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THBT: On balance, Free will likely exists


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Free will: Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

I think most debates on this site on free will have been few and far between, sadly. which is why I'd like to open up a new one. There are certainly many more points to be discussed and debated on this topic which haven't been thoroughly brought up in other debates I've read on this subject.

1. Try not to intentionally use sophist magic on me. If you want to enter this debate to "dunk" on me or to stroke your ego and inflate your elo rating, don't accept it. Accept my debate if you sincerely are open to discourse and are willing to learn new things.

Pro: Free will likely exists
Con: Free will likely doesn't exist

Round 1
What is free will?
The idea of determinism is extremely unpopular (even within the philosophical community), whereas with compatibilism Among those who specialise in philosophy, 59% believe in compatibilism. Belief in libertarianism amounted to 14%, while a lack of belief in free will equalled 12%. I was completely shocked when I found out that determinism was the most popular position on this site. Considering it is still in its infancy and  considered rather weak and unjustified among most philosophers (as you will soon find out why).

Defining free will doesn't seem to be an easy task, as there seems to be no common consensus among scientists who don't believe in free will about what "free will" really means. For the purpose of the debate, I will describe free will as: the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion. If con has any reservations about this definition, they are free to substitute another that they believe is more appropriate.  For this debate, I'm going to be arguing for a compatibilist conception of free will.

Libertarian free will
The idea of absolute freedom of choice (that is, that any human being could be completely free to make any choice) is unwise because it denies the reality of one's physical needs and circumstances. Equally incorrect (in my mind) is the idea that humans have no choice in life or that their lives are pre-determined. This means I wo be arguing for complete libertarian free will, as such a thing is simply impossible due to the fact that I can't always decide when I'm hungry, or whether to feel hurt when I touch a hot stove.
Compatibilism free will and Schopenhauer
My Arguments will be inspired by the likes of Thomas Aquinas, Schopenhauer and Descartes to support my testament to the exist of free will. 

  • Compatibilists often define an instance of "free will" as one in which the agent had the freedom to act according to their own motivation. That is, the agent was not coerced or restrained.
  • Arthur Schopenhauer famously said: "Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills." In other words, although an agent may often be free to act according to a motive, the nature of that motive is determined. 
  • According to Schopenhauer, the actions of humans, as phenomena, are subject to the principle of sufficient reason and thus liable to necessity. Thus, he argues, humans do not possess free will as conventionally understood. However, the will (urging, craving, striving, wanting, and desiring), as the noumenon underlying the phenomenal world, is in itself groundless: that is, not subject to time, space, and causality (the forms that governs the world of appearance). Thus, the will, in itself and outside of appearance, is free.
This will be the basis of my free will argument. We may not always be able to choose our desires (we can to a significant degree, through epigenetics), but we can decide on which desires to act upon.

But the fact is overlooked that the individual, the person, is not will as thing-in-itself, but is phenomenon of the will, is as such determined, and has entered the form of the phenomenon, the principle of sufficient reason. Hence we get the strange fact that everyone considers himself to be a priori quite free, even in his individual actions, and imagines he can at any moment enter upon a different way of life… But a posteriori through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but liable to necessity; that notwithstanding all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning to the end of his life he must bear the same character that he himself condemns, and, as it were, must play to the end the part he has taken upon himself."

"You can do what you will, but in any given moment of your life you can will only one definite thing and absolutely nothing other than that one thing."- Schopenhauer

  •  Thomas Aquinas viewed humans as pre-programmed (by virtue of being human) to seek certain goals, but able to choose between routes to achieve these goals (telos) His view has been associated with both compatibilism and libertarianism.

  • for Socrates free will and self-control are one and the same, combined in his commitment to the doctrine that reason, properly cultivated, can and ought to be the all-controlling factor in human life.
If I can show humans to have self-control, to decide something over another with conscious control (not through their subconscious making the decision for them), free will to some degree can be said to exist.

David Hume, in his treatise on human nature, approaches free will via the notion of causality. It was his position that causality was a mental construct used to explain the repeated association of events, and that one must examine more closely the relationship between things that regularly succeed one another (descriptions of regularity in nature) and things that result in other things (things that cause or necessitate other things). According to Hume, 'causation' is on weak grounds: "Once we realise that 'A must bring about B' is tantamount merely to 'Due to their constant conjunction, we are psychologically certain that B will follow A,' then we are left with a very weak notion of necessity."

In the 1780s Immanuel Kant suggested at a minimum our decision processes with moral implications lie outside the reach of everyday causality, and lie outside the rules governing material objects. "There is a sharp difference between moral judgments and judgments of fact, Moral judgments must be a priori judgments."

This suggests that we have the "intuition" of free will because it necessarily must exist outside of causality, it must exist outside of the material itself.  Descartes expounds upon this in his philosophy on first meditations, which became known as "the mind-body problem." There is probably a strong reason why science can't solve the hard problem of consciousness yet.

Argument from quantum mechanics
Early scientific thought often portrayed the universe as deterministic and some thinkers claimed that the simple process of gathering sufficient information would allow them to predict future events with perfect accuracy. Modern science, on the other hand, is a mixture of deterministic and stochastic theories  Quantum mechanics predicts events only in terms of probabilities, casting doubt on whether the universe is deterministic at all, although evolution of the universal state vector is completely deterministic. Current physical theories cannot resolve the question of whether determinism is true of the world. This throws massive dirt in the eyes of the determinists (theweakeredge).

