Free will is the power to choose among real alternative possibilities. To have free will is to have what it takes to act freely. When an agent acts freely (when she exercises her free will) what she does is up to her. A plurality of alternatives is open to her, and she determines which she pursues. When she does, she is an ultimate source or origin of her action. So runs a familiar conception of free will. Incompatibility holds that we act freely in this sense only if determinism is false. Some say little more about what, besides indeterminism, free will requires.
And, yes, the task of providing an incompatibility account is not an easy one. If the truth of determinism would prevent free will, it is far from obvious how indeterminism would help. To assess the point to which free will is compatible with Determinism, one must first consider other approaches to the concept of free will and whether we, in fact, possess it. A Hard Determinist, such as Honderich, would claim that individuals are not free to initiate actions or make moral decisions, by this means making the concept of moral responsibility unnecessary. Any moral decisions we make have uncontrollable prior causes.
Therefore, a Hard Determinist would support the premise that free will and Determinism are not compatible with one another. Completely different to Hard Determinism is Libertarianism, with which free will is closely compatible. Proponents of this position, such as Kant, maintain that we are all free and should take full moral responsibility for our actions. Between these two extremes stands Compatibilism. Classical Compatibilists, such as Hume, state that most moral decisions are the result of both external determined forces and an internal act of volition or will.
In fact, they go so far as to say that true freedom requires causation, without which there would be randomness. Undeniably then, the idea of free will is incompatible with Hard Determinism. A Compatibilist or Soft Determinist, however, would prove false the claim that the two concepts are incompatible. Arguably then, Libertarianism would seem to present the most convincing approach to the issue of free will, in that it acknowledges the role of the individual in moral decision making because of their free will, while accepting that the person’s background will, influence the choices they make.
Hard Determinism on the other hand, holdsthat we do not have free will and that all seemingly moral actions are the consequences of prior events that are out of our control. The incompatibility between this position and freedom results in the statement that it is unreasonable to hold people responsible for what they do, making praise and blame redundant. If no one is free to do otherwise than they in fact do, it does seem unfair to punish bad actions while rewarding good ones. Furthermore, Science has proved that the world is governed by cause and effect.
For a Hard Determinist, human beings are the same as material things, in that they are controlled by the same laws of nature. Our wills, which we believe to be freely gained, are actually the result of a causal chain stretching back into childhood. The fact we are governed by our genes and our environment means that our ability to make moral decisions as free agents, is an illusion. Therefore, the Hard Determinist position seems to be incompatible with the concept of free will.
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