Free Will

Free will as opposed to determinism is the idea that we as human beings have the ability to choose our own actions. This idea has been debated upon throughout the history of philosophy and four different view points arrived with their own reasoning to back them up. These views are:

  • Libertarianism :which is an incompatibilist position, argues that free will is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe and that agents have free will, and that, therefore, determinism is false.
  • Compatibilism: is the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. Because free will is typically taken to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility
  • Hard Incompatibility : the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that persons have a free will; that there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other.
  • Revisionism: the picture of free will and moral responsibility embedded in commonsense is in need of revision, but not abandonment.

I will not go into much detail on their specifics in this entry, but I believe they can give a good background on the controversies among the philosophical community.

Let’s first take in Ayer’s perspective on the matter; when discussing the act of stealing, Ayer believes the common thief is exercising free will as opposed to a kleptomaniac who is not; a Kleptomaniac, a person who enjoys the act of stealing so much they perform such acts for reasons other than personal or financial gain. They have strong urges or impulses for stealing which they cannot help avoiding, hence the psychiatric classification of Kleptomania as an impulse control disorder. A Kleptomaniac will act on his/ hers impulse regardless of their desire; they may be conscious that stealing is wrong, so they may try to convince themselves not to steal, but since they are addicted to the emotional response of stealing they reach a point where they no longer have any control.

On the other hand, common thieves act in accordance with their own will. They may choose to steal due to a financial reason or for some personal pleasure they may gain.  They always have the choice of stealing with no prior attachment to the act of stealing.

From Ayer’s perspective, free will can be defined as the ability to act in unison with our desires without any constraint. Although our actions can be explained by analysing our reasons for why we would be compelled to act in such a manner, they fail to recognize we have the free will to choose otherwise.  The Laws of Nature may account for our behavioural patterns; however, Ayer believes that it does not necessarily dictate our actions in a matter of determinism.

I believe that Ayer’s perspective is very reasonable with the assumption that we personally choose our actions, and that we are in direct control of our decisions. But if you perceive choice as the act of hesitation before deciding, where we try to analyze every single possibility before acting, we soon realize that we can’t consciously analyze every single situation to its fullest and even with our constant worrying about a major life decision we still rely on intuition to dictate our actions.

My point is that in the way in which a person suffering with a disorder such as Kleptomania is not considered to be practising their free will due to their inability to control certain thought processes, a common person may be under the same strain. However, because of our compliance with “our” decision, we don’t bother analysing our thought process, and we simply accept this decision as our own.

If we are happy with the decisions that we have made, we do not question our ability to choose our actions. The moment we are unhappy with our decision we suddenly wonder if it was us truly doing it, as if to say : “Why would I choose to make myself unhappy?”. But you see, in the way You caused the action to happen, You are also the person it happens to.

This concept could be used to analyze the way in which we learn. When we “realize” that we have made a mistake, the next time the situation arrises we begin to speculate on our options and try to figure out which path we should take. But, by doing this you no longer feel in control and you start asking questions such as : “Is there free will?”.

And so with that in mind, considering that the “feeling” of the lack of free will is simply due to our constant worrying and indecisiveness. We can come to the idea that the only times where we were fully in control (without the hesitation and worrying), are the first instances of doing anything, such as the actions of a child who does not know right from wrong.


That is why, in Zen philosophy it is considered the way of life without hesitation or to simply have the view-point of a child. It is being in tune with yourself so much so, that when it comes time to make a decision, the decision is already made. Although this may seem like a lack of free will since you no longer have choices. Keep in mind that you no longer have choices because you no longer worry or hesitate when acting, therefore if anything, you would feel in full control over every action you make.

The less you try to control your future, the more control you will actually have over your own actions.

– Amphibious Thoughts


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