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Free Will vs Determinism: Which One Is True?

Free Will vs Determinism: Which One Is True?

Does God play dice? Do we live in a deterministic universe or one in which we have free will? These are the type of wicked questions we will attempt to answer here. So, get ready to go down one crazy and deep rabbit hole. Just remember, Alice didn’t just wonder into Wonderland… she fell.

What is Free Will?

    Just trying to define Free Will takes us down a deep rabbit. You think it would be simple, right? We are free to make whatever choice we like… not so fast. Let’s look at some of the definitions of free will.

    • The ability to choose different course of action.
    • To make choices for which the outcome has not been predetermined.
    • Philosophical term of art for a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives. [1]

    Libertarianism

    Another way to look at free will is Libertarianism. This is the claim that determinism is completely false. Leaving the possibility of free will to be true.

    Question to ponder

    Let’s look at free will from a theological perspective. How would you answer it?

    “If God knows what we are going to choose in the future, then do we really have free will? If God knows we are going to make a certain ‘free will’ choice, then when it is time for us to make that choice, because God knows what we are going to choose, are we really free to make a different choice? Would God’s foreknowledge mean we cannot have free will? [2]

    What is Determinism?

      Again, this seems as though an easy definition should be available for Determinism; yet, there is not. Let’s take a look at how we can define determinism.

      • Common definition: Philosophical position that for every event there exists conditions that could cause no other event. [3]
      • Hard Determinism: A claim that determinism is true and that free will is not possible.
      • Causal Determinism: All effects have causes.
      • Logical Determinism: The future is already determined.

      Question to ponder

      When a criminal commits a crime, they should be punished right? We punish those who are responsible for the crime. What if we are wrong? What if the criminal is not free to choose right from wrong? What if free will is just an illusion? With that in mind, let’s look at another question.

      “Is a mass murderer born into this world predestined to kill?”

      How would you answer this question?

      Is there an alternative view?

      We can answer the first part of this question with a little more ease: Yes. However… we are now going deeper into the rabbit hole!

      Compatibilism vs Incompatibilism

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      Compatibilism, in some sense, is compatible with determinism. The alternative view to compatibilism is incompatibilism: free will is not compatible with determinism.

      Let’s take a look at compatibilism. Here we can freely choose to do only what our constraints allow us to do. This means that we are not completely free.

      Defining a simple word… trying to define the word choice is difficult to do. So, I will make the choice to define it as such: The deterministic selection of one option, from among the range of options that would be opted for by a typical range of human beings in a typical range of situations. [4]

      Here we see that there is a choice, yet a deterministic selection of choices. So, what did Einstein have to say about compatibilism?

      “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”

      What do you believe?

      So, what do you believe is correct? Do you think we have free will or do we live in a deterministic world? Or do you believe it is a combination of the two (i.e. compatibilism).

      Let’s take a look at how we can compare Free Will vs Determinism by way of a table demonstrating the different positions and how they relate to the two. [5] If you see determinism as true, but believe free will is possible, then you can consider yourself in the compatibilism camp. Yet, if you see determinism as true and free will as impossible, then you fall in line with the hard determinists.

      Does God play dice?

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        Let us now go further down the rabbit hole into the world of Quantum Physics. Early scientific thought (think Newtonian physics) was that our universe was deterministic. Additionally, Einstein was also a determinist. Think of his famous quote, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Well, I hate to break it to you, but Einstein was wrong. God does play dice!

        Quantum physics demonstrates that we can predict events only in terms of probabilities. Think of the wave-particle duality concept. Here, every particle can be described as both a wave and a particle. This feeds the many-world interpretations theory. Ready for your mind to be blown!

        Many-Worlds Theory: An interpretation of quantum physics that asserts the objective reality of the wave function and denies the actuality of a wave function collapse. [6]

        Basically, there are alternative versions of you for every decision you did not make. So, in one world you could be wealthy and living the good life; yet, in another, you could be in prison as a convicted felon.

        My Hypothesis!

        Ok, so here you go. Here is my theory, but first let me first share with you a quote from American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku regarding Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and free will.

