The Urban Dharma Newsletter - May, 2010

In This Issue: Free Will in Buddhism

1. Researchers Probe Whether, Why, 'Free Will' Exists
2. The Question of Free Will in Buddhism
3. The Ideas of Free Will and Responsibility in Buddhist Ethics
4. Buddhism and Free Will
5. What kind of free will did the Buddha teach?
6. Free will / From Wikipedia



The big question, is there free will in Buddhism??? Enjoy.

Peace… Kusala

1. Researchers Probe Whether, Why, 'Free Will' Exists – By Amy Green / Religion News Service


ORLANDO, Fla. -- Are people really responsible for all the things they do? Do they have what theologians call God-given "free will" to choose between right and wrong?

Those questions are at the heart of a four-year research project underway at Florida State University that aims to determine whether, and how, free will exists.

Funded by a $4.4 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the project will gather together scientists, philosophers and theologians around the question of what factors -- free will, genetics, environment, God or something else -- lead us to do all the things we do.

"Gathering evidence for it one way or another, it's quite possible," said Alfred Mele, a professor of philosophy at Florida State who will lead the project. "Scientists have been looking for evidence for and against free will since the early '80s."

The debate however, is much older. For instance: Do humans, through their own freely chosen actions and decisions, determine whether they will go to heaven or hell? Does an omniscient God already know how things will turn out in the end?

Does God given humans the free choice to turn away?

In the early 1980s, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet conducted an experiment that found subjects' brains registered the decision to flex their wrists roughly 300 milliseconds before the subjects themselves became aware of their decision to do it. Libet concluded "conscious free will never is involved in producing a decision, and you can see how there's a quick road from there to 'there actually is no free will,"' Mele said.

The research led some to believe that brain processes traceable to genetic and environmental factors, and not free will, determine our decisions. Others think that while people might not be immediately aware of the decisions our brains make, they still possess the free will to veto these decisions.

But Mele, the author of two books and more than 170 articles on the concept of free will, doesn't discount the more common definition of free will -- one used by the courts in determining guilt and premeditation.

"There really is nothing more to it than sanely, rationally assessing reasons and then deciding on the basis of those reasons, as long as nobody is pushing you around or forcing you," he said. "In that view of free will, it's pretty obvious there is free will."

The "Big Questions in Free Will" research project will devote $3.4 million for projects around the world to explore the concept of free will from scientific, philosophical and theological perspectives.

Scientists will look for evidence proving or disproving whether free will exists. Philosophers and theologians, meanwhile, will seek a better definition of the concept, helping scientists to know precisely what evidence they are looking for, Mele said.

While it is perhaps difficult to reconcile concepts such as fate and destiny with free will, it is possible for an omniscient God to coexist with the idea of free will, said Kevin Timpe, an associate professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

"There is a difference between knowing what someone is going to do and causing them to do it," said Timpe, author of "Free Will: Sourcehood and Its Alternatives." "I know what my wife is going to order when I take her to certain restaurants just because I know her very well. But I also think my wife is freely choosing to order."

What if researchers discover free will does not exist? Two studies portend a troubled future, Mele said. One found its subjects cheated more when they believed they were not responsible for their own decisions; another found subjects' behavior growing more aggressive when their belief in free will was suspended.

Norman Geisler, the author of 70 books including several on free will, said the idea that free will does not exist is incompatible with the Bible and the doctrine of original sin, which refers to the sin inherited from Adam and Eve's transgressions in the Garden of Eden.

If Adam's decision was not made freely, then that presumably makes God responsible for evil in the world.

"The Bible constantly affirms that man is free, that he can choose his destiny, that he's morally responsible," said Geisler, whose books include "Chosen But Free." "To say that we are pre-determined is to blame God for our choices. Secondly if all our actions are pre-determined, then why doesn't God save everyone? Because if he can save everyone apart from their free will and he if really loves everyone then he would."

2. The Question of Free Will in Buddhism – Mahidol Univeristy


When people from the West start studying the subject of kamma, or intention, they are often confused by the problem of free will. Is there free will? In actual fact there is no free will, in the sense of being ‘absolutely free', because intention is just one of the myriad interrelated cause and effect processes. However, will can be considered free in a relative way. We might say it is 'relatively free', because it is in fact one of the factors within the overall natural process. In Buddhism this is called purisaka.gif (845 bytes)ra. Each person has the ability to initiate thinking and intention, and as such become the instigating factor in a cause and effect process, or kamma, for which we say each individual must accept responsibility.

Misunderstandings, or lack of understanding, in relation to this matter of free will, arise from a number of more deeply - rooted misconceptions, in particular, the misconception of self. This concept causes a lot of confusion when people try to look at reality as an actual condition, but are still trapped in their habitual thinking, which clings fast to concepts. The two perspectives clash. The perception is of a doer and a receiver of results. While in reality there is only a feeling, the perception is of ‘one who feels’. (In the texts it is said: There is the experience of feeling, but no-one who feels.) The reason for this confusion is ignorance of the characteristic of anatta.gif (845 bytes), not self.

Buddhism doesn't stop simply at free will, but strives to the stage of being ‘free of will', transcending the power of will, which can only be achieved through the complete development of human potential through wisdom.

Also note that within this process of human development, the areas of the mind and of wisdom are distinguished from each other. Wisdom that is fully developed will liberate the mind. So we have the mind with intention, and the mind with wisdom. However, this is a practical concern, a vast subject which must be reserved for a later time.

My intention here has been simply to show that the attainment of perfect knowledge, or reality, must arise from an understanding of human beings and their place in the natural order, including those abstract conditions and values which exist within them.

3. The Ideas of Free Will and Responsibility in Buddhist Ethics - By Khai Thien


The concepts of free will and karma in Buddhism both address the same issue—individual potentiality and ethical responsibility—although neither developed in the same way. The Buddhists interpret their ethical teaching through concepts of karma in a special direction of spiritual discipline, whereas free will emphasizes the problems of human ethics in particular and, to a certain extent, focusing on metaphysics, as noted by C. A. Campbell in his “In Defence of Free Will.”[1] However, the current paper will discuss a few basic ideas common to both free will and karma—namely, the common sense of human ethics—by exploring the similarities and difference between the two theories.

Similarities between Karma and Free Will

Both karma and free will mention the foundation on which human ethics is developed in all aspects, including psychological formations, thoughts, actions, behaviors, virtues, and moral responsibility. In Buddhist ethical teaching, karma is the familiar concept that generally covers three dimensions of a person: body, mouth, and mind—or the physical, the verbal, and the mental. Based upon these three aspects, a person directs his or her own life in spiritual vocations. However, according to Buddhism, the most important factor that is always at the forefront of the three karmas is the mind. The mind of each individual, as always, takes the essential role in determining one’s destiny (karma)—either happiness or suffering. In the Dhammapada Sutta, the Buddha portrayed that essential role of the mind in building up or pulling down the virtues of a human being through several verses: “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox” (Dhammapada verse 1); and “Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with a pure mind a person speaks or acts happiness follows him like his never-departing shadow” (Dhammapada verse 2). In this context, the mind is considered the architect who subjectively designs the specific life for each person through his or her individual volitional actions. As such, the path leading to the life of happiness or even that of enlightenment is nothing more than the process of the purification of the mind—thus identifying the special teaching of Buddhist humanistic ethics focused on individual potentiality and the moral responsibility of each person.

Similarly, the theory of free will directly emphasizes the moral responsibility of humanity through the potentiality and freedom of the will. The debate between Determinists and Libertarians on the subject of free will led to the central problems of human ethics, which related not only to human values, but also to religious values. The question as to whether or not an existence called free will that influences all human conduct and shapes the so-called “human destiny” directly governed by moral responsibility, both personally and individually, exists. According to the doctrine of Libertarians, “human beings possess free will and have the potential to think and to act freely.”[2] However, the Determinists completely denied the possibility that human choice is never self-initiated, asserting that free will is an egotistical illusion—no more, no less. Yet the theory of the Libertarians has retained a special position in modern society. According to Burton, “the view [of Libertarians] seems far more acceptable since it is not fraught with logical flaws and is in keeping with our common sense attitude toward our actions.” Moreover, “we are essentially free to choose our own paths, and we bear a burden of personal responsibility for the paths we choose.”[3]

The main idea of free will, as developed by Campbell, is that it consists of two essential factors: the self-determined and the environment. “Every historic self has an hereditary nature consisting of group of inborn propensities, in range more or less common to the race, but specific to the individual in their respective strength…and, the self-choices that manifest the influence of his hereditary nature… the choice is determined at least in part, by factors external to the self” (Campbell). Libertarians clearly do not deny the fact that a personal choice or moral responsibility relies, in part, on the individual’s basis of biology, sociology, and psychology; however, they absolutely claim that the individual retains the freedom to choose or decide between alternatives of external forces. In addition, they argue that this environment or external forces are in fact influences and not determinants. Thus, a person will always have the ability to choose or reject his or her own influences. The crucial question here, however, is the element of human consciousness: Are we aware or unaware of the operation of influences in our lives? Burton answered this question:

Once we are aware of the various forces operative in our lives, these forces are disarmed of power over us; we then empowered to decide which influences to accept and which to reject. The influences are only determinants when we are unconscious of their existence and the way in which they affect us; once we are aware of them, we can become free of their control.[4]

Clearly the theory of free will advocates self-determinedness as the most important agent in creating individual morality and responsibility. Although both elements—self-cause and the environment—are equally important in shaping ethical personality, self-cause or self-determinedness is considered the primary element, establishing the true value for moral responsibility within each individual. Without self-determinedness working as the basis as well as the background for developing individual personality, the external elements alone would not be able to produce a personality or an ethical responsibility as such. As Erich Fromm asserted, “As man approaches maturity he gradually frees himself from instinctive and compulsive behavior and he develops his powers of self-reliance and choice.”[5]

Differences between Karma and Free Will

Both karma and free will concentrate on the active and dominant nature of the “mind” and the “will” in establishing the ethical responsibility of each individual. However, the two theories seek different purposes, at least in certain religious aspects. Buddhism, from its viewpoint of reincarnation (samsara), has pointed to the circle of time, in which an individual is born and reborn—not into one life, but multiple lives—depending on his or her karmas of the past. Even a Bodhisattva still has to cultivate good karma on his way to enlightenment. Thus, we cannot simply put the concept of karma into the frame of human ethics. At a higher level, the life of a Bodhisattva for instance, we cannot interpret or explain karma using only ordinary knowledge or human language since the realms between humanity and that of the Divine are not identical. For example, we may say that God absolutely knows the whole process of human karma or human free will; however, no ordinary person can claim that he or she knows precisely what the realm of God or that of the Buddha is. In this regard, D. T. Suzuki said:

We are too much of a slave to the conventional way of thinking, which is dualistic through and through. No “interpenetration” is allowed, there takes place no fusing of opposites in our everyday logic. What belongs to God is not of this world, and what is of this world is incompatible with the divine […] This is the way things or ideas go in this universe of senses and syllogisms.[6]

Therefore, the karma about which we are talking is the karma that is explainable and applicable to the human domain only. As such, karma is the way in which the Buddhists cultivate and develop their sense of moral responsibility. Consequently, the effort to purify negative karmas in Buddhism is the most essential discipline not only for issues of human ethics, but also for practicing and cultivating the spiritual life.

