Freedom of the will: The notion that a sane and conscious
human being is able to choose freely from certain alternative courses of
action, and does choose depending on his own
beliefs and values.
is a free will, in the sense that individual human beings are
accountable for some of their own deeds and ommissions is a basic
assumption of the law, and of most persons interacting in
society: One is responsible, if sane and
conscious; one can choose to do or
not to do many things; and what one does consciously is often best
explained by the
theory that one's
desires disposed one to do so, and one chose to act accordingly.
It is difficult to explain free will, at least if one does not assume
- human beings can
represent to themselves
alternative courses of action
- human beings can attribute
probabilities to the outcomes of their actions (in the sense: if I
do p, then probably q, which has value v for me)
- there is sometimes a fundamental
freedom to choose given some perceived alternative.
Most of this can be precisified formally, but the last point involves
a fundamental assumption. That one has this freedom to act can be
supported by appealing to all manner of well-known facts relating to
willing, desiring and doing, such as are involved in toilet-training or
choosing one from several cakes.
It would seem that in all those cases where one believes one can
choose one perceives some alternative - do A or B; one has some
probabilities - if I do A then probably C; if I do B then probably D;
and one has some values - having C has value X; having D has value Y;
and one seems given the freedom to act on either alternative, and both
as would best please oneself and as would least please oneself.
Furthermore, the main reason one believes one has a free will, if
written out with some logical clarity, seems to come down to the
- for many states S of a person a that
a may be in, the probability that a is in state S is not dependent on
any state of anything that is not in a, and does depend on some states
of a, without being determined by them.
Here it should also be noted that one often finds oneself in the situation
that what one values most is least probable; that what is easier to do
is worse in (probable) outcome than what is more difficult to do; and
that the safer courses of action promise the lesser payments, while
trying to achieve the best also is the most dangerous course of action.
It would seem to me that there is far better reason than not to
attribute some degree of free will to living beings, at least those that
can move independently about, because having the possibility to choose
from perceived alternatives in terms of their own felt interests and
their own appraisals and representations of the situation and themselves
gives them a far better chance of survival.
Therefore it would seem, also from one's own feelings in many
situations of choice, deliberation, hesitation, and all manner of decisions with
uncertainties, that indeed human beings, and at least also mammals
and birds, often are forced to choose, namely when they find themselves
in a situation that their nervous system represents to them as an
alternative: Here one can choose, with various possible outcomes, with
various possible values, and various possible dangers and difficulties.
(One interesting set of alternatives that one may have is between doing
safe (easy, probable) A with low reward or doing unsafe (difficult,
improbable) B with high reward.)
Part of the explanation of this facility of choosing resides in the
fact that what one chooses from are not real facts, but one's own
representations of possible facts
and possible outcomes, with one's own values for these possibilities and
And also part of the explanation
of this facility of choosing resides in the fact that an animal that
freely moves about has much better chances of survival if it can adapt
its own acts to its own appraisals, supposing that the latter are more
often correct than not, as is reasonable for individuals from species
that have survived (in what are, for them, ordinary circumstances).
Finally, there is a possible basis for free will: If there are
disjunctions of probabilities, the statement
If .X or Y. is true, then .X. is true or .Y. is true.
that is true in binary logic and that suggests a kind of fatalism -
"You will do X or Y you say. Well then, it follows logically you
will do X or you will do Y!" - is no longer true. For example, if .Y. =
.not X. and 0<pr(X)<1. Then neither .X. nor .not X. are true, though .X
or not X. is, and indeed this seems to be the case with many future
contingents (things that may or may not happen, depending partially or
wholly on decisions of animals involved in the situation in which the
things may happen).
Likewise, while it is a virtual certainty (excluding freaks for the
moment) that the baby to be will be a boy or a girl, the probability
that either is true (before more information than mere pregnancy) is
So there is a considerable difference between disjunctions in binary
logic and in probability theory (and the same holds for conjunctions and