Free will

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Free will is the concept that it is possible to make choices by an act of will based on independent thought.

  • ... free will can be defined as the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in a manner necessary for moral responsibility[1]

This would appear to be impossible in a solely naturalistic system in which biochemical processes obey natural laws, not will.

Incompatibilism views free will as being in conflict with the doctrine of determinism, while Compatibilism sees no conflict between the two.

In some denominations of the Christian faith it is believed that humans were created with free will so that they would choose to believe in and worship God. Other Christian traditions, such as Calvinism, believe that humans were created without free will, but that God's will determines our choice of him. The issue is theological. It relates to the human's acceptance of God, and does not mean that man is without free will in other respects.

For many, freedom of will is required for a functioning morality; that is, if we were not free we could not be held responsible for our actions, having been incapable of making a moral choice.

Viewpoint of David Hume

However some philosophers (e.g. David Hume) have held that not only can morality and determinism co-exist, but in fact that morality requires that our actions were determined. The reasoning is as follows:

Decisions are just like any other event in that they have causes. The relationship between a reason and a decision is broadly similar to that between a cause and an effect; if an effect lacks a cause, it must necessarily be random, and the same is true of a decision. Every element of the thought process that goes into making a choice must be either caused by external stimuli (the reasons for deciding one way or the other) or completely random. We could not be considered moral beings if our actions were random and therefore responsibility can fall only on determined individuals. Hume considered free will to be the freedom to do as one chooses (freedom of action), and therefore moral blame falls upon those who have acted immorally when they were at liberty to act otherwise.

Free will and punishment

Some people deny free will but still claim that punishment is necessary to deter harmful behaviour and protect the community. Such people argue that punishment should be the minimum necessary to deter harmful behaviour.[Citation Needed]


  1. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy