to get at by the phrase "free will." However, there may be things for which free will might be important or other senses of free will that are independent of concerns about moral responsibility. For example, philosophers have worried whether free will is required for some human achievements to have a special worth or value, or for there to be values and valuing in any robust sense. Although I think much of what I will say can be applied to other aspects of thinking about it, I will primarily concerned with free will in its connection to moral responsibility, the sense in which people are appropriately praised or blamed. (Four Views on Free Will, p.128-9)
Vargas then puzzles about children becoming free agents.
Consider the question of how we go from being unfree agents to free agents. This is a puzzle faced by all accounts of responsibility, but there is something pressing about it in the case of libertarianism. As children we either had the indeterministic structures favored by your favorite version of libertarianism or we lacked them. If we lacked them as children, we might wonder how we came to get those structures. We might also wonder what the evidence is for thinking that we do develop said structures. Suppose the libertarian offers us an answer to these questions, and the other empirical challenges I raised in the prior section. We would still face another puzzle. What, exactly, does the indeterminism add? What follows in this section is not so much a metaphysical concern as it is a normative concern. It is a concern about what work the indeterminism does in libertarianism, apart from providing a way to preserve our default self-image as deliberators with genuine, metaphysically robust alternative possibilities. (p.148)
Children have free will from birth. It is part of their biological makeup. It is the moral responsibility that they "come to get" at some age.

We must separate "free will" from "moral responsibility."

The Separation of "Free Will and Moral Responsibility" from Retributive Punishment (Revenge, Restitution) and Consequentialist Punishment (Education, Rehabilitation)
Liberal and humanitarian thinkers who see that retributive punishment is sometimes cruel and unproductive should not try to argue that punishment is not "deserved" because free will does not exist.

They have excellent reasons for preferring rehabilitation and education to vengeance.

Naturalists argue that humans are just a form of animal and that we lack free will because animals do. The idea that there is no free will in animals, that they are completely determined, was the old religious argument that God had given man the gift of free will. The new version is that animals lack moral responsibility, which is now bweing questioned in many sociobiological studies.

Whether man - and higher animals too - have free will is an empirical scientific question. Whether they have moral responsibility is a social and cultural question.

To make it depend on arguments against vengeance and retributive punishment is to get the cart before the horse.

Equating free will with moral responsibility, then to use spurious arguments to deny free will, and thus to deny moral responsibility - in order to oppose punishment - is fine humanism but poor philosophy, and terrible science.

We must separate "free will and moral responsibility" from "punishment," retributive or consequentialist.

Chapter 3.7 - The Ergod Chapter 4.2 - The History of Free Will
Part Three - Value Part Five - Problems
Normal | Teacher | Scholar