Hard Determinism and Personal Experience of Free Will

Continuing on a similar theme, I wish to discuss how our experience of free will can be accounted for by hard determinism and why I don’t think hard determinism truly presents a problem.

William James believed that we live in a world of possibilities — determinism does not allow for that, because for there to be an otherwise, there had to have been an otherwise in the past. Personal freedom seems self-evident from our lived experience, but I contend that the illusion of free will and free will itself are indiscernible. In terms of epistemology, we — being finite physical beings — cannot have access to every piece of information that would be required to predict and retrodict events with certainty. (I am leaving the metaphysical question of whether this is even possible for a god in the open.) I’m not denying the possibility of there being sufficiently simple events where we can have complete knowledge of the determining factors leading to those events, but I think most of our knowledge lacks such convenience. Thus, while we can conceive of these possibilities, according to determinism, there is only one that was/is ever possible — this is the best we have.

In the view of determinism, the ‘world of possibilities’ is simply a world of illusions produced from our epistemic ignorance. William James was bothered greatly by this, which is why I suspect his conclusion of indeterminism and free will was a bit rash (as discussed in the link above). Again, how does one tell the difference between true free will and the illusion of free will? I don’t think it can be done, which is why if it so happens that I’m wrong, my lived experience would remain identical. I treat my ignorance on a probabilistic basis even while maintaining the position of hard determinism.

(I titled this post with ‘hard determinism’ to prevent confusion, because while soft determinism argues for a form of ‘freedom’, it’s not free will as hard determinism and libertarianism understand it.)


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  1. #1 by trickslattery on May 20, 2011 - 10:57 am

    Hi there. 🙂

    Always good to read a fellow non-freewill-ist.

    As a hard incompatibilist (rather than hard determinist – but close enough), I think free will logically incompatible with both a deterministic universe (causal) as well as an indeterministic universe (one where acausal events are allowed in).

    I also think that the belief in free will keeps humanity down. A number of important philosophical, political, economic, and religious ideologies have their bases on a belief in free will and a psychology that such belief forms.

    Good post.

    ‘Trick Slattery

    • #2 by rambleandrant on May 20, 2011 - 11:08 am


      What would be your take on agent causation as being a work-around for introducing free will and not making the mistake of deriving free will from sheer indeterminacy? John Hospers summarized the view point in a reading I went over not too long ago. I didn’t think the difficulties raised by the viewpoint were obvious contradictions but rather the difficulty of showing the existence of agents in what seemed like a dualist sense.

      • #3 by trickslattery on May 20, 2011 - 1:03 pm

        I can honestly say I have not read the summary you are talking about (John Hospers). I will keep a look out for it.

        I don’t think that there are any logical work-arounds for introducing free will, unless it is not defined as free, willed, or either. Agent causation can only come about through either antecedent causal events that are beyond agent control, or acausal events that are beyond agent control. The compatibilist notions of free will do not trump the notion that most think they have – the ones that are truly important for the various reasons in my first comment.

        Take care,
        ‘Trick Slattery

        • #4 by rambleandrant on May 20, 2011 - 1:47 pm

          I actually meant to say Richard Taylor instead of John Hospers, sorry about that. Taylor argues that a self or a person (in this case, the agent) is a substance that is not a collection of events and one that is out of the picture of causation altogether (he used agent ‘causation’ for its convenience).

          Taylor accepts that past events can affect the character, but he views the character as being only a subset of the agent; the character can influence our choices but ultimately it is the agent that ’causes’ the choices which lead to actions.

          • #5 by trickslattery on May 20, 2011 - 2:56 pm

            Thanks for the clarification.

            He would need to explain where the “character” would come about (or any state for that matter), if not from causal elements. All events must happen either causally or acausally. If acausally, they cannot be willed events. 🙂

  2. #6 by Panama corporation on May 24, 2011 - 8:22 am

    The main perceived threats to.our freedom of will are various alleged determinisms physical causal .psychological biological theological. For each variety of.determinism there are philosophers who i deny its reality either.because of the existence of free will or on independent grounds ii .accept its reality but argue for its compatibility with free will or. iii accept its reality and deny its compatibility with free will.. See the entries. There are also a few who say the truth of any variety of determinism.is irrelevant because free will is simply impossible…..If there is such a thing as free will it has many dimensions.

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