        “Heisenberg proposed the uncertainty principle and says there is uncertainty, meaning you don’t know where the electron is. It is in many places simultaneously. This of course Einstein hated as he said ‘God does not play dice with the universe’ but he was wrong. God does play dice with the universe. Every time we look at an electron it moves. There is uncertainty with regard to the position of the electron. What does that mean for free will? No one can determine your future events given your past history. There is always the wild card, there is always the possibility of uncertainty in whatever we do.” [7]

        In developing my hypothesis, I concluded that we are looking at this from the wrong angle. So, let’s look at this wicked problem and ask a new question. Are we looking at a simple “either/or” problem here? Is it just Free Will vs Determinism? My answer is no.

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        We have what is called a False Dilemma. This is where we have an informal fallacy. We are not looking at an “either/or” scenario as there is at least one additional option.

        This is like saying:

        • X is True for A
        • X is True for B
        • Therefore, X is True for C, etc. [8]

        Using Syllogistic Reasoning

        Here are two premises, which led to my hypothesis.

        Premise #1: All human choice is an event.

        Premise #2: Some events constrain free will.

        Conclusion: Therefore, the only events in which humans do not possess free will are those in which we are constrained.

        Essentially, my perspective is similar to that of compatibilism. I truly believe that we are free to choose. Yet, we are choosing from a set of options that are presented to us. Think of how ideas pop into our mind when we are making a decision. There is an infinite number of ideas that could pop into our mind, yet we receive a specific range of options. Is there a reason why we are presented with these select few? I will leave that question for you to answer. For now, I am leaving this rabbit hole!

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        Reference

        [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Free Will
        [2] CARM: If God knows our free will choices, do we still have free will?
        [3] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Causal Determinism
        [4] Coelsblog: Compatibilism for incompatibilists: free will in five steps
        [5] Wikipedia: Determinism
        [6] Wikipedia: Many-worlds interpretation
        [7] YouTube: Michio Kaku why physics ends the free will debate
        [8] The Nizkor Project: Fallacy False Dilemma

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        Published on October 30, 2020

        11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

        11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

        There are numerous ways to build your mindset, but none are as profound as reading philosophy books. Through these books, some of the greatest minds around ask questions and delve deep into thought.

        While there isn’t always a clear and distinct answer to the many questions of philosophy, the entire field is a gateway to a higher sense of self. It gets you to think about all manner of things.

        Below, we cover some of the essential philosophy books that are best for those who are just starting or looking to expand their mind.

        How To Choose a Good Philosophy Book

        Before getting to this list, we’ve researched ideal philosophy books to help you expand your mind.

        We’ve found that the best philosophy books excel in the following criteria:

        • Complexity – Philosophy isn’t a subject that you can’t dive into immediately and understand everything. The books that we selected are great for people making the first leap.
        • Viewpoint – With philosophy, in particular, the author’s views are more important than in your standard book. We want to ensure the viewpoints and thoughts being discussed still hold up to this day.
        • Open-mindedness – Philosophy is all about asking perplexing questions and unraveling the answer. You might not reach a conclusion in the end, but these books are designed to get you to think.
        • Culture – The last criterion is culture. A lot of these books come from early philosophers from centuries ago or possibly from recent years. These philosophy books should paint a picture of the culture.

        1. Meditations

          One that you’ll find on many of these types of lists is Meditations and for good reason. It’s the only document of its kind to ever be made. The book focuses on the private thoughts of the world’s most powerful man who advises himself revolving around making good on his responsibilities and the obligations of his position.

          We know enough about Marcus Aurelius to know that he was trained in stoic philosophy and practiced every night on a series of spirituality exercises. These exercises were designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever problem he had to face off. And he faced plenty of problems since he was basically the emperor of roughly a third of the planet.

          All of that is poured into this book, and you are bound to remember a line or more that will be applicable in your life. It’s a philosophy book staple.

          Buy Meditations here.

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          2. Letters From a Stoic

            Similar to Marcus Aurelius, Seneca was another powerful man in Rome. He was a brilliant writer at the time and was the kind of guy to give great advice to his most trusted friends. Fortunately, much of his advice comes in letters, and those letters happen to be in this book. The letters themselves provided advice on dealing with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, education, and more.

            While Seneca was a stoic, he has a more practical approach and has borrowed from other schools of thought for his advice. As he said when he was alive, “I don’t care about the author if the line is good.” Similar to Meditations, there are several brilliant lines and advice that are still relevant to this day.

            Buy “Letters From a Stoic” here.

