Free will

  • The ability to choose between possible alternatives.

Exercising free will

  • The act of choosing between possible alternatives.


  • Effects have causes
  • The circumstances we see in the world are the result of prior circumstances
  • All phenomena have causal connections to their preceding states
  • Causality may or may not exist

Claim: Conceptually, free will is not possible.


  • Any given set of inputs will yield a necessary output.
  • For any output, it is the result of a certain set of inputs


  • Any given set of inputs will not necessarily yield a particular output.
  • For any output, it is not a necessary result of preceding inputs.

Argument against free will

  • Either determinism or indeterminism is true, with no alternatives, and neither option leaves room for free will.

Determinist argument against free will

  • Causality exists.
  • All causes are also effects.
  • You are not in control of the causes.
  • Therefore, you don’t have free will.

Indeterminist argument against free will

  • Effects are not necessarily caused by causes.
  • Randomness is an essential feature of the universe.
  • Reality is fundamentally probabilistic.
  • Given the same causes, if there were different effects yielded, these differences were product of random chance.
  • Random chance and free will are mutually exclusively.
  • Therefore, free will does not exist.

How to empirically test whether the universe is determined or indetermined?

Ideal solution

  • Perform multiple tests holding every single input identically the same, and see if we ever get a different output.
  • If we ever got a different output – and we knew all the inputs were identical – we could conclude that the universe is indetermined.
  • We can’t possibly perform this test, because we can’t control every single variable in the universe.

Alternative solution

  • In essence, we’d have to be able to perform an experiment, then “rewind the universe” to the exact state it was prior to the experiment, then replay the experiment over and over.
  • While we can’t actually do this, we can certainly think about it.
  • Two possible outcomes : (1) Same inputs same outputs; (2) Same inputs different outputs
  • If same inputs produce same outputs, there is not choice. Given a particular state of mind, you always make the same decision.

Steve’s Resolution


  1. The indeterminist position overlooks a possibility.
  2. The “rewind button experiment” is constructed incorrectly.

Arguments on error 1

  • Indeterminism doesn’t necessarily imply randomness.
  • We have a third option between “causally determined” and “random”. It’s called “volitional”.

Non-volitional inputs are not sufficient to compel a necessary output, though they may affect it.

Outputs are not random. They are chosen.

If free will exists

  • It must be given a unique metaphysical existence.
  • A mechanism in which the inputs do not necessarily determine the outputs. Yet, these outputs are not random; they are volitional.
  • Everything we know in the universe operates according to the input-output principle, except for this one thing. The output of a freely-choosing conscious agent is not solely determined by the circumstantial inputs – rather, his “will” takes center stage.

Wrong diagram (lumping free will with non-volitional inputs)


Free will shouldn’t be lumped together with non-volitional inputs.

Correct diagram (treating free will as a different metaphysical category)


The real question, as it pertains to free will, is rather, “given the exact same inputs except for your choice, could you have a different output? Or, does your volitional choice make the ultimate determination of the output?”

So the natural question is, “But how could you change that one variable? What’s the cause of the change in volition?”

The answer is unsatisfactory, circular, but logically possible: that’s precisely what “volition” is – a consciously changeable input. Our volition doesn’t have to change due to randomness or pre-determined causes; it’s willfully chosen.

Implications and Presuppositions

If free will exists, we ask:

  • What is the cause of the outputs of our volition (i.e. why do we make the decisions we make)?

But also:

  • What is the cause of the existence of our volition in the first place? How did such a thing come to be?

It cannot be that we chose to have volition. This would be a vicious circle – we logically cannot have had the freedom to choose our volition in the first place.

So, if we do indeed have free will, we musn’t ultimately be responsible for the existence of it.

  • The conclusion that because we can’t choose free will, we ultimately don’t have it is premature.

Three possible explanations for the initial possession of free will

  1. Naturalistic
  2. Theistic
  3. Transcendental


Causality needs to exist for free will to exist


Patterson, S. (2015, October 5). Does Free Will Even Make Sense? Steve Patterson.