Critique of Libet.
Libet is often cited as the poster boy, the neuroscientist who has "debunked" free will through his tests. Libet asked each of his subjects to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he measured the associated activity in their brain. Libet asked whether it could be recorded before the conscious intention to move. To determine when subjects felt the intention to move, he asked them to watch the second hand of a clock. After making a movement, the volunteer reported the time on the clock when they first felt the conscious intention to move.  The first of these experiments reported the brain registered activity related to the move about 0.2 s before movement onset.

a common critique of this experiment (which i support, and ill explain why later). 

 "Some argue that placing the question of free will in the context of motor control is too narrow. The objection is that the time scales involved in motor control are very short, and motor control involves a great deal of unconscious action, with much physical movement entirely unconscious. On that basis "…free will cannot be squeezed into time frames of 150–350 ms; free will is a longer term phenomenon" and free will is a higher level activity that "cannot be captured in a description of neural activity or of muscle activation…"[184] The bearing of timing experiments upon free will is still under discussion."

Humans are creatures of habit. when I decide to ride my bike, I do not need to consciously try to maintain balance as I had too when I was 5 and first began learning how to ride a bike. This exemplifiers the point that the way we move, such as the way we move to press the button is largely predetermined, we don't actually think about how to press the button as we have already put conscious thought into it previously. Therefore in this sense it is definitely determined, just as I instinctively know how to ride a bike and how to breathe after lots of effort when I was younger. 
Therefore it can be stated the existence or lack there of existence of free will cannot be stated in a scientific experiment such as this. It would take deliberate control and will power to undo habits we have created (such as those who may smoke). Its through this way we can overcome determinism and create new healthier deterministic habits through our own conscious willpower and volition.

Libet himself didn't even believe his study disproved free will, as he states himself: "subjects still have a "conscious veto", since the readiness potential does not invariably lead to an action. A no-free-will conclusion is based on dubious assumptions about the location of consciousness, as well as questioning the accuracy and interpretation of Libet's results."

On this stance, there is some things we don't have very much conscious control of (such as ticks) in this sense determinism exists. Yet to deny free will althoghter is to deny self control and conscious will power. 

Reponse to Theweakeredge
Within his free will debate, one of theweakeredges arguments go as follows; 
  1. You want to do something 
  2. You are forced to do something
  3. Do you choose to want more sleep? Certainly not, you simply do.
  4. Do you choose to want to sleep in? Certainly not, you simply do. 
  • What about such activities as going to the gym? Most people do not want to go to the gym but choose to - to get healthier, to lose weight, whatever it may be.

I would then ask you to reevaluate that position, that going to the gym is not because you want to, but it might have the appearance that one still chooses to go to the gym, regardless if they wanted it or not.

My objection? Simple, you have another want. The want being, getting healthier, then, what separates those who go to the gym to those that stay at home? Their wants, one go to the gym because they want to go get healthier supersedes their want to relax, while one does not go to the gym because they want to relax supersedes their want to become healthier.
This is very true. We actually don't disagree in the slightest. Someone who believes in free will would argue we do have control over our wants and desires (to a reasonable extent). To use an example, it could be said that if I think interracial marriages are immoral, I'm going to feel disgust and feel negative emotions when I see such relationships. Yet if I come to the conscious conclusion that interracial marriages are good through conscious deliberation, I will actually feel happy when I see such marriages take place.

Unless you argue we have no control over what we think about, or conscious control to interrupt or redirect thoughts. Then it's hard to say we don't have conscious control (through the usage of reason) over what will bring us happiness, what will bring us what we want.

Argument through models of time
Depending on what model of time we use, we can radically change the odds of free will existing or not existing. For this part of the debate I am going to completely deny the proof of a past and future even being knowable to exist. The ideas of the past and present rely on induction, which is faulty, to say the least. All that can truly be said to exist is "the NOW. The eternal now. The theory of relativity seems to generally support this position. The same thing can appear to different observers at separate times. All things, past, present, and future, could be said to exist at once. Depending on who's looking.
If this is the case (as is the most likely as the past and present are impossible currently to prove to exist), This would actually be an argument in favour of free will. When we think of determinism, the first thought that comes to mind is "could I have done it differently based on past events?" If it turns out that past events don't even exist, Yet only the present does, so this thought is simply nonsensical to begin with. It is simply a thought from the imagination, impossible in reality. This is a sledgehammer to determinism. If only the present could be known to exist. And the past, future, and present are all just the now. It could be said we're always making decisions of our own volition and conscious will. And how much our decisions are affected in the present (outside of our control) is simply dictated based on how much we believe in the past and future. This idea of going back in time or the future and seeing if you can do it differently is impossible. Yet this impossibility does not deny free will. If the future and past are an illusion, we're always making a decision in the present. You a second in the future, is you in the present. You, as an elderly person, have already come to pass. You're just yet to perceive it. You've already made all your decisions. But those decisions are only made and set in stone as long as you separate the present from the future and past. You're constantly making free-will decisions. Nothing is determined, as all that exists is the now.


  • There is strong philosophical evidence to have faith in our intuition of free will. It is a priori for a reason. Determinism isn't popular in academic circles, for a reason.
  • There is no evidence from physics to deny the opportunity of free will
  • There is no evidence from neuroscience to deny free will

Round 2
Round 3
wow. I thank you for this stimulating back and forth!