            3. Nicomachean Ethics

              Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher at the time with profound knowledge. He’s named after a form of logic as well called Aristotelian logic. Through this book, Aristotle writes about the root of all Aristotelian ethics. In other words, this book contains the moral ideas that form a base for pretty much all of western civilization.

              Buy “Nicomachean Ethics” here.

              4. Beyond Good & Evil

                Friedrich Nietzsche played a big role in the philosophical world. He was one of the leading philosophers of the existential movement, and it all came through this particular book. He is a brilliant mind. However, the issue with a lot of his work is that it’s all written in German.

                Fortunately, this book is one of the slightly more accessible ones since it’s translated. Within the book, he breaks down the paradoxes of conventional understandings of morality. By doing this, he sets the stage for a lot of the 20th-century thought process that followed.

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                Buy “Beyond Good & Evil” here.

                5. Meditations on First Philosophy

                  In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes breaks his book down into six meditations. The book takes a journalistic style that is structured much like a six-day course of meditation. On day one, he gives instructions on discarding all belief in things that are not guaranteed. After that, he tries to establish what can be known for sure. Similar to Meditations, this is a staple and influential philosophical text that you can pick up.

                  Buy “Meditations on First Philosophy” here.

                  6. Ethics

                    Written by Benedict de Spinoza, this came at a time during the Age of Enlightenment. Enlightenment was a movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and with that, many schools of thought emerged and were presented through books.

                    Out of the many influential philosophy books published back then, Ethics dominated during this period as it discussed the basis of rationalism. Even though we’ve developed further beyond that, Ethics can introduce new ways of thinking from this particular school of thought.

                    Buy “Ethics” here.

                    7. Critique of Pure Reason

                      Immanuel Kant is another great philosopher who brought together two of history’s biggest opposing schools of thought into a single book. Those schools being rational thought and empirical experiential knowledge—knowledge gained through experience.

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                      In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explores human reason and then works to establish its illusions and get down to core constituents. Overall, you can learn more about human behavior and thought processes and thus, open your mind more to how you think and process everything around you.

                      Buy “Critique of Pure Reason” here.

                      8. On the Genealogy of Morals

                        Another piece of work from Nietzsche that is accessible to us is On the Genealogy of Morals. According to Nietzsche, the purpose of this book is to call attention to his previous writings. That said, it does more than that so you don’t need to worry so much about reading his other books.

                        In this book, he expands on the cryptic aphorisms that he brings up in Beyond Good and Evil and offers a discussion or morality in a work that is more accessible than a lot of his previous work.

                        Buy “On the Genealogy of Morals” here.

                        9. Everything Is F*cked

                          The only book on this list that’s been written in the past few years, this book by Mark Manson aims to explain why we all need hope while also accepting that hope can often lead us to ruin too.

                          While many of the books on this list are all practical, this one is the most realistic one since not even the greatest of philosophical minds could predict things like technology, Twitter, and how our political world has shaped.

                          Manson delivers a profound book that taps into the minds of our ancestral philosophers, such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Tom Waits, and digs deep into various topics and how all of it is connected—religion and politics, our relationship with money, entertainment, and the internet.

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                          Overall, this book serves as a challenge to all of us—a challenge to be more honest with ourselves and connect with the world in a way we’ve never tried before.

                          Buy “Everything Is F*cked” here.

                          10. Reasons and Persons

                            One of the most challenging philosophy books to read on this list, Reasons and Persons will send you on quite the trip. Through a lot of painstaking logic, Derek Parfit shows us some unique perspectives on self-interest, personhood, and whether our actions are good or evil.

                            Considered by many to be an important psychological text around the 20th century, the arguments made about those topics will open your mind to a brand new way of thinking.

                            Buy “Reasons and Persons” here.

                            11. The Republic of Plato

                              Written by Plato himself, this book is the origin of political science and offers a brilliant critique of government. As you would expect, the critique is still important today. If you’re looking to understand the inner thoughts of Plato, this is one of the best books around.

                              Buy “The Republic of Plato” here.

                              Final Thoughts

                              Philosophy books take a while to digest as they provide profound knowledge and leave you with many questions. With many of these philosophy books, you need to take your time with them, and you might have to read through them a few times as well. And with every read, your mind will only expand.

                              More Books to Open Your Mind

                              Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

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