Meanwhile, the theory of free will focuses on issues of both human ethics and the metaphysical structure of human heredity. Although the theory mentions elements of preconditions–prior causes, it does not indicate any meaning related to religious purposes; rather, it describes the human potentiality from a humanistic viewpoint. As Porter mentioned, “The libertarian is not saying that human behavior is capricious and independent of all natural laws but that the particular laws that are brought into play are decided by the self-aware person.”[7] The self-aware person here is in fact the determined element in all aspects of human existence: activities, conduct, behaviors, and ethical responsibility. Thus, it is reasonable to say that the view of free will is very humanistic, if humanism is not free will.

The truth is that all concepts of morality are changing, always and everywhere. For instance, abortion can be either right or wrong depending on the different traditions and societies; for those who believe in the benefits of modern science, abortion is necessary in certain cases, but it is absolutely not an evil. In contrasting, the Roman Catholic Church definitively views abortion as an evil—no more, no less. For this reason, the doctrine of free will does not accept any prediction based on the so-called prior cause, but it accepts the self-determined and the external forces. The fact is that the concepts of ethics are products of human beings, and moral responsibility itself is not identical in different traditions and societies. Therefore, according to Libertarians, if human beings are controlled by prior causes as a mechanistic system, then human behaviors can be predicted with the same degree of certainty. Yet human conduct is in fact non-mechanistic and exists in a biological system—that is to say, human beings possess free will. Therefore, human life, in the ethical sense, is governed not by external environments or by any prior causes, but by the inner free will of each individual.

In brief, both free will and karma share a common ground in the ethics of humanity while each also maintains its own development. The teachings of karma emphasize a religious base on which people cultivate their lives through the path from the purification of ethics to the enlightenment of the spiritual realm. The teachings of free will focus in particular on the nature of human ethics and human potentiality in being “free.” Both theories—karma and free will—can be considered the base of humanistic principles. Interestingly, both theories consider the element of awareness as the essential factor for controlling human life and directing that life to the end goal of all values.

4. Buddhism and Free Will - by Doug (Online Name)


The notion of “Free Will” is an interesting subject in Buddhism. The interest in the subject came to me after reading Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah, especially after reading this passage:

He [Paul Atreides] found himself, instead, thinking that he had come a long way from his boyhood day in Caladan Castle. Where had he put his foot on the path that led to his journey across a crowded square on a planet so far from Caladan? Had he really put his foot on a path? He could not say he had acted at any point in his life for one specific reason.

This led me to ponder my own life. I live far away from home in Ireland, and in younger more heady days I spent time in Vietnam and other odd places. Looking back, everything has unfolded in a steady progression, but at what point did it begin? At what point did certain conditions meet that led me on the path to Buddhism? I once wrote about how the TV show Kung-fu had ignited interest in Buddhism when I was 16, but why me, and why that day? If someone else saw that same episode, why did they not respond to it the same way? What causes and conditions led me to be home watching that particular channel on that particular day?

Buddhism does not see this as random chance, nor as destiny in the usual sense. Instead, we carried along by a powerful current of our own past actions (from both this life and past lives), external conditions, and other miscellaneous causes. Why do you speak the language you do? Did you choose it? Why do you prefer some foods and not others? Did you choose that either? Why do you vote one way, and not another? Even your choice in religion, even your act of forsaking the religion of your childhood, were these free acts, or did other causes and conditions compel us to make them?

Another quote in the same book comes to mind:

It occurred to Paul then that all creatures must carry some kind of destiny stamped out by purposes of varying strengths, by the fixation of training and disposition. From the moment the Jihad had chosen him, he’d felt himself hemmed in by the forces of a multitude. Their fixed purposes demanded and controlled his course. Any delusions of Free Will he harbored now must be merely the prisoner rattling his cage. His curse lay in the fact that he saw the cage. He saw it!

And that’s what I too have felt at times. Much of my beliefs, thoughts, preferences, dislikes and so on are the product of external forces that hemmed me in from birth, guiding me along pre-determined paths, molding me into what I am today. I remember a childhood friend who had a very abusive father. His father used to really hit his son and daughter (my friend’s younger sister) very hard when he was angry, so I realized years later, that my friend often wanted me to stay overnight as protection. Years later when I caught up with him again briefly, he was a very dark and depressed person, and after that I never heard from him again. My parents never did such a thing, but his circumstances were different. He couldn’t choose his parents or family. That’s what he was born into, and those terrible events shaped his life from there on out.

So, while Buddhism does not believe in destiny, in the sense of life’s events already written out, it does teach that one’s free will is very limited, and colored by one’s experiences and past encounters. This is where the practice of mindfulness becomes so crucial. I am reminded of yet another quote from Dune, this time from the 1984 movie, where Thufir Hawat tells Paul that the first step in avoiding a trap is to be aware of its existence.

You and I, friends, are trapped by our environment, past experiences, the training we’ve received since birth, and all the past karma we’ve committed in past lives. Only when we learn to observe our own mind, roll back the beliefs we have like peeling back an onion, layer by layer, can we expose the truth: that they’re all illusory. You cannot rid yourself of who you are, but you don’t have to be ruled by it either. Once we know the nature of our own mind though, we can yet avoid the trap laid out for us, and take a different direction. Only when we can see now, can we make the critical change on the road ahead.

Sorry, but I have to throw in one last quote from the book worth ending this post with:

“Burial, indeed,” the ghola said, “You run from death. You strain at the next instant, refuse to live here and now. Augury! What a crutch for an Emperor!”

Namu Amida Butsu
Namu Kanzeon Bosatsu

5. What kind of free will did the Buddha teach? – Source: Philosopy East & West – Asaf Federman – 2010-01-02


The modern version of the problem of free will is usually described as a collision between two beliefs: the belief that we are free to choose our actions and the belief that our actions are determined by prior necessary causes. Determinism-the view that events are determined by specific causes-makes most aspects of reality intelligible. It works quite well, for example, when explaining aspects of the natural world (quantum physics aside). When heat, fuel, and oxygen come together there is fire. There must be fire. To borrow a famous Buddhist simile, when a mango seed is given the right conditions, it will grow to become a mango tree. It cannot grow to be anything else. However, we do not usually think of agents as being caused in the same way. We tend to think that agents somehow transcend natural causation by their ability to choose freely. If we also think that agents are part of the natural order, we face a paradox. This is, in short, the problem of free will.

On the face of it this problem applies to Buddhism as well. Buddhist thought is very much dedicated to explaining reality as a series of causal relations between processes. This, together with the rejection of a transcendent soul, seems to contradict the Buddhist insistence on choice, personal responsibility, and retribution. Surprisingly, the subject of free will in Buddhism has remained somewhat marginalized in Buddhist scholarship. This has left a void that has attracted contradictory claims: either that Buddhism allows no free will or that it is a doctrine of free will per se.1 This article aims at counterbalancing this situation by comparing the Buddhist position, as preserved in Pa-li sources, with a recent proposal by the philosopher Daniel Dennett, who advocates a compatibilist solution to the traditional problem of free will. It argues that Dennett and the Buddha represent two similar conceptual shifts: from ultimate free will to compatible free will.2 Dennett criticizes the Cartesian notion of the soul as the ultimate inner controller of the body and replaces it with a dynamic notion of intention that is dependent on the agent's cognitive ability to reflect, plan, and control. Similarly, the Buddha rejects the Brahamanical concept of soul as the ultimate controller and replaces it with a dynamic notion of intention. The parallels between the rejections of Cartesianism and Upanisadic Brahminism show that although the Buddha rejected ultimate free will, he accepted a compatibilist free will that allows self-control and moral choice.

This article begins with a critical review of the secondary literature on free will in Buddhism. It progresses by comparing the Brahamanical notion of free will with the Cartesian notion. It discusses the arguments that are used by Dennett and the Buddha in order to reject ultimate free will, and presents a positive account of the kind of free will the Buddha taught, using the conceptual tools laid out by Dennett. Finally, it addresses the question of the compatibility of determinism and free will. It argues that the Buddha's position is closer to accepting determinism than to rejecting it, and that determinism is compatible with the kind of free will that the Buddha taught.

Review of Secondary Literature

As mentioned above, there is little published on free will in Buddhist scholarship. The collection Freedom and Determinism contains a chapter on Buddhism by Gier and Kjellberg that compares the Buddhist doctrines from the PaliCanon and from Nagarjuna with Western philosophies from the ancient Greek to Modern Europe.3 Although this chapter begins to do justice to the long-neglected subject, its broad scope eventually leads to an unsatisfying conclusion: that Buddhism is silent about free will because its conceptual tool kit is different from the modern tool kit.

An earlier article by Luis Gomez contains some preliminary insights from the Pali.4 It presents the problem of free will as a tension between choice and determinism and concludes that Buddhism suggests a middle way between the two. Gomez argues that this is possible only if causality, or karma, in Buddhism is understood as weak determinism. Unfortunately this concept is not adequately explained or developed. Although the article presents an interesting analysis of some Pali passages, it compromises the philosophical side.

Mark Siderits provides a more detailed philosophical argument for Buddhist compatibilism; however, his article suffers from a lack of references to primary sources, a fact that led him to unnecessary complications.5 Although he argues that in Buddhism personal freedom and psychological determinism relate to each other like two ships passing each other in the night,6 he admits that the Buddhist rejection of atman practically cancels the possibility of free will:

If ultimately there are no persons but only physical and mental events in a complex causal series, then the ultimate truth about us must be that we are not free.7

After that he tries to save freedom by suggesting that believing in freedom is necessary because otherwise there would be no explaining the utility of the concept of freedom.8 This is a problematic argument that tries to derive the existence of freedom from the mere existence of the concept of freedom. However, taking this path is unnecessary, because-as suggested below-although the Buddhist doctrine of not-soul rejects the idea of ultimate self-control, this does not lead to denying that people control their behavior and choose their actions.

There are other references to the question of free will and determinism in textbooks and monographs. Here are two examples that illuminate, again, the problem scholars face when dealing with free will in Buddhism. In his Buddhist Logic Stcherbatsky writes that the Special Theory of Causation has been established by Buddha himself in defense of Free Will and against a theory of wholesale determinism.9 He bases this observation on the famous Buddhist rejection of the fatalistic position of Makkhali Gosala, who denied absolutely all free will and all moral responsibility.10 Here, in Stcherbatsky's view, the Buddhist rejection of Makkhali's fatalism is equated with the rejection of determinism and leads to the defense of free will. Thus, in this interpretation, the Buddha accepts free will.

