Talk:Free will

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It is a logical inconsistancy to claim that foreknowledge of an individual's actions allows that individual to possess free will. If the will is known, it is not free. If the will is free, it cannot be known.

Thus, if a deity has foreknowledge of an individual's actions, then that deity has denied the individual's free will.

If an individual's will is genuinely free, then any claim that a deity can have prior knowledge of an individual's actions is false.

Free will and an omniscient deity are mutually exclusive. If either is encompassed by a theologically honest position, the other must be denied. --OmnusErudito 14:24, 14 March 2007 (EDT)

This argument assumes that the future is capable of being the subject of knowledge (a fairly widely held assumption, but one I, and many other philosophers, reject). That is, it assumes that a statement about the future is true or false, rather than indeterminate. If the future is indeterminate then an omniscient deity would be able to know all that is knowable and still not know what I am going to do in the future. Of course, this position raises problems with respect to prophesy and that may be a problem for some theists (but not necessarily for all theists if they reject prophesy or if they view prophesy as a promise of what God intends to do in the future). So, while you are right, free will and the common understanding of an omniscient deity are at odds, free will and an omniscient deity are not necessarily at odds.--Reginod 15:34, 14 March 2007 (EDT)
Knowing all possible outcomes does not make a being omniscient - I know all possible outcomes of a dice-roll, but I am not omniscient. Given time and inclination, I could work out all possible results to a general election, but I will still not be omniscient. No matter how complex a system, no matter how many possible outcomes exist in potentia, knowing all the possibilities does not make a being omniscient, merely clever. Omniscience would require that the being know which of the possible outcomes will occur, bringing us right back to my original point. (I like your rewrite of the article, by the way)--OmnusErudito 14:28, 15 March 2007 (EDT)
I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. My point was simply that it could be the case that the future is not something that is knowable--at all--so even an all knowing entity (one that knows everything that is knowable) would not know the future. Such an entity would know all the posable outcomes (just as we know what results a dice-roll may have), but it would not know the future. this assumes a non-static future (which is an understanding of the nature of the future that is more compatible with free will than a static, even if unknown, future). This would mean an all knowing God would still not know the future--so God's foreknowledge would not be in conflict with free will. I'm not saying it is the right answer, I'm not sure what the right answer is, but it is one way to make free will and the existence of an all knowing being compatible.
Thank you for the compliment on the edit, I'm of the opinion that it is better to note where the debate is than pretend knowledge of the truth.--Reginod 14:50, 15 March 2007 (EDT)--Reginod 14:50, 15 March 2007 (EDT)
That is much clearer, and a response needs much more thought on my part, not something I will have time to do for at least a week or two.--OmnusErudito 14:56, 15 March 2007 (EDT)
No hurry, I have this page on my watchlist so when you get a chance to respond I will see it.--Reginod 14:59, 15 March 2007 (EDT)

Angels and animals


  • Within a totally naturalistic system, freewill does not exist.
  • In the Christian faith it is believed that humans were created with freewill so that they would chose to worship God, unlike angels who were created without the choice to worship God.
  1. I don't understand the reference to naturalism. Are you saying that your actions are all determined by physical law, L.T.?
  2. Which denomination says that angels are incapable of making choices? Haven't you read Jude 1:6-7? (It mentions angels who sinned, and sin is a choice.) --Ed Poor Talk 14:33, 27 July 2007 (EDT)

Section on morality

This article on free will seems quite brief so I've added a section here. It's not fantastically well written and it's a bit waffly but hopefully it'll do until it can be expanded, either by my or another person.Sam99foster 10:51, 14 September 2008 (EDT)

