Stephen Hawking on Free Will

So how does the ‘Free Will Scale’ tie in with compatibilism?

I would assert this as a form of compatibilism due to it working in the confines of a deterministic universe. If we were to distil it down into basic premises it would be something like:

1. If free will is defined as ‘the ability to reflect on our thoughts, emotions, experience, and actively choose our actions’ and
2. Will is seen as our faculty of the mind that selects, at the moment of decision, a desire among the various desires present; it itself does not refer to any particular desire, but rather to the mechanism responsible for choosing from among one’s desires then:

P1. Determinism speaks of the physical laws of cause and effect.
P2. The mind and qualia, whilst explainable in physical terms and rely on the physical, are not wholly physical things.
C1. The mind is not necessarily subject to the laws of physical determinism.

P3. Knowledge and experience affect our mental states.
P4. Therefore the more knowledge and experience will mean the mental states are affected more.
P5. The more these are affected, one’s perception of choices available is reduced, sometimes to only having one choice.
P6. This perceived reduction in choice doesn’t remove the ability to choose or act differently, but for the agent’s mental state (and therefore will) the choices are limited.
P7. In some instances, the processes become autonomic rather than consciously deliberated. (In these instances this could be considered the removal of will)
C2. Knowledge and experience can reduce an agent’s choices to only one.
C3. More knowledge and experience (mostly) reduces free will.

This is not an argument a physicalist would be satisfied with, one would assume a physicalist would have explored all the thought experiments around qualia and have an explanation as to why they think they too are wholly physical.

It’s not without objections like the ‘rewind time’ argument. There are some that would argue that if we rewound time erasing all experience and knowledge to a certain point then we have no guarantee history would evolve in the same way. Whilst I can see the point, especially with my brain ‘x-factor’ or the more sophisticated argument Wolf put forward that ‘physical determinism does not entail psychological determinism’ I still lean towards a more deterministic view of rewinding time, I just don’t feel that exact moment was fully determined either.

As for desires. Desires form part of our will. We might not be able to control our 1st order desires, but our 2nd order desires are things that we reflect on and work towards.

What I mean by this is:

  • I want to be fit and healthy (1st order desire)
  • I don’t want to work out (1st order desire)
  • I want to want to work out (2nd order desire)

Equally, I think we can reason our way into 1st order desires.

  • When my child was born, it made me want to live a long life to be there for them through thick and thin and raise them properly. (1st order desires)
  • Being healthy and eating well helps have a longer life. (evidence/reasoning)
  • I want to be fit and healthy. (Reasoned 1st order desire)

Ultimately though, I don’t think we are necessarily any closer to an answer. I know many feel resolved in a physicalist view on determinism, and others some form of libertarian free will, and many will have some good arguments and others will have terribly poor arguments for their position.

As new evidence arises my position might change or be reaffirmed. For now, I am going to lean on my compatablistesq theory of free will and see where that takes me.

Perhaps anyone reading that can be so kind as to review my thoughts on the matter, point out any holes I have perhaps overlooked or not explained, and provide any arguments for other forms of free will or determinism that I perhaps have not seen or considered.


All referenced multiple times but final time about 2 weeks before published.


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