Walpola Rahula, on the other hand, describes the Buddhist position in the following words:

If Free Will implies a will independent of conditions, independent of cause and effect, such a thing does not exist. How can a will, or anything for that matter, arise without conditions, away from cause and effect, when the whole of existence is conditioned and relative, and is within the law of cause and effect?11

Here, in Rahula's view, the Buddhist doctrine of causality overrides the possibility of independent free will (cf. Wallace in note 1 above). Determining the Buddhist position on free will requires a clearer analysis of the terms involved in the discussion. Does free will mean something that is independent of conditions, independent of cause and effect? Or does it mean the opposite of fatalism? The first step in answering these questions is to acknowledge that there are in fact two different definitions of free will. The first defines free will as a power that belongs in the soul, transcends the physical, and has ultimate control over the body (FW1). The second defines free will as the agent's ability to control action in conformity with will, when there are no constraints that limit performance (FW2). The shift from one definition to the other characterizes the philosophical atmosphere today and has characterized the Buddhist position in the early days. Much of the confusion in Buddhist scholarship is caused by mixing these two kinds.

The Cartesian Notion of Free Will and the Upanisadic Notion of Ultimate Control

The problem of free will is a product of European thought and is rooted in medieval theology. As expressed by Augustine of Hippo, the will to do evil poses a tremendous difficulty to the believer who accepts the existence of an all-powerful, benevolent creator God.12 This difficulty is then generalized to encompass the entire realm of moral choice, and eventually human conscious choice in general. Thirteen hundred years after Augustine of Hippo, when Descartes articulated his proof of free will, he called upon a very similar notion of God to aid his argument for ultimate free will.13 Indeed this notion of free will cannot simply be imposed on Buddhism, which rejects the idea of an all-powerful Deity.

As mentioned above, the problem of free will and determinism, which lies dormant at the core of the Cartesian position, is about how to reconcile the view that the physical world is governed by mechanical causation and the view that people have free choice. In history there were various attempts to solve this problem of which two are most illuminating for understanding the Buddhist stance. The first is called here Cartesianism (after Rene-Descartes), and the second is called compatibilism because it argues that freedom and determinism are compatible. The first to articulate the compatibilist position was probably Hobbes, who defined a free man as somebody who finds no stop in doing what he has the will, desire or inclination to do.14 Agents are more free when they are less limited by constraints, coercions, lack of opportunities, and compulsions. Descartes, on the other hand, sees free will as a Godly power that belongs in the soul. In the fourth chapter of Meditations on First Philosophy he states:

I . . . can not complain that God has not given me a free choice or a will which is sufficient, ample and perfect, since as a matter of fact I am conscious of will so extended as to be subject to no limits. . . . It is the free-will alone or the faculty of choice which I find to be so great in me that I can conceive no other idea to be more great; it is indeed that case that it is for the most part this will that causes me to know that in some manner I bear the image and similitude of God.15

Free will in this case is ample and perfect and is subject to no limit. Descartes' understanding of free will stems from his ontological standpoint, which is known as substance dualism. Will is a power that belongs to the soul, to the immaterial substance. This power can influence the material substance by causing the body to move. In The Passions of the Soul Descartes writes: the little gland in the middle of the brain can be pushed to one side by the soul and to the other side by the animal spirits.16 The animal spirits can be understood as bio-mechanical forces that originate from neither will nor reason. Descartes was aware of the fact that human behavior is influenced by various forces (e.g., instincts and emotions), but he claimed that the will could override them, especially when combined with reason. These two immaterial faculties exercise a top-down causality-from soul to action.

Descartes and his followers argue that free will belongs in the soul and that the body is subject to mechanical causality. According to this view, freedom cannot arise from a determined physical process. It must come from somewhere else. Determined processes may cause desires and instincts to arise, but true free decisions are not bound to the physical. They rule it. They control it.

Let us consider a contemporary example. John Foster introduces the requirements for free will as follows:

The non-physical subject has a genuine power of choice, whose operation is not constrained by prior physical or psychological conditions, and which enables him to exercise an ultimate control over the movement of the body.17

First, the agent is required to be non-physical, because the physical world, as we know, is governed by causality. Second, the agent should have a genuine power of choice and an ability to exercise ultimate control over movement. Anything less than that, according to Foster, would not account for freedom.

Scientists are less attracted to the idea of non-physical substances. The idea that a non-physical agent somehow imposes freedom on a closed causal system contradicts essential aspects of scientific thought, namely that the brain controls the body, and that the brain is part of the deterministic physical world. A rigorous materialistic approach would dismiss free will as unreal or illusory. Actions and choices are primarily produced by brains. Being part of the physical world, brains do not transcend causality and therefore cannot be genuinely free.18 However, in the face of our intuition about ourselves, and the fact that we exhibit many signs of being able to choose, some hesitate to claim that free will is just an illusion, and insist that there is a genuine problem with it.19

Nevertheless, even the position of those who think that free will is nothing but an illusion falls under the category of Cartesianism because it is based on the assumption that without an immaterial soul that transcends causality there is no place for genuine free will. This is the first kind of free will that was mentioned above (FW1).

This kind of free will is virtually identical to one view that can be found in the Upanisads, and that is rejected by the Buddha. Some Upanisa adic passages suggest a strong association between soul (a- tman) 20 and control. On top of the common Advaita interpretation that sees a-tman only as an ultimate locus of perception,21 these passages suggest that it is also an ultimate locus of control. In the Brhada-ran yaka Upanisad (BraU) the priest who knows the secret meaning of ritual verses is described as all-powerful: He is able to produce by his singing whatever he desires, either for himself or for the patron of the sacrifice.22 Passages like this lead Steven Collins to argue that Brahmanical practices and theology contain an important component of control: the priest who knows the ritual gains control over the universe.23

In the Brahmanical context knowledge is control. Knowing the ritual gives the priest control over the sacrifice, and hence over the universe. This principle is sometimes transformed in the Upanisads in the following way: one who knows the soul (a- tman) gains control over the ultimate principle of the universe (Brahman), because they are, in the final account, identical. This is based on two principles: (1) a knowledge of things gives power over them, and (2) things of different scale may be identical.

Thus, knowing means controlling, and controlling allows those who know to gain whatever they wish. In the same manner the renouncer gains ultimate control through the internal ritual, through knowing the soul:24

The soul (atman) of yours who is present within but is different from the earth, whom the earth does not know, whose body is the earth, and who controls the earth from within- he is the inner controller (antarayamin), the immortal.25

This passage is repeated with the word earth being replaced by various features like water, fire, and the sky. A- tman is repeatedly described as an inner controller (antaraya- min), and at the end it is also described as the center of perception.26 The ontology of the Upanisads is very different from that suggested by Descartes. The latter, as pointed out above, is very much embedded in Christian Theology. Nevertheless, both descriptions of inner control share the following features: (1) the inner controller is the soul, or the true essence of being, (2) it controls the body, and (3) it is different from the body. This could be mapped onto the definition of FW1: a power that belongs in the soul, that transcends the physical and that has ultimate control.

The Buddha's Rejection of Ultimate Free Will

In Buddhist thought freedom does not require an immortal and immaterial substance that transcends the causal order. The Buddha denied the concept of soul and at the same time taught choice, individual responsibility, and personal retribution. In the Cartesian context the soul serves as an ultimate source of control, and a very similar idea is found in the Upanisads. Nevertheless, it is denied in early Buddhism and is replaced by a dynamic volitional process, which is embedded in causality.

In the passages from the Upanis ads that are quoted above, a-tman is the inner controller. Knowing a-tman gives the knower ultimate control and ultimate freedom to influence his destiny. By knowing a-tman one becomes one's own master and gains freedom of movement. The metaphor of mastery is echoed later in Buddhist texts, and stresses that the Buddha rejected a-tman not only as a center of perception, but also as the center of control (more on this later).

If knowledge of atman is indeed so crucial for being one's own master, being free and self-controlled, what should we make of the Buddha's claim that no atman can be found? There are two options. (1) With the rejection of atman the Buddha provided a new source for ultimate free will. Or (2) with the rejection of atman the Buddha rejected the idea of ultimate self-control and therefore rejected the idea of an ultimate free-will. The first hypothesis can easily be ruled out. Pali texts do not suggest any alternative substance as the origin of ultimate control. They discuss reality in terms of processes, not in terms of substances. In such a reality there is action but there cannot be an ultimate source for action. The search for ultimate control must, then, be futile. If ultimate control is the definition of free will then the Buddha must have denied it.

On the other hand, we expect that a system that stresses personal responsibility in both the moral and soteriological dimensions will also provide a theoretical account of how individuals are agents, ultimate bearers of responsibility, and ultimate initiators of action. In other words, we expect such a system to have a theory of ultimate agent causation and free will. But Buddhism fails to meet this expectation. Buddhist arguments systematically shift the attention from agent causation to a causal sequence of impersonal processes.

One sutta of the Sam yutta Nika-ya expresses the Buddha's refusal to commit to a theory of agent causation regarding the origin of suffering. There, Sa-riputta is asked where the Buddha stood on a certain controversy, which is expressed in the Indian quadruple proposition: is suffering created by oneself, by another, by both, or by none?27 Although there is no reference here to one's soul (atta- ), there is reference to oneself (sayamÿ ). The word sayamÿ is derived from the Vedic sva, meaning own. The question is therefore about the owner, or the agent, by which suffering is produced (katamÿ ). But the Buddhist answer shifts the attention away from agency alto- gether. It simply states that suffering is created by contact (phassa) and later explains the causal process in more detail using the language of impersonal causation. In this sutta the causal analysis is said to be true whether you think that suffering is caused by self, another, both, or none. It renders the question of agent causation as irrelevant; instead it suggests that suffering is dependently arisen (pat iccasamuppanna).

In other places, theories about the agent's center of gravity, the soul, are also rejected and with them the idea that agents have ultimate control over other aspects of reality.28 This is clearly illustrated in one of the most important discourses of the Pa-li canon, the A- nattalakkhan a-sutta, where the Buddha expounds the doctrine of not-soul (a- natta) to his five former companions. The Buddha states:

Body is not soul. For if body were soul this body would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of body: 'Let my body be thus; let my body not be thus. But because body is not soul it leads to affliction[;] it is not possible to have it of body: Let my body be thus; let my body not be thus.29

This passage is repeated five times with body being replaced by each of the remaining four aggregates (khandha) that constitute the mind-body phenomenon: sensations, apperceptions, volitions, and consciousness.30 Any of these, it is said, is not soul because (a) it leads to suffering, and (b) it cannot be changed at will. These passages contain two arguments.
First argument

1. If body was soul, and soul could not lead to affliction, then body does not lead to affliction.

2. It is not true that body does not lead to affliction.

3. Therefore it is not true that body is soul.

Second argument

1. If body was soul, it could be changed at will.

2. It is not possible to change body at will.

3. Therefore body is not soul.

The first argument is based on the hidden assumption that soul could not lead to affliction. This echoes the Brahamanical assertion that knowing atman leads to ultimate bliss.31 The second argument is based on the following assumption: soulas- aggregate means an ability to change the aggregate at will. The conclusion does not say that soul does not exist, but rather says that none of the five aggregates is soul. More interesting than the conclusion is the premise, which says that soul entails entertaining ultimate agent causation (Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus). The text takes it for granted that if soul-as-aggregate exists, then the aggregate could be directly manipulated. Although it does not explicitly say the soul controls the aggregates, it does associate the existence of soul-as-aggregate with the ability to control.

