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The Illusion of Free Will

The question of whether humans can make their own choices has presented quite the conundrum for philosophers and theologians for eons. While scientists have also examined the problem from a psychological and neuroscientific lens, it remains unclear whether conscious decisions are truly “free.” Proponents of determinism might argue that the subjective sense of free will is nothing but an illusion; humans are constrained to act only as they were pre-ordained to act. Whether a supreme being dictates that will, a chaotic universe, or an ordered universe lies solely on the person’s beliefs. Libertarians, on the other hand, believe the complete opposite. Libertarianism is the concept that will “is so free in its nature, that nothing can constrain it.” Many scholars, as well as ordinary people, largely support the notion of free will, although they do acknowledge that external factors can play a role in shaping these choices. This begs the question, “can chices be free and also determined?” The theory of compatibilism or soft determinism offers a solution to the free will problem because it provides the view that we are both free and determined. This paper will present arguments that subtly weaken the commonsense notion of free will and support determinism, although I wish to support a less radical version of the theory; soft determinism. Essentially my argument in this paper is that the environment constricts us to do certain things, whether or not we consciously want to; however, the choice is ultimately ours –and the responsibility also.

The Concept of Free Will

The concept of free will presumes that human beings have both circumstantial and metaphysical freedom (Franklin, 2017). According to Franklin (2017), circumstantial freedom refers to the ability to do things without any impeding factors, whereas metaphysical freedom is the ability to choose. Therefore, the theory posits that man can make choices or decide between different sets of alternatives without environmental, social, natural, or divine factors coercing him to do so; in other words, we are self-determined. For instance, someone can make a free choice as to whether to lie or not (unless they suffer from insanity). However, this does not imply that behavior occurs randomly, but we are free from the causal influences of past events. Furthermore, the theory of free will states that people are responsible for their actions.


Determinism is the belief that every occurrence is predetermined, that is, it is the necessary outcome of events that have happened in the past (Franklin, 2017). To the extent that your choice is totally impacted by the events leading up to it – the whole set of circumstances, including your mental state – when you make a decision, whether on impulse or after much consideration.

Debate Between Free Will And Determinism

Humans’ apparent ability to choose between many different courses of action in order to achieve the best desired end is the source of the apparent conflict between nature’s universal law of causation and the apparent conflict between nature’s universal law of causation and human’s apparent capacity to choose between many different courses of action in order to achieve the best desired end (Franklin, 2017). Following the universal rule of causality, inorganic matter is affected by whatever forces are acting on it; however, humans appear to be an exception to this rule because of their unique ability to consider how to make decisions in their lives as well as which principles and morals to follow in their daily lives. Determinism is the belief that everything is predetermined, whereas free will is the belief that we have some control over our actions. As a result, the paradox of free will and determinism exists because these two equally clear assumptions appear to produce contradictory outcomes, raising the question of whether free will and determinism can coexist in the same universe (Franklin, 2017). In addition, it is for this reason that it is now necessary to acknowledge that determining whether free will and determinism are compatible or whether freedom of choice exists is a significant part, if not the primary portion, of the free will and determinism dilemma (Van Inwagen, 2004).

Other incompatibilists, referred to as “Metaphysical libertarians,” believe in the existence of free will while rejecting the determinist viewpoint. David Lewis and Peter Van Inwagen are two of the incompatibilists who have come forward. According to Van Inwagen (2004) in his book The Incompatibility Of Free Will And Determinism, many philosophers contend that not only is free will compatible with determinism, but that free will implies determinism. At any given point in time, there is only one physically feasible future, according to the concept of determinism (Franklin, 2017). Indeterminism, on the other hand, is correct if the world can go in more than one direction at the same time, and people have free will. Another such stance is hard incompatibilism, which holds that free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism. David Lewis is an advocate of this point of view, which is not widely accepted. In his book “Are we free to transgress the laws?” he asserts that even the best scientific theories result in humans not being held ethically accountable for their actions because they are based on scientific theories (Lewis, 2008).

Franklin (2017), on the other hand, asserts that if this were true, morality would be rendered meaningless and human existence would be rendered insignificant. It is then claimed (Franklin, 2017) that adopting a viewpoint in which morality, purpose, and worth are retained even if we are not morally accountable will improve our lives, on the basis of the assertion that free will and determinism are incompatible with one another. The issue of moral responsibility arises as a result of a conflict between two important factors. Our perception of ourselves as the cause of our actions is based on the fact that we are, in a material sense, responsible for them. When it comes to human perception, the way we are the source of our actions is vastly different from the way a machine perceives itself as the source of what it produces. When we imbue moral responsibility on people rather than robots, we are expressing our sense of separation from one another (Franklin, 2017). In order to bear moral responsibility, it has long been believed that the exercise of free will in the creation of deeds is required. At the same time, there are reasons to believe that people are more similar to robots than we commonly believe (Franklin, 2017). Various sources contribute to these explanations, the most notable of which are scientific viewpoints that consider people to be elements of nature and therefore subject to natural laws, as well as religious considerations that assert that everything happens as a result of God’s decree. Aristotle’s Prime Mover or the beginning of the cosmos is cited as an example of causal (or nomological) determinism, which holds that every occurrence has an antecedent cause in an endless causal chain stretching back to that point (Franklin, 2017). According to determinists, nothing can be caused by chance or by one’s own actions.

