What is Free Will?
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What is Free Will?

As discussed in our last blog, Free Will is necessary for moral responsibility. Many grant this fact but dispute the meaning of Free Will. So, what is Free Will?

As we get started, it should be noted that the Bible claims and Christians believe that humans have Free Will. For example, God said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17, ESV).[1] And, Joshua said, “ And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15, ESV).[2] When examined, it seems that the Free Will asserted in the Bible is Libertarian Free Will — that is, Incompatibilist (Nondeterministic) Agent Causality as opposed to Deterministic Event Causality, Indeterministic Event Causality, or Compatibilist Event Causality[3]. This is the Free Will (hereafter FW) that we argue that all men must and do have.

In its simplest definition, FW is the capacity to “act freely.”[4] More specifically, this FW is

(b) The Freedom of Alternative Choice which consists in the supposed ability of the agent to choose among alternative possibilities of action. (c) The Freedom of Self-Determination consisting in decision independent of external constraint but in accordance with the inner motives and ideals of the agent.[5]

In other words, FW refers to human action and agency “in which the human being acts as an agent who is in some sense the originator of one’s own actions and, in this sense, is in control of one’s action.”[6]

FW occurs only in the case that:

  1. Person p is a substance that has the active power to bring about e.
  2. Person p exerts power as a first-mover (an “originator”) to bring about e.
  3. Person p has the ability to refrain from exerting power to bring about e.
  4. Person p acts for the sake of reasons that serve as the final cause or teleological goal for which p acts.[7]

This case entails five necessary conditions:

  1. The Ability Condition: the ability of the agent to choose or to act differently from the way the agent actually does act;
  2. The Control Condition: the agent is in control of the act himself;
  3. The Rationality Condition: the agent acts according to a personal reason for acting;
  4. The Causation Condition: the agent is the cause of the effect (mental or physical action);
  5. The Person as Agent Condition: the agent must be understood to be a substance in the sense of Aristotle and Aquinas (i.e. a soul; FW does not permit top-down mental causation of an emergent sort).[8]

FW of this sort is the ability to deliberate between two alternatives on the basis of relevant beliefs and desires such that one is able to form a volition or intention that precedes, corresponds to, and causes a subsequent action. For example, I have chosen to write a blog describing FW. On this view of FW, I could have done otherwise. The option was also open to write on any number of other subjects. Having given careful consideration to the many options and having been motivated by a desire to write a good blog, I chose this topic instead of others. In other words, I exercised FW.

Please note, I am not claiming that every action is free. Of course, this is not the case. Clearly many actions of the body are event-caused, involuntary or automatic actions. And, many others may be so coerced — environmentally, socially or circumstantially influenced — that they could not really be considered free. Instead, I am only contending for the possibility of free action in cases like the example given above. This is, I believe, the essential freedom which is at the heart of FW, which agrees with our common intuition concerning Free Will, and which must be possible for man to be considered a moral agent.

Such a version of FW requires that some set of human actions be free from event-causation. If it were shown that no such actions exist, then FW would be disproven. Many lines of evidence from neuroscience (brain damage, split brains, psychopharmacology, the Libet studies, etc.) are purported to show just this. In our next blog, we will consider the evidence from neuroscience and ask: Does Free Will exist?


What is the key ability that constitutes Free Will?

Do you have Free Will?



[3] See for an idea of what all these different words mean.


[5] Wood, Ledger, Dictionary of Philosophy,112.

[6] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Kindle Locations 8412-8413.

[7] Moreland and Rae, Body and Soul, 105.

[8] Moreland and Craig, pp. 271-283.

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