The same line of argument is repeated in detail in the Cu- l a-saccaka-sutta,32 which contains an additional simile that stresses the connection between soul and control. The Buddha describes how a king rules his kingdom. Then he asks Saccaka to confirm that soul must have the same kind of control over the aggregates. If the aggregates were soul, says the Buddha, then one would rule them as a king rules his kingdom. The conclusion echoes the A- nattalakkhan a-sutta: soul cannot be found within the aggregates because one cannot change the aggregates at will.

These arguments against a- tta and for anatta- assume a connection between soul and ultimate control. Taking any of the aggregates to be the essence of being, the soul, would mean that it could be manipulated at will. As shown above, this connection is not foreign to ancient Indian thought.

The Buddhist denial of soul includes a denial of such ultimate control, thus taking for granted ideas that are found in some passages of the Br hada-ran yaka Upanis ad. Although there is no agreement among scholars on whether the Buddha had any knowledge of the Upanis ads, it becomes clear that the association between soul and control was taken for granted by the Buddha when he formulated his arguments for a- natta. With the rejection of the soul, the Buddha also rejected ultimate free will.

Dennett's neo-compatibilist reaction to the Cartesian conception of free will shares some features with the Buddhist rejection of the Upanis adic idea of an ultimate controller. The most obvious resemblance is the rejection of ultimate soul as the source for free will. As mentioned above, the Buddha rejected the Brahmanic idea that humans can find a soul (a- tman) that is identical to a divine power (Brahman). Dennett, too, rejects that traditional idea that free will is a God-like power to exempt oneself from the causal fabric of the physical world.33 He, like the Buddha, is convinced that we do not have immaterial souls in that sense.34 The structure of the justification for this conviction is similar in both the modern and the Buddhist cases: the idea that we have souls is simply not supported by anything we have learned from experience or experimentation.35 This already is at odds with the definition of free will that is given above (FW1).

However, it agrees with the compatibilist definition of free will that is endorsed by Dennett and can be extracted from Buddhist doctrine.

The Buddha and Compatibilist Free Will

The classical compatibilist solution to the problem of free will shifts the attention from ultimate agency to the more tangible freedoms people have. People are free whenever they can do what they want to do, that is, when there are no constraints on choice and execution. To this notion of compatibilist free will Dennett adds an important cognitive perspective that works well with the Buddhist psychological attitude. (He also adds an evolutionary perspective that has no Buddhist counterpart, which will not be discussed here.) He perceives free will as a kind of self-control that is based on a unique set of cognitive skills: to represent, to reflect, and to imagine possibilities. In his words:

We are the only species whose members can imagine the adaptive landscape of possibilities beyond the physical landscape, who can see across the valleys to other conceivable peaks. . . . We can conceive (we think) better worlds and yearn to get there. . . . Our evolved capacity to reflect gives us-and only us-both the opportunity and the competence to evaluate the ends, not just the means.36

People imagine possibilities, and aspire to achieve what they think is best among them. This process is not linear. It is subject to constant evaluation and reevaluation according to knowledge that has been accumulated. The more accurately one represents reality and imagines possibilities, the more freedom one has. Free will is, therefore, our imperfect ability to control ourselves, to direct ourselves (our bodies, to begin with) toward the imagined goal.

Free will in this sense is necessarily a property of an agent who wants something, and who can drive himself in the direction of fulfilling the desire.37 This is the second kind of free will that is mentioned above (FW2): an agent's ability to control action in conformity with his will when there are no constraints, coercions, and compulsions that limit performance.

Although FW1 is rejected by the Buddha, FW2 is consistent with Buddhist doctrine. In fact, the Buddhist path-that is, the path to freedom (vimuttimagga)38- aims exactly at the eradication of coercion, constraint, limitation, bondage, and so on. Buddhist texts focus mostly on mental constraints (a partial list would contain the three roots of suffering and the five hindrances),39 whose eradication is often compared to becoming free from slavery, bondage, debt, and sickness.40 Those who are not yet liberated are bound by various mental bondages (bandha) that limit the mind and obstruct freedom.

Finally, nibba- na, the ultimate goal of the path, is referred to as freedom in the compatibilist sense. In David Kalupahana's words: The term nibba-na (Skt. nirva-n a) conveys the same negative sense associated with the conception of freedom whenever the latter is defined as 'absence of constraint.' 41 The eradication of mental constraint is the core of the Buddhist path to freedom, and there is little doubt that the Buddha thought that such freedom is achievable.

Besides the absence of constraint, the compatibilist definition of free will requires also an agent that is capable of monitoring wishes in order to execute actions. Although the Buddha denied ultimate agency-the singular point from which soul ultimately controls the body-he acknowledged moral choice and personal retribution. The agent in this case is nothing but a collection of physical and mental processes, but as such it can still choose what to do. The Buddha rejected the view, attributed to Makkhali Gosala, that there is no self-agency (attakara) 42 and replied to another question on the same subject that people have an ability of initiating (arabbha-dhatu).43 Some other Pali terms that fall under the English intention- sancetana, sankappa, cetana-indicate that for the Buddha a person is able to consciously plan and direct action.

Being part of the eightfold path samma sankappa is singled out as a function that can direct behavior toward non-harm and renunciation. 44 Cetana is singled out as equally important when the Buddha declares that it defines action with moral consequence (kamma).45 Denying intention, that is, the ability to plan and deliberate action, would be similar to accepting the fatalistic doctrine of Makkhali Gosala.

The last component that is required for free will is the ability to be aware of one's own desires and wishes. Mindfulness (sati) is probably the single most important cognitive function that is responsible for this task in Buddhist psychology. It is part of the eightfold path (samma-sati) and can be developed through practice. It allows the practitioner to know the current state of the body, bodily movements, feelings, mind (citta), and mental states (dhamma).46 When one knows one's state of mind, desires, and wishes, one can consider a course of action. As long as there are no constraints, one can act accordingly.

However, constraints refer not just to physical limitations that prevent the execution of action but also to psychological limitations that may interfere with planning itself. The Buddhist treatment of freedom is notably psychological and takes into account the level of mental constraints. Unlike some libertarian positions that emphasize only the freedom of action, Buddhist liberty primarily refers to the mind being free from what binds it.

This notion directly stems from the Buddhist understanding that the mind foreruns or precedes the rest of the phenomenal world, including action.47 A free mind is therefore a necessary condition for other kinds of freedoms like freedom of speech, choice, and action, which all come under the compatibilist definition of free will.

The importance of mental freedom at the level of planning is illustrated in postcanonical discussion of a Jataka story in the Questions of Milinda.48 The story tells about the bodhisatta Lomasa Kassapa, whose passion for a princess Candavati drove him to perform a brutal sacrificial act. Although under Buddhist standards he committed the offense of killing, the text indicates that he was not fully responsible because the act was performed when he was out of his mind and not when he was intending what he was doing. Although on the face of it Lomasa controlled his actions and executed them in conformity with his desires (FW2), on a deeper level, says the Questions of Milinda, his mind was so confused, agitated, and disturbed (vikkhitta-bhanta-lul ita-citta) as to prevent real choice. His actions, therefore, are said to have been performed without intention (no san.cetanena).

Conscious reflection and planning-whatever Pali terms are used to describe them-stand out as necessary components of the Buddhist path to liberation. When the Buddha instructs his son Rahula he tells him to reflect before, during, and after performing any action, because otherwise he would automatically and unconsciously follow his habits and dispositions. The Buddha tells Rahula to reflect:

Would this bodily action that I desire to do (kattukamo) lead to harming myself, or to harming others or to harming both? Is it an unwholesome bodily action with painful consequences and painful results?49

Reflection on desire and its consequences allows Rahula to inhibit certain desires and to perform others. As Dennett suggests, becoming a free agent requires knowing one's own desires, and requires knowing, or at least imagining, the consequences of one's actions.

A mind colored with lust, hatred, or confusion cannot plan appropriately and is limited by its own state. A clear mind is a good guide to one's own desires and is a powerful tool that turns knowledge into wise decisions. This is, in practice, an exercise of conscious will. It is not ultimately free, but only free to the extent that the mind is not overloaded emotionally, is able to be aware of its own state, and is able to imagine future consequences.

Determinism and Fatalism

The previous two sections argue that there are in fact two definitions of free will of which only one is compatible with what the Buddha taught. The Buddha rejected free will as a power that belongs in the soul, that transcends the physical and that has ultimate control (FW1). On the other hand he accepted the idea that people have free will when they are able to control their actions in conformity with their will when there are no constraints, coercions, and compulsions on either planning or performance (FW2). One objection may be raised against the second definition: if determinism is true, is it not the case that one is already under the control of determinism? Two issues are raised here for Buddhism.

First, did the Buddha think that determinism was true? If he did not, then the objection for FW2 is dropped. However, if he did, does determinism imply that agents are controlled and therefore not free?

The idea that the Buddha rejected determinism is a prevalent but inaccurate view. Determinism is the thesis that the past determines a unique future.50 This thesis implies that past events causally determine future events so that at any instance there is exactly one possible future. Early Buddhist thought seems to provide a causal theory that accords with this thesis, not rejects it. The best known Buddhist causal formula is dependent-arising (pat iccasamuppa- da), which explains how various aspects of human life arise in dependence on each other. It takes a form of a causal sequence that typically goes from ignorance to suffering in twelve stages.

Nevertheless, other variants are found as well, a fact that emphasizes the generality of the causal principle: certain events causally determine others.51 The general principle is commonly expressed in the short formula: When this exists, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises.52 Another passage from the Nida-navagga suggests that we are dealing here with a theory of specific causality (idappacayata- ) which is an independent principle. The passage says:

What is dependent-arising? 'With birth as condition, ageing'-whether Tathagatas appear or Tathagatas do not appear-this principle still stands as the stability of the truth, the certainty of the truth, specific conditionality.53

This means that the truth (dhamma) of dependent-arising holds independently of the one who recognizes it (a Tathagata, a Buddha). This principle (dhatu) of specific conditionality, is fixed, sure, or certain (niyamata). This means that whenever the condition is present, it is certain that the outcome happens, regardless of anyone realizing it or teaching it. The commentary and sub-commentary are even more explicit on this being a description of deterministic causal relations:

'This principle still stands': the principle is the intrinsic nature of the conditions; never is it the case that birth is not a condition for ageing-and-death. 'The stability of dhamma, the certainty of dhamma': By the next two terms too he indicates just the condition. For the dependently arisen phenomena stand because of the condition; therefore, the condition itself is called 'the stableness of the dhamma.' The condition determines the dependent phenomena; thus it is called the 'certainty of dhamma.'54

And the sub-commentary goes even further:

Now this is [what is meant by] 'never is it the case that birth is not a condition for ageing-and-death': becoming-as-condition fixes aging-and-death. As it is said of both cases, when there is becoming-as-condition, then he explains the inevitable product (avassam bha-vitam ).55

Evidently this cannot apply for all the conditions of dependent-arising; sensations do not necessarily cause craving (if they were, the end of craving would happen only in deep unconsciousness or death). But this Theravadin commentarial lean toward determinism reflects, I think, a broader Buddhist description of reality as regulated by deterministic causality. It is not necessary to be as radical as to state that in this causality a single event determines another single event. Even if dependent-arising is not a linear causal sequence, it still describes certain aspects of reality as products of conditioning. When the specific conditions mentioned in the formula exist, and when other conditions mentioned elsewhere come together, an outcome will necessarily arise. In their absence, the outcome will not arise.

