Free Will: Philosophical Term

Categories: Free Will

Free will is the driving force of human existence and individuality. It directs human actions, thoughts and desires. Free will is what distinguishes humankind from all other creations of existence. Animals do not have free will. Plants and flowers do not have free will. Humans live their lives. Out of all that there is of existence that depends on air for life, only humans truly have free will.

As per the Merriam-Webster dictionary Free is defined as “not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being…choosing or capable of choosing for itself…determined by the choice of the actor or performer…made, done, or given voluntarily or spontaneously…capable of moving or turning in any direction…not restricted by or conforming to conventional forms.

” The definition of Will is said to be “desire, wish…choice, willingness, consent…determination, insistence, persistence” while Free Will is defined as “voluntary choice or decision…freedom of humans to make choices.

” Free will is a “philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives” (O’Connor, 2013).

Philosophers have debated the question of free will for over two millennia. Just about every major philosopher has had something to say about it. Most suppose that the concept of free will is very closely connected to the concept of moral responsibility. Free will appears as the autonomy and dignity of a person, it is the value we accord to love and friendship. Free will carries many dimensions.

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Free choice is an activity that involves both our intellect and volitional abilities as both consist in judgment and active promise. True freedom of the will involves liberation from any tyranny of base desires and acquisition of desire for the good. Free will is complex because it connects with many other larger theological issues. It intersects with philosophy, historical theology, and systematic theology. Humans are morally responsible, which requires that they be free. Such notions are uncomfortable because they call into question a fundamental basis of our laws and moral codes.

This includes our criminal justice system. When people commit crimes, they are assumed to have chosen their actions freely and rationally. They are held responsible and sentenced accordingly. In the 17th century, philosopher Rene Descartes argues that “the human soul freely chooses what it wants, making the brain act accordingly” (Koch, 2012). Can we truly act freely? This topic engages people in many ways that few other metaphysical questions do. It is the bedrock of any society’s notion of responsibility, praise and blame.

Ultimately it is all about the degree of control a person exerts over their life. A person is free if under identical circumstance they could have acted otherwise. The ancient Greeks had “gnothi seauton (know thyself) inscribed above the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi” (Koch, 2012). Jesuits are known for close to a 500 year old spiritual tradition that emphasizes a twice-daily examination of conscience. They believe a constant internal interrogation sharpens your sensitivity to your actions, desires and motivations.

(Koch, 2012) Medieval philosopher Scotus argued that “nothing other than the will is the total cause” of activity. We are further believed to not be capable of willing something in which we see no good or positive allowance. “Free will often emphasizes the importance of being able to do otherwise. ” (plato. stanford, n. d. ) It is hard to create important theories about what it would be like without free will. However, “free will is the idea that we make choices and have thoughts independent of anything remotely resembling a physical process” (Mele, 2012).

It is considered a “close cousin to the idea of the soul” (Mele, 2012). Further explained as a concept of autonomy “your thoughts and feelings that come from an entity separate and distinct from the physical mechanisms that make up your body” (Mele, 2012). Free will goes against any implications of natural selection. It means that a human position is thoroughly naturalistic. Additional pre-conscious brain activity is casually embedded roots within my actions. A thinking thing is associated with each human person. Scientists have not been able to show that free will is an illusion.

The debate of free will’s existence by science has gone on for centuries. The scientific aim is one of seeking knowledge regarding “unconscious control of human brain choices, and how much individual consciousness accounts for the wide variations among individual moral and ethical judgments” (Wall, 2013). The nature of free will carries a search to obtain abstract processes of consciousness that distinguish one person’s actions from another. Science further aims to “obtain a degree of doubt, a reason of inquiry, and a constant struggle between ignorance and insight” (Wall, 2013).

What is free will, do we truly have such and if so why do humans make decisions and take actions as they do? It can be argued that we do indeed have free will since humans transcend cause and effect in ways that make us ultimately responsible. We have choices of actions and thoughts. Human sensory systems send the brain about eleven million bits of information each second. Our conscious mind can handle only fifty bits of information per second. Hence the unconscious mind “does an enormous amount of processing before we even become aware of what has been sensed” (Stenger, 2012).

It is estimated that we are conscious of only five percent of our cognitive processes while the other ninety-five percent goes beyond our awareness. (Stenger, 2012) It seems that even when we are apparently not deciding, we are conscious of our options and the reality of choosing something different. Even assumptions are decisions made; actions are always the result of a decision. Actions can include effects of our historical circumstances. Free will is definitely fundamentally constituent of our actions. Free will allows actions to be something done not just believed. The action requires free will.

In a study on whether most people feel they have free will the response indicated that “free actions were associated with reaching goals, high levels of conscious thoughts and deliberation, positive outcomes, and moral behavior” (Stillman, 2011). Further noted is how the evolution of free will may involve development of the capacity to make choices that maximize long-term benefits even through sacrifice in the short run can be associated as delayed gratification of free will. Free will seems to always be associated with high levels of positive outcome and goal attainments.

