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Answers In Reason
Free Will - Fresh AiR - S02:E03
free will fresh air podcast

Free Will

Having discussed moral theories at length over the past few weeks we chosen (seemingly) to do a post on free will, and are determined to work out if it truly exists or not, as well as the impact it has on morality.

Our Discussion on Free Well includes (but is not limited to):

  • What is Free Will?
  • What other definitions are of free will?
  • What is a belief, and can you choose to believe?
  • How can you change a belief?
  • Arguments against free will.
  • Bad Arguments against free will.
  • What is meant by All-Knowing?
  • Implications of hard determinism (no free will) on morality.

Overview of the Discussion on Free Will

Our Positions on Free Will at the Start

  • Joe – Believe we have free will, within reason, and that the universe is probabilistic in nature.
  • Dave – Compatibilist – there is a certain amount of determinism to the universe but also a certain amount of choice.
  • Kriss – Similar (but more towards a deterministic nature)
  • Andy- I’m somewhere between compatibilism and determinism.
Stephen Hawking on Free Will

What is Free Will?

You might think it odd that I didn’t ask that first but felt it worth asking our positions first in case the definition of what free will changes our answers.

In short, free will is the ability to consciously make decisions/make choices.

However, there are a number of other definitions which we cover in the podcast.

Arguments against free will

  • Deterministic universe
    This is unproven, and quantum theory currently indicates a probabilistic rather than deterministic universe.
    Can you still have free will in a deterministic universe?
  • Product of our environments, biology, physics etc, and therefore have no real choice.
  • The brain thinks of things before they reach the conscious mind, therefore, there are no real conscious thoughts going on.
  • Christians say God gave us free will, but also contradict themselves by saying everything goes according to God’s plan and he knows everything we will ever do. If everything is fated, this indicates a form of determinism and therefore does that not negate free will from the Christian world view?

Bad arguments against free will

  • You can’t have free will, because someone can restrict your free will. E.g. If someone were to overpower and rape me, I’ve had my will restricted, therefore, I don’t have free will
  • I cannot choose to grow wings and fly, without freedom of choice I have no free will.
  • I cannot choose to like certain foods, and dislike certain types of music, therefore I have no free will.

Issues if there is no free will

  • If there is no choice, no conscious decisions being made there is no moral responsibility
    At best we have an illusion of free will, an illusion of choice, an illusion of responsibility
  • If there is no choice, there is also no opinion. We cannot decide anything ourselves. Therefore morality is not subjective as some would like to say, but for different reasons than the subjective/objective debate. Moral subjectivism is morals based on personal opinion. If we have no real choice, we have no real opinion, in fact, everything we think is completely out of our control and is the result of cause and effect and therefore personal opinion is an irrelevant term as there is no such thing as ‘personal opinion’ just different configurations of the universe.
  • If there is no free will, there are no moral agents, we are just results of the laws of cause and effect much in the way an avalanche has no moral responsibility.
  • With the previous points, it essentially invalidates morality altogether, as there is no agency, and the way morality is looked at in the various moral theories has no bearing what so ever. Morality has to be looked at through a completely different lens or thrown out altogether.
  • If we cannot consciously choose things, do we even have consciousness or and real self-awareness?

Summary of Issues

If at best there is an illusion of free will, is there any real moral responsibility?

We may be bound to our biology and the physical plane we exist in, but do we not have freedom of thought and will within those parameters, even if someone else can restrict our will (or ability to act on said will) occasionally, does that not mean we still have free will?

Are we really going to say if we don’t have absolute free will, we have no free will?

Isn’t that the same as saying, because I am not always hungry, I am NEVER hungry?


  • Libet Experiments
  • Stroop Effect

Final thoughts on free will

Andy: Pretty similar to the start although I found a few points interesting raised, e.g. if we can have a personal opinion if we are not actively making that opinion ourselves, and why we evolved the perception of free will if it wasn’t an important part of our survival.

Kriss: Haven’t really changed my mind.

Dave: My views haven’t changed, I have spent a lot of time learning, thinking and talking about this and until such a time there is more evidence, either way, my views won’t change.

Joe: I believe in a realistic amount of free will.

Either we have that realistic amount of free will, and I believe it because it makes sense to me, and the experiments you heard today demonstrate that fact.

Or we have the illusion of free will and I have no choice but to believe it exists.

Without agency, we have not moral responsibility, we are not actively making the choices, so equally we are not the ones forming our opinions, it is all just different configurations of the universe giving us those opinions. If someone believes there is no free will, then it would be a form of cognitive dissonance for anyone to say morality is subjective, at least as the term subjective is supposed to be used when discussing morality as there cannot be a “personal opinion” and everything is determined by physics, biochemistry and the cause and effect of the universe, and morality is no longer what we perceive it to be, with the judgements being less about the people being good or bad but a purely consequentialist view that is out of our control.

Either way, we should continue to act if there is free will and moral responsibility as I fear for a planet where we do not have these judgements and responsibilities in place.


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