I like the first sentence, bu I find the rest confusing. It seems to be starting with the assumption that determinism is the opposite of free will, then redefines free will to be determinism! This means that it's not actually the opposite after all, but simply another name for the same thing. Philip J. Rayment 11:03, 14 September 2008 (EDT)
Yeah sorry, I should've made that clearer but I hoped I could leave it a little implicit. Essentially Hume draws a distinction between two kinds of freedom - freedom of action and freedom of will. The former is the freedom to do as you choose (i.e. it would be compromised if you were in jail or tied up or something), and the latter is the freedom to determine your own will. Hume says that confusion between these two terms is at the root of many discussions of free will, since often people use free will to mean the latter thing when in reality it doesn't make much sense - either things are determined or they are random (because of cause and effect). Is that at all clear? --Sam99foster 11:58, 14 September 2008 (EDT)
Re-reading myself I really don't think it is. When people talk about lack of free will negating morality, they mean lack of freedom of will (as opposed to of action). Hume says that lack of freedom of will results in randomness, because thought processes are subject to the same laws of cause and effect as any other event. So an apple falling is caused by gravity or something else, and if its caused by nothing then the occurrence must be random; and the same with decisions, which are caused by a variety of external stimuli.--Sam99foster 12:03, 14 September 2008 (EDT)
Your addition and your writing here are not necessarily clear. If you wish to break up the article into two sections, then do so showing clearly that Hume is using his own definition of free will to make his point. In the absense of free will it is obvious that there is no blame for actions as free will would be a necessary precursor for free action. You also seem to be confused that lack of free will does not equal random. Indeed much of what occurs is structured and orderly; there is just no will involved. In nature an apple falling from a tree does so due to gravity - and will do so each and every time unless some other outside stimulus intervenes. The apple has no free action to suddenly fall up, nor does it have a free will to consider that. It reacts based upon the bio-chemical nature of its makeup. Humans are no different when considered from this same naturalistic setting. Learn together 15:35, 15 September 2008 (EDT)
I agree that my writing is not clear. I'm afraid you misunderstand me entirely. What I mean by 'freedom of will' above is the idea that people can engage in thought which is essentially uncaused, since if thought has a cause (like the apple falling from the tree) it's not 'free', in the same way the apple is not 'free' to fall upwards. Hume points out that logically if thoughts are uncaused then they must be random, which is obviously a problem for libertarians. This is sometimes referred to as the 'randomness problem'.
Anyway I agree that my contribution is lacking as it is, and when I have a bit of free time on my hands I'll re-write it substantially. Thanks for the feedback.--Sam99foster 16:31, 17 September 2008 (EDT)
I'm questioning (your explanation of) Hume's view, rather than the content of the article, but without understanding the view better, I'm limited in how much I can do to fix the wording.
By way of analogy, diseases can be (a) genetic/hereditary, (b) non-genetic/non-hereditary, or (c) genetically-influenced, but not genetically-determined. Hume's argument seems to be that if it's not "caused" (determined), it is uncaused (random). But what about the will being influenced by causes, but not determined by them? This would make it non-random.
Further, Hume's argument appears to be materialistic, i.e. not allowing for a non-materialistic, or perhaps spiritual component.
Philip J. Rayment 22:49, 17 September 2008 (EDT)
With regard to causation - there's no logical reason that things could not be only influenced by causes rather than entirely determined by them. However, you are left having to explain what it is providing the rest of the event (the part of the disease which is not genetically influenced). If it's randomness, then you are still left with the determined/random problem. If it is some third possibility, you would have to explain what this could be and how it would work.
I think it's correct to say that Hume's approach is materialistic, although on a logical rather than ideological basis. What form would a 'spiritual component' take?
Thanks by the way for the reply and for the continued discussion - it helps to sort out exactly what my arguments are to have them questioned coherently like that.--Sam99foster 08:38, 19 September 2008 (EDT)
P.S. I am not completely positive what Hume's precise rebuttal would be to your arguments, I'm just putting forward my view since I agree with Hume. I am however reasonably confident that I've expressed his view accurately.
I think you need to rewrite your section soon. I'm uncomfortable with having an article that currently reads in a form that is misleading and/or confusing.
The difficulty that Hume faced, and those since his time, is how to allow for free will in a totally naturalistic system. I find they often take the conclusion (we have free will) and try to force it backwards to fit in a way that presumes it must fit when it doesn't. It is also common today for naturalists to simply state that we have no free will, a positition that is certainly more sound based on the naturalistic evidence, but doesn't appear to match what we see in reality. Hume also had the advantage of ignorance, having only the barest knowledge of the naturalistic system that has been fleshed out in much greater detail today. One can speculate a role for 'randomness' back then that just isn't seen in our knowledge of naturalistic functions today. Learn together 12:54, 19 September 2008 (EDT)

(unindent) I'm jumping in here, because Hume seems to have said that either our decisions - such as mine just now to take issue with the way the article is going - are either (1) caused by external stimuli or (2) completely random. But this is the fallacy of the excluded middle. No one causes me to decide a certain way. Between stimulus and response there is plenty of time for me to exercise agency (philosophy), i.e., to "Be proactive" as Stephen Covey would say.