Dependent arising is specific to human experience, but causality in general is not limited to that. Kalupahana argues that in Buddhist philosophy everything in this universe comes within the framework of causality.56 Although Buddhism is mostly concerned with psychological causality, Kalupahana provides references to several instances in the Pali canon and other early Buddhist texts where different kinds of events are given causal explanation, including natural disasters, weather, plant life, and human behavior.

To this he adds reference to a later scholastic discussion that enumerates five spheres in which the causal order operates: the physical, the organic, the psychological, the karmic, and the spiritual.57 Nothing in the universe seems to escape these categories.

In addition to this, the Buddha certainly rejected the thesis of fortuity (adhiccasamuppanna-va- da). Among the sixty-two erroneous theories that are rejected in the Brahmaja- la-sutta, the Buddha rejects the view that either the world or the self arises by chance.58 On another occasion he rejects the idea that the experience of happiness and suffering arises by chance.59 The term adhiccasamuppanna is curious because it phonologically resembles the negation of pat iccasamuppanna.

Although the former is in fact etymologically unrelated to the latter, they function in Buddhist thought as antonyms: what has arisen by chance as opposed to what has arisen by cause.60 The evidence suggests that there is a tendency, if not a commitment, in early Buddhism to determinism as defined above.

The Buddhist theory of causality does not contradict the theory of kamma (karma), which says that specific intended actions contribute to the arising of specific results in the future. Although there are no strict deterministic relations between the act and the result, this does not contradict determinism at all. A result is determined by a combination of various elements including, for example, the level of physical development, behavioral history, level of intelligence, and general life circumstances of the person who performed the moral act.61

Thus, similar actions performed by two different individuals may result in different consequences. This does not mean that the Buddha's conception of causality is more conditional than deterministic,62 but that karma is only one factor among many in determining the future of human experience. Harvey shows how this is the case when a particular experience is not determined by kamma alone but can arise from one of many other conditions: bile . . . phlegm . . . a change of season . . . the stress of circumstances, and so on.63 Any experience is part of a causally regulated reality in which past events determine future events.

It is possible to conclude that the opposite of the Buddhist theory of causality is not free will, or freedom, but indeterminism (addhiccasamupanna-va P da), which was explicitly rejected by the Buddha. This is often overlooked or at least understated in Buddhist scholarship perhaps because of the common confusion between determinism and fatalism. The latter is an ethical stance that states that choice is meaningless. Niyativa P da, the theory of Makkhali Gosala is fatalism, and is rejected by the Buddha because of that, not because of its being determinism. Most signs indicate that Makkhali Gosala also believed in a kind of determinism, in which certain cosmic principles govern the amount of pain and pleasure inflicted upon beings.

This aspect of Makkhali's view is not at odds with the Buddhist doctrine, which accepts that manifestation of pleasure and pain is governed by law or regularity (i.e., kamma). Buddhism is at odds with Makkhali's view when the latter claims that purification happens without cause (hetu) or condition (paccaya) within the individual. In other words, all the causes for pleasure and pain are external to the person, who can do nothing for his or her purification.64 In addition, he says that there is no agency (attaka P ra), will (v. Priyam), or human exertion (purisaparakkama).65 This is an ethical position about what people can and cannot do. The Buddhist rejection of this view is not a rejection of a deterministic theory of causality but a rejection of fatalism. The confusion between fatalism and determinism lies at the heart of the above-mentioned objection (that determinism implies that agents are controlled by causality). Again Dennett provides a helpful analysis that shows that while free will is incompatible with fatalism (or, in his words, inevitability) it is compatible with determinism.

The central point in Dennett's argument is that free will can operate only in a deterministic reality where future events can be anticipated. It will be hard to account for this type of free will in an indeterministic reality where events happen with no apparent reason or order. For Dennett there is no doubt that the world is deterministic in the sense described above: that there is at any instance exactly one future. But this, he argues, does not imply inevitability. This term is an antonym of evitability, which means an ability to avoid. Freedom, he suggests, is the ability of agents to avoid certain future scenarios (and thus to achieve others). In this sense, some future scenarios are evitable for them.66 The fact that there is only one future may seem to imply that reality controls agents, and that there is no real freedom. However, Dennett argues, there is a substantial conceptual error in this argument. Control is something agents do.

Reality, not being an agent, does not control anything. 67 Arguments for inevitability usually overlook the fact that the one possible future already includes the agent's predictions, considerations, wishes, decisions, and actions. These are usually inaccessible in advance simply because they are the agent's making. In addition, because knowledge of the present and the past is always limited, any attempt to describe the future in advance would be only an approximation of possible world situations. The point of view of an all-knowing mind, which may know exactly how the future will be, is irrelevant because all-knowing minds do not exist. All points of view are in the world. This leaves agents with plenty of elbow room to speculate, consider, and decide.

There is some evidence that this view is compatible with how the Buddha understood freedom. First, he mocked the idea that there was an all-knowing God that transcended the causally operated universe.68 He also denied that he had perfect knowledge of all things.69 For human beings the future is only partially accessible through speculation and inference, because unlike the present it is not directly accessible to experience. Kalupahana explains:

[E]xperiential knowledge (dhamme-nana) consists of knowledge of causally conditioned phenomena (pat iccasamuppada) of the present and partly of the past. Inferential knowledge (anvaye-nana) is primarily of the future and partly of the past.70

He adds that this may be the reason why none of the extra-sensory perceptions refer to the future.71

Human choice and endeavor has a causally effective power within a causally operated reality. In other words, the fact that reality is deterministic does not contradict the ability of agents to speculate and reflect about what to do next and decide accordingly. This kind of free will-imperfect and limited, but not powerless and irrelevant-is not the opposite of determinism but the opposite of fatalism. While determinism means that events happen because other events caused them, it is silent on whether agents cause anything; determinism may well be true in a world without agents at all.

On the other hand, fatalism is an ethical stance because it says that agents do not have the power to cause anything and that therefore there is no point in trying. This has, of course, far-reaching ethical implications that are not overlooked by the Buddha.


The Cartesian and Brahmanical understandings of free will refer to a power that belongs in the soul, that transcends the physical, and that has ultimate control over the body. The Buddha rejects this notion and at the same time rejects fatalism, which leaves no room for significant choices. This rejection is similar in many aspects to the contemporary rejection of the Cartesian notion of free will as expressed in Dennett's work. Both Dennett and the Buddha do not accept the idea of a God-like eternal soul, and argue that there is no ultimate control that transcends causality and that entertains supreme mastery of the body.

Dennett's alternative is expounded systematically in the modern Western philosophical manner. It includes redefining free will as the agent's ability to control action according to will whenever there are no constraints, coercions, and compulsions that limit performance. He adds an important cognitive layer to the analysis and shows how imagination of possibilities, prediction, and self-control are the basic functions that make agents free. One of Dennett's main contributions to the free-will debate is the distinction between determinism as a metaphysical position and inevitability, or fatalism, which are ethical positions.

The Buddhist treatment of free will has to be extracted from the doctrine, as the doctrine is by no means a systematic philosophical treatise.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the Buddha saw that freedom has a negative correlation with compulsions. While the Western tradition tends to emphasize external compulsion and social freedom, Buddhist doctrine tends to emphasize internal compulsions and psychological freedom.

Much of the confusion around whether the Buddha taught free will can be avoided by dropping the Cartesian model and using a compatibilist model. Buddhist doctrine contains a version of compatibilism that may explain the seemingly contradictory statements given by some scholars: Buddhism rejects the idea that free will exists outside the causal nexus, and at the same it affirms that people can choose and take responsibility for their choices. Choosing right action is not derived from a supernatural or super-causal origin. It is derived from wise contemplation over the possible consequences. This wisdom enables free will, and is a faculty that can be developed. What limits free will is not causality itself, but various mental compulsions. The kind of free will that the Buddha taught is the acquired ability for clear reflection and wise choice that emerges with their eradication.