Arguments for Determinism

The ability to choose: Van Inwagen defines free will as “the capacity to select between two or more mutually incompatible courses of action when man needs to choose between two or more mutually incompatible courses of action” (Van Inwagen, 2004). The term ‘can’ may be used to describe the notion of free will. The idea of an agent’s power or capacity to act is not the same as, nor is it suggested by, the concept of physical possibility (Van Inwagen, 2004). A simple example may be used to show this. Assume I’m imprisoned in a certain room, and the lock on the door to that room is a device with unknown behavior; in other words, it may be locked or unlocked. Although it is technically feasible for me to leave the room, this does not indicate that I CAN exit the room in any significant way.

Arguments in Favor Of incompatibilism

The argument of consequences: If determinism is correct, our actions are the product of natural laws and events that occurred in the distant past (Lewis, 2008). But it is not our responsibility to know what occurred before we were born, nor do we know what the natural laws are (Lewis, 2008). As a result, we have no influence over the outcomes of these occurrences. It is possible for free will and determinism to coexist. The mind argument continues by equating indeterminism with chance and claiming that an act that happens by chance cannot be controlled by its purported agent and hence cannot be committed freely. As a consequence, supporters of this argument argue that free will is not only compatible with determinism, but it also entails confidence in deterministic determinism. One may trust in determinism since science has shown it to be true. Because it is a logical conclusion of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, one can assume that determinism is a reasonable fact.

Arguments in Favor of Free Will

Van Inwagen (1975) asserts that it cannot be seriously maintained that we can know whether we have or do not have free will through some kind of introspection. Even when we conduct empirical research on humans, we still don’t know. However, if we do have free will, then moral responsibility does not exist. However, since there is a moral responsibility, there is also free will. Furthermore, Van Ingwen (1975) contends that determinism is erroneous since it is incompatible with free will. As a consequence, they are unable to cohabit. Anyone who adopts fatalism, on the other hand, must reject all attributions of moral responsibility as false/incorrect and desist from contemplating future paths of conduct.

Arguments In Favor Of Soft Determinism

According to (Lewis, 2008), an action is free if it is directly caused by a person’s thoughts, wishes, emotions, desires, and so on. Acts that are not performed voluntarily, on the other hand, are caused by outside forces. He goes on to say that free will is compatible with determinism because acts of free will have causes, such as desire and hope. Lewis (2008) admits that there are some unusual situations in which his definition of free will does not appear to apply properly, but he also provides clarification.

He illustrates it with the following scenario: a man hands up his money to another man who is threatening him with a pistol to his head. Is it conceivable to see his handing up his wallet as an act of free will? According to Lewis’s (2008) definition, it was done freely since it was instantly prompted by a psychological condition. Lewis (2008) refers to this as a “mixed” or “borderline” example and claims that the pistol on the man’s head is sufficiently comparable to the real force of the gunshot that it may be regarded an external force.

Finally, Lewis (2008) discusses how “an action may be free even if it could have been predicted with certainty ahead of time”. He uses the example of someone deciding to tell a lie and then learning that they could have told the truth instead. Lewis (2008) explains that it is true that the individual could have chosen to tell the truth if they so desired. They chose to lie because it was what they wanted to do, and anything else would have had a different cause, resulting in a different outcome. Lewis (2008) concludes, “It is a delusion that predictability and free will are incompatible.”


The discussions presented in this paper show that while the choice to make decisions is ultimately ours, the environment constricts us to do certain things, whether or not we consciously want to. Therefore, the concept of free will is nothing but an illusion. When we look at things from a personal (subjective) standpoint, we can and do make free choices – we can analyze our current circumstances, imagine the various possibilities, consider the likely consequences of each, and then choose the one that we desire at the time; this appears to be what most people understand by “exercising their free will.” Such discussions, on the other hand, are objectively dictated by the circumstances – how we perceive the circumstances, how we assess the possibilities, the cognitive abilities, and experiences we bring to bear on them, how we feel about the consequences at the time, and so on. These are the factors that influence our decisions, which are in turn influenced by events that have happened in the past. As a result, the entire process, including what we want to do (our “will”), is dictated by what has occurred previously, implying that we have no choice in the situation.

People sometimes claim to have free will because they might have chosen differently in certain situations; yet, in a deterministic universe, something would have had to be different, either in the circumstances or in their mental state at the time, for them to have made a different decision. So they may have made a different decision if their circumstances – or their feelings about those circumstances – had been different. If things (circumstances) had been different, things (the option) would have been different. That’s a tautology based on determinism. So, in one sense – subjective – we freely pick what we want, but in another – objective – sense, what we want is decided by earlier events, so there aren’t really any options.


Franklin, R. L. (2017). Determinism and Phenomenology. In Freewill and

Determinism (pp. 216-235). Routledge.

Lewis, D. (2008). Are we free to break the laws? Theoria47(3), 113–121.

Van Inwagen, P. (2004). Freedom to break the laws. Midwest Studies in Philosophy28(1), 334–350.

Van Inwagen, P. (1975). The incompatibility of free will and determinism. Philosophical studies, 27(3), 185-199.


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