The error stems from the materialistic assumption that only physical forces or physical phenomena can be causes. But an angel just appeared beside me and said, "That is balderdash, my good man!" --Ed Poor Talk 13:15, 8 December 2008 (EST)

Even if non-materialist forces can be causes (which I agree with), they are still important causes. For example, if I decided to have a hamburger for lunch, I may be influenced by the smell (external) and a series of previous events (including my past experiences) from the start of creation. Some of that would be my reflection on what I like, and would be non-physical, but it is still a causal line from the moment of creation. To me, that would argue for a deterministic outlook, because the non-physical causes would still be considered causally related. Personally, I have no problem with that as a compatiblist, but I really don't understand any real way for us to have thoughts that aren't "caused" one way or another. I don't think that Hume was, in terms of philosophy of mind, a materialist, so I think this could also fit in with his arguments. Sulli 13:26, 8 December 2008 (EST)
Ed, you misunderstand Hume's argument. This particular error is quite common, as elsewhere Hume argues against, e.g., the possibility of miraculous events. That said: Hume is not a physicalist in the modern sense used by philosophers of mind. The dichotomy is this: Either some event is caused or it is not. This isn't a false dilemma (what I think you mean by "fallacy of the excluded middle"; the excluded middle is just the Aristotelian term for the claim "either P is true or it is false") -- it is, as far as I at least can tell, a tautology. This event is what we'll call a "choice". Now, if the choice is caused, it is determined, because for P to cause Q, if P were to happen, Q must follow (this is basic Lewisian counterfactual causation). That's what "caused" means. The other option is, of course, that the event is uncaused. But for something to be uncaused is for it to be random.
The only way to attack Hume here is on the nature of causation. You claim, without support, that Hume's problem is a materialist one, but this is just not the case. Even if what "causes" our choices is our willing, if there's a genuine causal relationship, there's no freedom in our willing. It's a nasty little problem indeed. The best way out is probably a quasi-Aristotelian move to posit that each free individual is an uncaused causer, but there are some severe problems there that I'm sure you can see. StevenK 18:47, 8 December 2008 (EST)
I don't think I misunderstood. I simply disagree with the idea that your choices are caused. Nothing "causes" you to choose to come to CP and start an argument about philosophy. Rather, you decide to do it. The essence of free will (and what links it to aspects of ethics such as responsibility) is your ability to make a choice. If you can't choose - if you are nothing more than an automaton, then you are not a moral agent at all. Robots aren't convicted of crimes, or given prizes. No one praises a computer that wins a chess tournament; the computer programmer gets the prize. A dog, trained to attack, would not be convicted of assault: rather, the person who made the dog attack is charged.
The error lies in the false dichotomy between "caused choices" and "random choices". It is only robots and dogs who make caused choices. I hold you morally and ethically responsible for every edit you make on this website. --Ed Poor Talk 10:39, 10 December 2008 (EST)
Right. But now you're confusing "choice" with "event". Remember that every decision is an event, and, as such, is either caused or uncaused. You're claiming that decisions are uncaused. OK. But if decisions are uncaused, how are they anything other than random? If they're truly uncaused, that is, our reasons have nothing to do with how they're made, because then reasons would have something to do with the production of decisions, which are uncaused events; and this is clearly an absurdity. Morality demands more than just doing the right thing! It demands that we do the right thing for the right reasons. This is why Hume says that determinism is necessary for moral action. If there is no causal relationship between reasons and actions, then no moral action is possible, since morality depends on reason. StevenK 13:41, 10 December 2008 (EST)
  • I have spent the bulk of my waking life (at least when I'm not sleeping on the job! ;-) creating rules for computers to follow. I cause computers to make decisions based on if then else logic. All their choices are caused, and none are random. But God is not a computer programmer, and I am not some science fiction experiment or fantasy (see TRON). And neither are you. --Ed Poor Talk 10:52, 10 December 2008 (EST)
I fail to see the relevance of this comment. Of course we're not computer programs. But that doesn't mean that there's no problem of freedom... ? StevenK 13:41, 10 December 2008 (EST)
I would just like to comment and say that this is the first page I've seen with a [citation needed] superscript anywhere on the page, though I've seen tons of spots that need them - Major props to the main contributors of this page.

Practical use of free will

In my opinion the emphasis should be on the practical use of free will. To make clear the logic that people use when they talk in terms of choosing in daily life, but not focus on common beliefs about free will that people might have.

Sir, you may want to avoid writing these huge "walls of text" in the future. People are less likely to read these huge essays on talk pages than simple, straightforward statements. DMorris 12:09, 8 February 2010 (EST)
I made it much less --Syamsu 06:37, 9 February 2010 (EST)