Copyright University Press of Hawaii Jan 2010 | Notes | 1 - Here are two recent examples. One Buddhist philosopher and scholar says: Do we have free will? Regarding the question, in Buddhism the answer is 'of course not.' There is no autonomous decision process independent of any circumstances, or outside the causal nexus (Alan B. Wallace and John Searle, Consciousness East and West [Northwestern University, Cognitive Science Program, 2005], Internet video broadcast). On the other hand, another scholar thinks that the Buddha did teach free will: The Buddha preached an idea of moral agency and individual responsibility which is far stronger than that held by Christianity or indeed by any other religion or ideology of which I am aware. In the first place there is no external agent, such as a God, who can take the blame for our decisions. We have free will and are wholly responsible for ourselves (Richard Gombrich, Appreciating the Buddha as a Pivotal Figure in World History, in The Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Lectures [London, 2006], 1st lecture, p. 7). | 2 - It has become a convention of the profession to state that by the Buddha one means the Buddha as depicted in this or that scriptural collection. In this article I refer to the Buddha as depicted in the Pali canon. | 3 - Nicholas F. Gier and Paul Kjellberg, Buddhism and the Freedom of the Will: Pali and Mahayanist Responses, in Freedom and Determinism, ed. Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O'Rourke, and David Shier (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004). | 4 - Luis O. Gomez, Some Aspects of Free Will Question in the Nikayas, Philosophy East and West 21 (1) (1975). | 5 - Mark Siderits, Beyond Compatibilism: A Buddhist Approach to Freedom and Determinism, American Philosophical Quarterly 24 (2) (1987). | 6 - Ibid., p. 153. | 7 - Ibid., p. 158. | 8 - Ibid. | 9 - T. Stcherbatsky, Buddhist Logic, vol. 1 ('S-Gravenhage: Mouton, 1958), p. 132. | 10 - Dýgha Nikaya I.2 (hereafter D). | 11 - Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught, 1st ed. (London: Gordon Fraser, 1959), p. 54. | 12 - Chap. 7, sec. 4 of Augustine, The Confessions, trans. Philip Burton (London: Everyman's Library, 2001). | 13 - Rene-Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, in Discourse on the Method and Meditation on the First Philosophy, ed. David Weissman (London: Yale University Press, 1641/1996), p. 86. | 14 - In Robert Kane, A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 13. | 15 - Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, p. 86. | 16 - Rene-Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, in The Philosophical Works of Descartes, ed. Elizabeth S. Haldane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1649/1967), pp. 352 ff. | 17 - John Foster, The Immaterial Self (London: Routledge, 1991), p. 267. | 18 - An anti-Cartesian account of free will is provided by the psychologist Daniel Wegner. He rejects the Cartesian model altogether and concludes that free will cannot and does not exist as an active conscious causal power. In other words, he argues that although we feel that we are agents and in control of our actions, this is just an illusion. Wegner rejects the idea that free will belongs in an immaterial substance that miraculously influences the body without being influenced by it. He thus remains faithful to the materialistic causal worldview. Wegner's conclusion is a naturalistic solution to the Cartesian problem: souls do not exist, and therefore free will must be an illusion. See Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will (London: MIT Press, 2002). | 19 - J. R. Searle, Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). | 20 - Few readers commented on my translation of atman as soul (see also Paul Williams and Anthony Tribe, Buddhist Thought: A Complete Introduction to the Indian Tradition [London: Routledge, 2000], pp. 56-57). Indeed, there is a problem with any translation of this word, which is a reflexive pronoun on the one hand and a metaphysical concept on the other. The metaphysics of atman, I argue, is quite similar to the metaphysics of soul in the Cartesian context. It is a non-material substance that both is the true essence of the person and takes part in (or is identical with) the divine. In a private conversation (July 2007) Paul Williams argued that using the word soul for atman completely ignores pre-seventeenth-century conceptions of the term (e.g., the Aristotelian conception of the soul). However, I think that it would be adequate for most postseventeenth- century philosophical thought, which is the context of this article. The word soul, in its post-Cartesian sense, captures much of the meaning of the Sanskrit atman. | 21 - A common mistake, according to Patrick Olivelle; see Patrick Olivelle, The Upanis ads (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. lvi. | 22 - Br hada-ran yaka Upanis ad (hereafter Br U) 1.3.28. All citations from the Upanis ads are from Olivelle, The Upanis ads. | 23 - Steven Collins, Selfless Persons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). | 24 - Ibid., p. 61. | 25 - Br U 3.7.3 (Olivelle, The Upanis ads, slightly altered). | 26 - Br U 3.7.22. | 27 - Sam yutta Nika-ya II.33 (hereafter S). | 28 - Rejecting theories about the soul (atta- nuditt hi); e.g., D II.22, S III.85, Anÿ guttara Nika-ya III.447 (hereafter A). | 29 - S III.66 | 30 - Rupa, vedanda, sanna, sam kharas vinnana. Body here, means the living body, not just the flesh as an unanimated material. I follow Hamilton's English translation which agrees with the Gethin's analysis of these terms. See Hamilton, S. Early Buddhism: A New Approach: The I of the Beholder: (London: Routledge, 2000) p. 18 & Gethin, R. The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment in the Nikayas and Early Abhidhamma. Journal of Indian Philosophy 14, no. 1 (1986): 35-53. | 31 - E.g., Br U 4.3.21 ff. | 32 - Majjhima Nikaya I.231 (hereafter M). | 33 - Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves (London: Allen Lane, 2003), p. 13. | 34 - Ibid., p. 1. | 35 - Ibid., p. 2. | 36 - Ibid., pp. 267-268. | 37 - Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), pp. 52 ff. | 38 - I do not mean the Buddhist text known under this title, although it, too, demonstrates this issue. | 39 - M I.274. | 40 - D I.75, M I.275. | 41 - David Kalupahana, A History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1992), p. 91. | 42 - D I.53. | 43 - A III.338. Harvey mentions this passage in passing, indicating that arabbhadhatu is an element of initiating, . . . some kind of locus of choice (Peter Harvey, 'Freedom of the Will' in the Light of Theravada Buddhist Teachings, Journal of Buddhist Ethics 14 [35-98] [2007]: 3). There is a danger in this terminology, I think, if one interprets it as being a real autonomous centre of choice-although I do not think this meaning was intended by Harvey. The Pali-English Dictionary indicates that dhatu c

6. Free will / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Free will is the purported ability of agents to make choices free from constraints. Historically, the constraint of dominant concern has been the metaphysical constraint of determinism. The opposing positions within that debate are metaphysical libertarianism, the claim that determinism is false and thus that free will exists; and hard determinism, the claim that determinism is true and thus that free will does not exist.

Both of these positions, which agree that causal determination is the relevant factor in the question of free will, are classed as incompatibilists. Those who deny that determinism is relevant are classified as compatibilists, and offer various alternative explanations of what constraints are relevant, such as physical constraints (e.g. chains or imprisonment), social constraints (e.g. threat of punishment or censure), or psychological constraints (e.g. compulsions or phobias).

The principle of free will has religious, ethical, and scientific implications. For example, in the religious realm, free will implies that an omnipotent divinity does not assert its power over individual will and choices. In ethics, it may hold implications regarding whether individuals can be held morally accountable for their actions. The question of free will has been a central issue since the beginning of philosophical thought.

In western philosophy

A simplified taxonomy of the most important philosophical positions regarding free will.

The basic philosophical positions on the problem of free will can be divided in accordance with the answers they provide to two questions:

1. Is determinism true?
2. Does free will exist?

Determinism is roughly defined as the view that all current and future events are causally necessitated by past events combined with the laws of nature. Neither determinism nor its opposite, indeterminism, are positions in the debate about free will.[1]

Compatibilism (also called soft determinism) is the view that the assumption of free will and the existence of a concept of determinism are compatible with each other; this is opposed to incompatibilism which is the view that there is no way to reconcile a belief in a deterministic universe with a belief in a concept of free will beyond that of a perceived existence.[2] Hard determinism is the version of incompatibilism that accepts the assumption of determinism and rejects the idea that humans have any free will.[3]

Libertarianism agrees with hard determinism only in rejecting compatibilism. Libertarians accept the existence of a concept of free will along with an assumption of indeterminism to some extent. Some of its proponents reject physical determinism and argue for some version of physical indeterminism that is compatible with freedom.[4] Others are Metaphysical libertarians who appeal to mind-body dualism to argue a special case for sentient beings.

The theory of determinism has been challenged from the earliest philosophers, notably Epicurus[5] and Lucretius,[6] to the latest theory of quantum mechanics, which postulates irreducible physical indeterminacy.

The standard argument against the existence of free will[7] is very simple. Either determinism is true or indeterminism is true. These exhaust the logical possibilities.[8] If determinism is true, we are not free. If indeterminism is true, our actions are random and our will lacks the control to be morally responsible.


Determinism is a broad term with a variety of meanings. Corresponding to each of these different meanings, there arises a different problem of free will.[9]

Causal (or nomological) determinism is the thesis that future events are necessitated by past and present events combined with the laws of nature. Such determinism is sometimes illustrated by the thought experiment of Laplace's demon. Imagine an entity that knows all facts about the past and the present, and knows all natural laws that govern the universe. Such an entity may be able to use this knowledge to foresee the future, down to the smallest detail.[10]

Logical determinism is the notion that all propositions, whether about the past, present or future, are either true or false. The problem of free will, in this context, is the problem of how choices can be free, given that what one does in the future is already determined as true or false in the present.[9]

Theological determinism is the thesis that there is a God who determines all that humans will do, either by knowing their actions in advance, via some form of omniscience[11] or by decreeing their actions in advance.[12] The problem of free will, in this context, is the problem of how our actions can be free, if there is a being who has determined them for us ahead of time.

Biological determinism is the idea that all behavior, belief, and desire are fixed by our genetic endowment. There are other theses on determinism, including cultural determinism and psychological determinism.[9] Combinations and syntheses of determinist theses, e.g. bio-environmental determinism, are even more common.


Compatibilism and incompatibilism

Thomas Hobbes was a classical compatibilist.

Compatibilists maintain that determinism is compatible with free will. Most "classical compatibilists", such as Thomas Hobbes, claim that a person acts on their own only when the person wanted to do the act and the person could have done otherwise, if the person had decided to. Hobbes sometimes attributes such compatibilist freedom to the each individual and not to some abstract notion of will, asserting, for example, that "no liberty can be inferred to the will, desire, or inclination, but the liberty of the man; which consisteth in this, that he finds no stop, in doing what he has the will, desire, or inclination to do."[13] In articulating this crucial proviso, David Hume writes, "this hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to every one who is not a prisoner and in chains".[14] To illustrate their standpoint, compatibilists point to cases of someone's free will being denied, through rape, murder, theft, or others. In these cases, free will is lacking not because the past is determining the future, but because the aggressor is choosing the victim's desires about his own actions. Their argument is that determinism does not matter; what matters is that individuals' choices are the results of their own desires and are not overridden by some external (or internal) force.[13][14] To be a compatibilist, one need not endorse any particular conception of free will, but only deny that determinism is at odds with free will.[1]

William James' views were ambivalent. While he believed in free will on "ethical grounds," he did not believe that there was evidence for it on scientific grounds, nor did his own introspections support it.[15] Moreover, he did not accept incompatibilism as formulated below; he did not believe that the indeterminism of human actions was a prerequisite of moral responsibility. In his work Pragmatism, he wrote that "instinct and utility between them can safely be trusted to carry on the social business of punishment and praise" regardless of metaphysical theories.[16] He did believe that indeterminism is important as a "doctrine of relief"—it allows for the view that, although the world may be in many respects a bad place, it may, through individuals' actions, become a better one. Determinism, he argued, undermines meliorism—the idea that progress is a real concept leading to improvement in the world.[16]

"Modern compatibilists", such as Harry Frankfurt and Daniel Dennett, argue that there are cases where a coerced agent's choices are still free because such coercion coincides with the agent's personal intentions and desires.[17][18] Frankfurt, in particular, argues for a version of compatibilism called the "hierarchical mesh". The idea is that an individual can have conflicting desires at a first-order level and also have a desire about the various first-order desires (a second-order desire) to the effect that one of the desires prevails over the others. A person's will is to be identified with her effective first-order desire, i.e., the one that she acts on. So, for example, there are "wanton addicts", "unwilling addicts" and "willing addicts." All three groups may have the conflicting first-order desires to want to take the drug to which they are addicted and to not want to take it.

The first group, "wanton addicts", have no second-order desire not to take the drug. The second group, "unwilling addicts", have a second-order desire not to take the drug, while the third group, "willing addicts", have a second-order desire to take it. According to Frankfurt, the members of the first group are to be considered devoid of will and therefore no longer persons. The members of the second group freely desire not to take the drug, but their will is overcome by the addiction. Finally, the members of the third group willingly take the drug to which they are addicted. Frankfurt's theory can ramify to any number of levels. Critics of the theory point out that there is no certainty that conflicts will not arise even at the higher-order levels of desire and preference.[19] Others argue that Frankfurt offers no adequate explanation of how the various levels in the hierarchy mesh together.[20]

In Elbow Room, Dennett presents an argument for a compatibilist theory of free will, which he further elaborated in the book Freedom Evolves.[21] The basic reasoning is that, if one excludes God, an infinitely powerful demon, and other such possibilities, then because of chaos and epistemic limits on the precision of our knowledge of the current state of the world, the future is ill-defined for all finite beings. The only well-defined things are "expectations". The ability to do "otherwise" only makes sense when dealing with these expectations, and not with some unknown and unknowable future.

