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Determinism’s Relation to Free Will Essay

The stereotypical definition of determinism, to the layman, goes something like this: “All events are predetermined so we have no free will.” Actually, this is more or less the definition of hard determinism. Determinism, however, according to professor of philosophy Sandra LaFave, can co-exist with free will in the form of soft determinism, the philosophical theory that all events indeed have causes but that humans can still act voluntarily. Soft determinism provides a more widely-acceptable definition of determinism that agrees more with common usage of the words “free will” and “cause.”

Hard determinism states that all events have causes and that we cannot be free as a result. Soft determinism, however, responds to this pessimistic conclusion by asserting that we can indeed have free will and still exist by the deterministic model in which all events have causes. Hard determinism correlates “cause” with “force” or “compulsion” and “free” with “total control,” whereas soft determinism correlates “free” with “voluntary” or “not forced.” Thus soft determinism’s definitions of words more strongly agree with average, everyday usage.

If I were forced to open my safe of personal savings at gunpoint, for example, soft determinism would suggest that I am not acting freely in this situation as I am being coerced by an external force to do something I otherwise wouldn’t. If I were to open the safe voluntarily (no one is forcing me), then I am exerting my free will. This distinction may seem obvious, but its validity proves why we can’t support hard determinism — hard determinism would suggest that both actions are not done out of free will since both actions have causes. Therefore, our usage of the word “free will” cannot co-exist with hard determinism, but only soft determinism.

In conclusion, determinism can co-exist with free will in an effective manner. I must admit, however, that soft determinism’s validity rests on an agreement with what “cause” and “free will,” as defined above, mean. Still, hard determinism also relies on its own definitions of “cause” and “free will,” so this linguistic criticism does not undermine soft determinism’s validity. Still, many more arguments regarding determinism and free will exist that are beyond the scope of my knowledge.


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