With a conceptual link between free will and delayed goals the ability to think about the future and flexibly adjust actions in the present is a hallmark of human behavior and central to the functioning of human culture. Such control has been shown to predict beneficial outcomes (Stillman, 2011). It shows conscious engagement prior to actions. Such conscious thinking is useful for stimulating future actions prior to actually performing them. Such can be seen as a good example of free will. This form of action control enables people to live and function within a culture.

These free actions invoke thinking before acting and thereby improve an outcome. Decision-making is an ongoing process. We weigh the evidence and lean one way then the other. Finally the preponderance of evidence and the weights we assign to it lead us to a decision. In a massive survey of people in 36 countries, “more than 70% agreed with the statement that their fate is in their own hands” (Vohs, 2008). Vohs further stating that people’s sense of responsibility can change their behavior invoking a sense of personal accountability and modification of behavior to better align with attitudes.

Central to free will is the issue of personal responsibility. Most people have brains that can learn social norms and choose socially appropriate behavior. Ignoring those norms is a choice. A person freely chooses their actions. Without free will there would be neither moral responsibility nor legal culpability. No one would deserve punishment for breaking laws and no one would deserve blame for immoral behavior this also flowing into the belief that no one would deserve praise for good work either.

Recent psychological research shows that “those who do not believe in free will are more likely to behave immorally than those who do think that they have free will” (Arnason, 2011). While another study found that “believing in free will predicts better work attitudes and better work performance than not believing in free will” (Arnason, 2011). If a person were not causally responsible for actions, just about everything else they believed about them that is personal and free would be false. Free will enables choose between alternative possibilities and exercise control over our actions in making a choice.

We must distinguish sharply between a purpose and action performed. Emotions also play an important role in free will and ethical thinking as well. If someone deliberates over what to do in a particular situation, they usually elaborate reasonings to explain their final decision. Many habitual ways of acting are explained after the fact. Conflicting reasons do not sort themselves out on their own, nor does any one set of reasons create the final chosen action that takes place. Free will is the essential presumption of our actions and without it our actions would become incomprehensible.

We are the ultimate source of our actions and taken as internal perspective individuals consider themselves the authors of their decisions determining their own conduct. In the decision-making moment there are alternative possibilities and as rational agents, we take responsibility for the possibility that we choose. We measure our options using our free will and proceed to make our decisions. Even the choice of “waiting to see what happens will also be a decision that is the refusal to decide is also a decision” (Casado, 2011).

Free will is the horizon of our everyday lives. It is the element that gives meaning to the actions we are going to undertake. Free will can get muddied by its archaic name and the strong emotions it excites. Free will comes from a pre-scientific worldview, which saw the mind as quite separate from the body and the brain. It is said that “an action is freely chosen if someone decides to do it without any compulsion” (Ash, n. d. ). People make decisions voluntarily, and these decisions reflect their personalities.

Our motives, desires and concerns play a powerful part in shaping the causal chain further affecting the world.


  1. Arnason, G. (2011). Neuroscience, Free Will and Moral Responsibility, A Journal of the Humanities & Social Sciences. 15(2). 147-155. Retrieved from: http://ehis. ebscohost. com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=d94838be-7650-44af-b16d-5de06db0a318%40sessionmgr10&vid=8&hid=7
  2. Ash, T. (2003). Do We Have Free Will? Big Issue Ground. Retrieved from: http://www. bigissueground. com/philosophy/ash-freewill. shtml
  3. Casado, R.(2011). The Ineffectiveness of the Denial of Free Will, Philosophical Investigations. 34(4). 367-380. Retrieved from: http://ehis. ebscohost. com/ehost/detail? vid=6&sid=d94838be-7650-44af-b16d-5de06db0a318%40sessionmgr10&hid=7&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=a9h&AN=65637526
  4. Koch, C. (2012). Finding Free Will, Scientific American Mind. 23(2) 22-27. Retrieved from: http://ehis. ebscohost. com/ehost/detail? sid=d94838be-7650-44af-b16d-5de06db0a318%40sessionmgr10&vid=8&hid=7&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=f5h&AN=74253338
  5. Mele, A.(2012). Another Scientific Threat to Free Will, Monist. 95(3). 422-440. Retrieved from: http://ehis. ebscohost. com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=d94838be-7650-44af-b16d-5de06db0a318%40sessionmgr10&vid=7&hid=7
  6. O’Connor, T. (2013). Free Will, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from: http://plato. stanford. edu/archives/spr2013/entries/freewill/>. Stenger, V. J. (2012). Free Will and Autonomous Will, Skeptic. 17(4). 15-19. Retrieved from: http://ehis. ebscohost. com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? sid=d94838be-7650-44af-b1.

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