According to Dennett, because individuals have the ability to act differently from what anyone expects, free will can exist.[21] Incompatibilists claim the problem with this idea is that we may be mere "automata responding in predictable ways to stimuli in our environment". Therefore, all of our actions are controlled by forces outside ourselves, or by random chance.[22] More sophisticated analyses of compatibilist free will have been offered, as have other critiques.[1]


Baron d'Holbach was a hard determinist.

"Hard determinists", such as d'Holbach, are those incompatibilists who accept determinism and reject free will. "Metaphysical libertarians", such as Thomas Reid, Peter van Inwagen, and Robert Kane, are those incompatibilists who accept free will and deny determinism, holding the view that some form of indeterminism is true.[23] Another view is that of hard incompatibilism which states that free will is incompatible with both determinism and indeterminism. This view is defended by Derk Pereboom.[24]

One of the traditional arguments for incompatibilism is based on an "intuition pump": if a person is determined in his or her choices of actions, then he or she must be like other mechanical things that are determined in their behavior such as a wind-up toy, a billiard ball, a puppet, or a robot. Because these things have no free will, then people must have no free will, if determinism is true.[23][25] This argument has been rejected by compatibilists such as Daniel Dennett on the grounds that, even if humans have something in common with these things, it does not follow that there are no important differences.[18]

Another argument for incompatibilism is that of the "causal chain." Incompatibilism is key to the idealist theory of free will. Most incompatibilists reject the idea that freedom of action consists simply in "voluntary" behavior. They insist, rather, that free will means that man must be the "ultimate" or "originating" cause of his actions. He must be a causa sui, in the traditional phrase. To be responsible for one's choices is to be the first cause of those choices, where first cause means that there is no antecedent cause of that cause. The argument, then, is that if man has free will, then man is the ultimate cause of his actions. If determinism is true, then all of man's choices are caused by events and facts outside his control. So, if everything man does is caused by events and facts outside his control, then he cannot be the ultimate cause of his actions. Therefore, he cannot have free will.[26][27][28] This argument has also been challenged by various compatibilist philosophers.[29][30]

A third argument for incompatibilism was formulated by Carl Ginet in the 1960s and has received much attention in the modern literature. The simplified argument runs along these lines: if determinism is true, then we have no control over the events of the past that determined our present state and no control over the laws of nature. Since we can have no control over these matters, we also can have no control over the consequences of them. Since our present choices and acts, under determinism, are the necessary consequences of the past and the laws of nature, then we have no control over them and, hence, no free will. This is called the consequence argument.[31][32] Peter van Inwagen remarks that C.D. Broad had a version of the consequence argument as early as the 1930s.[33]

The difficulty of this argument for compatibilists lies in the fact that it entails the impossibility that one could have chosen other than one has. For example, if Jane is a compatibilist and she has just sat down on the sofa, then she is committed to the claim that she could have remained standing, if she had so desired. But it follows from the consequence argument that, if Jane had remained standing, she would have either generated a contradiction, violated the laws of nature or changed the past. Hence, compatibilists are committed to the existence of "incredible abilities", according to Ginet and van Inwagen. One response to this argument is that it equivocates on the notions of abilities and necessities, or that the free will evoked to make any given choice is really an illusion and the choice had been made all along, oblivious to its "decider".[32] David Lewis suggests that compatibilists are only committed to the ability to do something otherwise if different circumstances had actually obtained in the past.[34]

Libertarian incompatibilism

Libertarianism (metaphysics)

Various definitions of free will that have been proposed, for both Compatibilism,[14] and Incompatibilism (Hard Determinism,[35] Hard Incompatibilism,[24] Libertarianism Traditional,[36] and Libertarianism Volition[37]).

Metaphysical libertarianism is one philosophical view point under that of incompatiblism. Libertarianism holds onto a concept of free will that requires the individual to be able to take more than one possible course of action under a given set of circumstances.

Accounts of libertarianism subdivide into non-physical theories and physical or naturalistic theories. Non-physical theories hold that a non-physical mind overrides physical causality, so that physical events in the brain that lead to the performance of actions do not have an entirely physical explanation. This approach is allied to mind-body dualism in philosophy. According to this view, the world is not believed to be closed under Physics. An extra-physical will is believed to play a part in the decision making process. According to a somewhat related theological explanation, a soul is said to make decisions and override physical causality.

Explanations of libertarianism, which do not involve dispensing with physicalism, require physical indeterminism. This is because physical determinism under the assumption of physicalism implies that there is only one possible future which is not compatible with libertarian free will. Some explanations involve invoking panpsychism, the theory that a quality of mind is associated with all particles, and pervades the entire universe, in both sentient and non-sentient entities. Other approaches do not require free will to be a fundamental constituent of the universe; ordinary randomness is appealed to as supplying the "elbow room" believed to be necessary by libertarians. Free volition is regarded as a particular kind of complex, high-level process with an element of indeterminism. An example of this kind of approach has been developed by Robert Kane. Although at the time C. S. Lewis wrote Miracles,[37] Quantum Mechanics (and physical indeterminism) was only in the initial stages of acceptance, he stated the logical possibility that if the physical world was proved to be indeterministic this would provide an entry (interaction) point into the traditionally viewed closed system, where a scientifically described physically probable/improbable event could be philosophically described as an action of a non physical entity on physical reality (noting that under a reductive physicalist point of view the non physical entity must be independent of the self identity or mental processing of the sentient being).

Free will as a combination of chance and determination

Since William James in 1884 described a two-stage model of free will - in the first stage the mind develops random alternative possibilities for action, in the second an adequately determined will selects one option - a number of other thinkers have refined the idea, including Henri Poincaré, Arthur Holly Compton, Karl Popper, Henry Margenau, Daniel Dennett, Robert Kane, Alfred Mele, and Martin Heisenberg.

Each of these models tries to reconcile libertarian free will with the existence of irreducible chance (today in the form of quantum indeterminacy), which threatens to make an agent's decision random, thus denying the control needed for responsibility.

If a single event is caused by chance, then logically indeterminism would be "true." For centuries, philosophers have said this would undermine the very possibility of certain knowledge. Some go to the extreme of saying that real chance would make the whole state of the world totally independent of any earlier states.

The Stoic Chrysippus said that a single uncaused cause could destroy the universe (cosmos),

"Everything that happens is followed by something else which depends on it by causal necessity. Likewise, everything that happens is preceded by something with which it is causally connected. For nothing exists or has come into being in the cosmos without a cause. The universe will be disrupted and disintegrate into pieces and cease to be a unity functioning as a single system, if any uncaused movement is introduced into it."

James said most philosophers have an "antipathy to chance."[38] His contemporary John Fiske described the absurd decisions that would be made if chance were real,

"If volitions arise without cause, it necessarily follows that we cannot infer from them the character of the antecedent states of feeling. .. . The mother may strangle her first-born child, the miser may cast his long-treasured gold into the sea, the sculptor may break in pieces his lately-finished statue, in the presence of no other feelings than those which before led them to cherish, to hoard, and to create."[39]

In modern times, J. J. C. Smart has described the problem of admitting indeterminism,

"Indeterminism does not confer freedom on us: I would feel that my freedom was impaired if I thought that a quantum mechanical trigger in my brain might cause me to leap into the garden and eat a slug."[40]

The challenge for two-stage models is to admit some indeterminism but not permit it to produce random actions, as determinists fear. And of course a model must limit determinism but not eliminate it as some libertarians think necessary.

Two-stage models limit the contribution of random chance to the generation of alternative possibilities for action. But note that, in recent years, compatibilist analytic philosophers following Harry Frankfurt have denied the existence of alternative possibilities. They develop "Frankfurt-type examples" (thought experiments) in which they argue an agent is free even though no alternative possibilities exist, or the agent is prevented at the last moment by neuroscientific demons from "doing otherwise."[41]

Other views

Much of Arthur Schopenhauer's writing is focused on the notion of will and its relation to freedom.

Some philosophers' views are difficult to categorize as either compatibilist or incompatibilist, hard determinist or libertarian. John Locke, for example, denied that the phrase "free will" made any sense (compare with theological noncognitivism, a similar stance on the existence of God). He also took the view that the truth of determinism was irrelevant. He believed that the defining feature of voluntary behavior was that individuals have the ability to postpone a decision long enough to reflect or deliberate upon the consequences of a choice: "...the will in truth, signifies nothing but a power, or ability, to prefer or choose".[42] Similarly, David Hume discussed the possibility that the entire debate about free will is nothing more than a merely "verbal" issue. He also suggested that it might be accounted for by "a false sensation or seeming experience" (a velleity) which is associated with many of our actions when we perform them. On reflection, we realize that they were necessary and determined all along.[43]

Arthur Schopenhauer put the puzzle of free will and moral responsibility in these terms:

Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life. ... But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns...[44]

In his On the Freedom of the Will, Schopenhauer stated, "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."[45]

Rudolf Steiner, who collaborated in a complete edition of Arthur Schopenhauer's work,[46] wrote The Philosophy of Freedom, which focuses on the problem of free will. Steiner (1861–1925) initially divides this into the two aspects of freedom: freedom of thought and freedom of action. He argues that inner freedom is achieved when we bridge the gap between our sensory impressions, which reflect the outer appearance of the world, and our thoughts, which give us access to the inner nature of the world. Outer freedom is attained by permeating our deeds with moral imagination. Steiner aims to show that these two aspects of inner and outer freedom are integral to one another, and that true freedom is only achieved when they are united.[47]

The contemporary philosopher Galen Strawson agrees with Locke that the truth or falsity of determinism is irrelevant to the problem.[4] He argues that the notion of free will leads to an infinite regress and is therefore senseless. According to Strawson, if one is responsible for what one does in a given situation, then one must be responsible for the way one is in certain mental respects. But it is impossible for one to be responsible for the way one is in any respect. This is because in order to be responsible for the way one is in some situation "S", one must have been responsible for the way one was at "S-1". In order to be responsible for the way one was at "S-1", one must have been responsible for the way one was at "S-2", and so on. At some point in the chain, there must have been an act of origination of a new causal chain. But this is impossible. Man cannot create himself or his mental states ex nihilo. This argument entails that free will itself is absurd, but not that it is incompatible with determinism. Strawson calls his own view "pessimism" but it can be classified as hard incompatibilism.[4]

Ted Honderich holds the view that "determinism is true, compatibilism and incompatibilism are both false" and the real problem lies elsewhere. Honderich maintains that determinism is true because quantum phenomena are not events or things that can be located in space and time, but are abstract entities. Further, even if they were micro-level events, they do not seem to have any relevance to how the world is at the macroscopic level. He maintains that incompatibilism is false because, even if determinism is true, incompatibilists have not, and cannot, provide an adequate account of origination. He rejects compatibilism because it, like incompatibilism, assumes a single, fundamental notion of freedom. There are really two notions of freedom: voluntary action and origination. Both notions are needed in order to explain freedom of will and responsibility. Both determinism and indeterminism are threats to such freedom. To abandon these notions of freedom would be to abandon moral responsibility. On the one side, we have our intuitions; on the other, the scientific facts. The "new" problem is how to resolve this conflict.[48]

Moral responsibility

Society generally holds people responsible for their actions, and will say that they deserve praise or blame for what they do. However, many believe that moral responsibility requires free will. Thus, another important issue in the debate on free will is whether individuals are ever morally responsible for their actions—and, if so, in what sense.

