In this essay, I will argue that free willis incompatible with physical determinism. This is due to the fact that the powerof free will in a physically determined world is impossible. I will maintainthat the tension between free will and physical determinism is due to thereason that the ability to act at one’s own discretion, such as: makingchoices, thinking for yourself and to some extent being morally responsible foryour actions (which is the definition of free will this essay will focus on)cannot coexist with physical determinism. As physical determinism assumes, theinitial conditions of the universe, the laws of physics and predeterminedevents, determine everything that happens. It then follows, that all our decisionsare beyond our control because they were pre-existing before they have taken place.
So, free will is undeniably conflicting with physical determinism because freewill requires external determined forces and the likes of continuous chance andrandomness (which goes beyond the physical laws) in order for human freedom andfree choices to be made. The challenge from physical determinism is the’consequence argument’ this is as follows: P1 (Physical determinism) Assuming physicaldeterminism, our actions are the logical consequence of facts beyond ourcontrol.P2 If our actions are logical consequencesof facts beyond our control, then our actions are beyond our control.
Conclusion:We do not have free will. The argument above shows that if physicaldeterminism holds then free will does not exist, in this sense free will andphysical determinism are clearly incompatible. This is due to the reasoning thatthe premises above are both true and incontestable. In order to rationally showthat this argument is true, the premises and conclusion must be analysed.
Premise 1 is the basic understanding that allactions are determined by logical consequence beyond our control. For example,if I return a purse to a person who left it on the train to work. I have onlydone this because of the scientific reasoning behind my behaviour, and notbecause of some random influences. This action has existed before I made thedecision I thought I had chosen because I have not made the choice myself(because the action is beyond my control).
So, my behaviour is not actuallywilled by me. On the other hand, compatibilists argue that random occurrencesmake this premise weak. However, I completely disagree. Because I had no choiceabout returning the purse, even if the event is a random case. I will still actin accordance with the way that I am predetermined to act, therefore the possibilitiesof any random event do not weaken this argument.
This also follows on to the logical implicationthat no individual has moral responsibility for their actions because the consequencesof their actions are beyond their control. If I do not have a set of optionsbecause the nature of my behaviour has been deprived of them, then if I have noalternative choice of action, I should not be held responsible for all thingsthat I do. This is because I could not have done otherwise. This is betterunderstood by using an example from Helen Beebee’s writing. In short, Beebeestates that “if a girl called Carly grew up in an environment where car-stealingwas rewarded, praised and encouraged. Her environment and upbringing have nowresulted in her criminal activities” (Beebee 2013) From this broader deterministperspective Carly had no control over which direction her life went because theevents in her life were predetermined by factors beyond Carly’s control.
Therefore,I believe that the first premise holds. Many Biophysicists, and evidence fromEmpirical Science have shown that there are clear biological explanations forour behaviours. These particular logical factors such as genes, biochemistryetc. drive our behaviour.
For example, Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is an enzyme thatinfluences aggression levels. This scientific development has been applied toItalian law. “An Italian court has reduced the sentence of a convicted murdererby a year due to genes linked to violent behaviour” (Emiliano Feresin, 2009)This case illustrates that our actions are caused by logical consequences (inthis case genetic predispositions) that lead to individuals acting in a set way.This example shows that premise two of the consequence argument follows. Surely, it is now true that we do not havefree will. This is because our actions are only able to lead to pre-decidedoutcomes.
Which means that there is no possible unconscious process takingplace. The lack of options we have means that we are unable to have acted in analternative way. If you cannot choose something and be fully morallyresponsible for your decisions, then you are unfree to will anything.Therefore, the conclusion is true. Building on the relationship between the scientificworldview and physical determinism. It is clear that science considerablyinfluences physical determinism in the sense that the ability for the laws ofphysics to explain the world, leads to the desire of physical determinism toexplain the human mind.
This contradicts with the concept of free will becausefree will is something that cannot be explained or understood fully, makingboth of the concepts incompatible. It is particularly notable to say that thenature of cause and effect in science and more importantly in Physics (which liesat the core of physical determinism) conflicts with free will. Because physicshas a mechanist view of the world dating back to the “big bang”.
It is suchthat, all actions are caused by physics, geometry and other natural laws. Allhuman beings are also governed by these same laws which automaticallyeliminates a belief in free choice. These laws mean that it is impossible forfree will to exist because our behaviour can always be explained by any scientificunderstanding, such as biology and neural mechanisms. Therefore, the code ofethics that we think we hold is actually a bunch of behaviours that are causedby explained factors such as evolution, the composition of atoms and any otherscientific explanations. This incompatibility ultimately means, that not onlycan free will and physical determinism coexist, but it implies that free willis illusory. Oneof the most famous convincing arguments to support the incompatibility of freewill and physical determinism is Laplace’s demon.
“The argument states that ifa super-intelligent being (the Demon) could know the positions, velocities, andforces of all the particles in the universe at one time, their past and future values for any given time areentailed; they can be calculated from the laws of classical mechanics” (Laplace,1814) This theory has two important implications for the relationship betweenfree will and physical determinism. Firstly, the fact the demon has a perfectknowledge about all physical laws leaves no room for chance and randomness.This is because the demon has perfect understanding of all laws (which is theaim of physics) and the possibilities of will or any concepts outside of the demon’sknowledge are impossible. Secondly, this argument further implies that the conceptof free will is impossible because it is to a great extent a concept that is formeddue to humans having an imperfect understanding, in regards to all the detailsof physics. This then leads to the incorrect belief in the existence of ‘freewill’ Laplace’s demon illustrates that free will and physical determinism areincompatible. Finally, although John MartinsFishers metaphysical approach to the compatibility of free will and determinismis semi-compatibilist.
His stance successfully supports the incompatibilitybetween free will and physical determinism. To briefly note Fisher’s argument fromKadri Vihvelin’s paper. “Fisher thinks that divine foreknowledge isincompatible with freedom to do over wise but compatible with moralresponsibility” (Vihvelin, 1998) The first part of Fishers argument shows that ifa being has divine knowledge of the world, be it a God or the entire laws of physicsand nature, there is no room for free will if everything in the world was understoodby an omniscient being. In terms of the later of hisargument, to say that moral responsibility is compatible is a weakcontradiction of incompatibilism.
It is clear that those who argue that freewill and physical determinism are compatible form arguments on the basis ofweak ideas. This is because compatibilists merely use arguments such asindeterminate randomness, probability etc. In order to try and underminedeterminism but advocate no solid ideas about there being an actual possibilityof free will. If physicists cannot locate free will, then it is absurd for themto argue that it is compatible without even understanding the concept. To summarise, the above incompatibilityarguments show that free will is incompatible because it is essentially the completeopposite of Physics. This is because free will is entirely based onsubjectivity (such as unconscious decisions) which physics does not subscribe to.
Physical determinism views the mind in an entirely objective way in order toreach clarity through knowledge and not subjectivity.