Incompatibilists tend to think that determinism is at odds with moral responsibility. It seems impossible that one can hold someone responsible for an action that could be predicted from (theoretically) the beginning of time. Hard determinists say "So much the worse for free will!" and discard the concept.[49] Clarence Darrow, the famous defense attorney, pleaded the innocence of his clients, Leopold and Loeb, by invoking such a notion of hard determinism.[50] During his summation, he declared:

What has this boy to do with it? He was not his own father; he was not his own mother; he was not his own grandparents. All of this was handed to him. He did not surround himself with governesses and wealth. He did not make himself. And yet he is to be compelled to pay.[50]

Conversely, libertarians say "So much the worse for determinism!"[49] Daniel Dennett asks why anyone would care about whether someone had the property of responsibility and speculates that the idea of moral responsibility may be "a purely metaphysical hankering".[18] Jean-Paul Sartre argues that people sometimes avoid incrimination and responsibility by hiding behind determinism: "... we are always ready to take refuge in a belief in determinism if this freedom weighs upon us or if we need an excuse".[51] However, the position that classifying such people as "base" or "dishonest" makes no difference to whether or not their actions are determined is quite as tenable.

The issue of moral responsibility is at the heart of the dispute between hard determinists and compatibilists. Hard determinists are forced to accept that individuals often have "free will" in the compatibilist sense, but they deny that this sense of free will can ground moral responsibility. The fact that an agent's choices are unforced, hard determinists claim, does not change the fact that determinism robs the agent of responsibility.

Compatibilists argue, on the contrary, that determinism is a prerequisite for moral responsibility, and that society cannot hold someone responsible unless his actions were determined by something. This argument can be traced back to David Hume. If physical indeterminism is true, then those events that are not determined are scientifically described as probabilistic (either probable or improbable, for example random). It is therefore argued that it is doubtful that one can praise or blame someone for performing an action generated randomly by his nervous system (without there being any non physical agency responsible for the observed probabilistic outcome). Instead, it is argued that one needs to show how the action stemmed from the person's desires and preferences—the person's character— before one can hold the person morally responsible.[14] Libertarians may reply that undetermined actions, although scientifically probabilistic, are not philosophically random at all, and that they result from a substantive will whose decisions are undetermined. This argument may be considered unsatisfactory by compatibilists, as although it moves the problem from being a scientific question to a philosophical question, the question of what metaphysical agent is actually responsible still remains. Libertarians have responded by trying to clarify how undetermined will could be tied to robust agency.[52]

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans addresses the question of moral responsibility as follows: "Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?"[53] In this view, individuals can still be dishonoured for their acts even though those acts were ultimately completely determined by God.

A similar view has it that individual moral culpability lies in individual character. That is, a person with the character of a murderer has no choice other than to murder, but can still be punished because it is right to punish those of bad character. How one's character was determined is irrelevant from this perspective. Hence, Robert Cummins and others argue that people should not be judged for their individual actions, but rather for how those actions "reflect on their character". If character (however defined) is the dominant causal factor in determining one's choices, and one's choices are morally wrong, then one should be held accountable for those choices, regardless of genes and other such factors.[54][55]

One exception to the assumption that moral culpability lies in either individual character or freely willed acts is in cases where the insanity defense—or its corollary, diminished responsibility—can be used to argue that the guilty deed was not the product of a guilty mind.[56] In such cases, the legal systems of most Western societies assume that the person is in some way not at fault, because his actions were a consequence of abnormal brain function.

Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen, researchers in the emerging field of neuroethics, argue, on the basis of such cases, that our current notion of moral responsibility is founded on libertarian (and dualist) intuitions.[57] They argue that cognitive neuroscience research is undermining these intuitions by showing that the brain is responsible for our actions, not only in cases of florid psychosis, but even in less obvious situations. For example, damage to the frontal lobe reduces the ability to weigh uncertain risks and make prudent decisions, and therefore leads to an increased likelihood that someone will commit a violent crime.[58] This is true not only of patients with damage to the frontal lobe due to accident or stroke, but also of adolescents, who show reduced frontal lobe activity compared to adults,[59] and even of children who are chronically neglected or mistreated.[60] In each case, the guilty party can, they argue, be said to have less responsibility for his actions.[57] Greene and Cohen predict that, as such examples become more common and well known, jurors’ interpretations of free will and moral responsibility will move away from the intuitive libertarian notion which currently underpins them.

Greene and Cohen also argue that the legal system does not require this libertarian interpretation. Rather, they suggest that only retributive notions of justice, in which the goal of the legal system is to punish people for misdeeds, require the libertarian intuition. Consequentialist approaches to justice, which are aimed at promoting future welfare rather than meting out just deserts, can survive even a hard determinist interpretation of free will. Accordingly, the legal system and notions of justice can thus be maintained even in the face of emerging neuroscientific evidence undermining libertarian intuitions of free will.

Experimental research

In recent years researchers in the field of experimental philosophy have been working on determining whether ordinary people, who aren't experts in this field, naturally have compatibilist or incompatibilist intuitions about determinism and moral responsibility.[61] Some experimental work has even conducted cross-cultural studies.[62] However, the debate about whether people naturally have compatibilist or incompatibilist intuitions has not come out overwhelmingly in favor of one view or the other, but there has been some evidence that people can naturally hold both views. For instance, when people are presented with abstract cases which ask if a person could be morally responsible for an immoral act when they could not have done otherwise, people tend to say no, or give incompatibilist answers, but when presented with a specific immoral act that a specific person committed, people tend to say that that person is morally responsible for their actions, even if they were determined (that is, people also give compatibilist answers).[63]

In science


Early scientific thought often portrayed the universe as deterministic,[64] 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.[65] Quantum mechanics predicts events only in terms of probabilities, casting doubt on whether the universe is deterministic at all. Current physical theories cannot resolve the question of whether determinism is true of the world, being very far from a potential Final Theory, and open to many different interpretations.[66][67]

Assuming that an indeterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, one may still object that such indeterminism is for all practical purposes confined to microscopic phenomena.[68] However, many macroscopic phenomena are based on quantum effects, for instance, some hardware random number generators work by amplifying quantum effects into practically usable signals.

A more significant question is whether the indeterminism of quantum mechanics allows for the traditional idea of free will (based on a perception of free will - see Experimental Psychology below for distinction), when the laws of quantum mechanics provide a complete probabilistic account of the motion of particles regardless of whether or not free will exists.[69] Under the assumption of physicalism it has been argued that if an action is taken due to quantum randomness, this in itself would mean that traditional free will is absent, since such action cannot be controllable by a physical being claiming to possess such free will.[70] Following this argument, traditional free will would only be possible under the assumption of compatibilism; in a deterministic universe, or in an indeterministic universe where the human body is for all intents and neurological purposes deterministic.

Robert Kane has capitalized on the success of quantum mechanics and chaos theory in order to defend incompatibilist freedom in his The Significance of Free Will and other writings.


Like physicists, biologists have frequently addressed questions related to free will. One of the most heated debates in biology is that of "nature versus nurture", concerning the relative importance of genetics and biology as compared to culture and environment in human behavior.[72] The view of most researchers is that many human behaviors can be explained in terms of humans' brains, genes, and evolutionary histories.[73][74][75] This point of view raises the fear that such attribution makes it impossible to hold others responsible for their actions. Steven Pinker's view is that fear of determinism in the context of "genetics" and "evolution" is a mistake, that it is "a confusion of explanation with exculpation". Responsibility doesn't require behavior to be uncaused, as long as behaviour responds to praise and blame.[76] Moreover, it is not certain that environmental determination is any less threatening to free will than genetic determination.[77]

Neuroscience of free will

It has become possible to study the living brain, and researchers can now watch the brain's decision-making process at work. A seminal experiment in this field was conducted by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s, in which he asked each subject to choose a random moment to flick her wrist while he measured the associated activity in her brain (in particular, the build-up of electrical signal called the readiness potential). Although it was well known that the readiness potential caused and preceded the physical action, 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; this became known as Libet's W time.[78]

Libet found that the unconscious brain activity of the readiness potential leading up to subjects' movements began approximately half a second before the subject was aware of a conscious intention to move.[78][79] Libet's findings suggest that decisions made by participants were first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward being translated into a "conscious decision". The subjects, then, were wrongly assuming that the correlation of the conscious thought with subsequent action meant causality.

More studies have since been conducted, including some that try to:

* support Libet's original findings
* suggest that the cancelling or "veto" of an action may first arise subconsciously as well
* explain the underlying brain structures involved
* suggest models that explain the relationship between conscious intention and action

Neurology and psychiatry

There are several brain-related conditions in which an individual's actions are not felt to be entirely under his or her control. Although the existence of such conditions does not directly refute the existence of free will, the study of such conditions, like the neuroscientific studies above, is valuable in developing models of how the brain may construct our experience of free will.

For example, people with Tourette syndrome and related tic disorders make involuntary movements and utterances, called tics, despite the fact that they would prefer not to do so when it is socially inappropriate. Tics are described as semi-voluntary or "unvoluntary",[80] because they are not strictly involuntary: they may be experienced as a voluntary response to an unwanted, premonitory urge. Tics are experienced as irresistible and must eventually be expressed.[80] People with Tourette syndrome are sometimes able to suppress their tics to some extent for limited periods, but doing so often results in an explosion of tics afterward. The control which can be exerted (from seconds to hours at a time) may merely postpone and exacerbate the ultimate expression of the tic.[81]

In alien hand syndrome, the afflicted individual's limb will produce meaningful behaviours without the intention of the subject. The affected limb effectively demonstrates 'a will of its own.' The sense of agency does not emerge in conjunction with the overt appearance of the purposeful act even though the sense of ownership in relationship to the body part is maintained. This phenomenon corresponds with an impairment in the premotor mechanism manifested temporally by the appearance of the Bereitschaftspotential (see section on the Neuroscience of Free Will above) recordable on the scalp several hundred milliseconds before the overt appearance of a spontaneous willed movement. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging with specialized multivariate analyses to study the temporal dimension in the activation of the cortical network associated with voluntary movement in human subjects, an anterior-to-posterior sequential activation process beginning in the supplementary motor area on the medial surface of the frontal lobe and progressing to the primary motor cortex and then to parietal cortex has been observed.[82] The sense of agency thus appears to normally emerge in conjunction with this orderly sequential network activation incorporating premotor association cortices together with primary motor cortex. In particular, the supplementary motor complex on the medial surface of the frontal lobe appears to activate prior to primary motor cortex presumably in associated with a preparatory pre-movement process. In a recent study using functional magnetic resonance imaging, alien movements were characterized by a relatively isolated activation of the primary motor cortex contralateral to the alien hand, while voluntary movements of the same body part included the concomitant activation of motor association cortex associated with the premotor process.[83] The clinical definition requires "feeling that one limb is foreign or has a will of its own, together with observable involuntary motor activity" (emphasis in original).[84] This syndrome is often a result of damage to the corpus callosum, either when it is severed to treat intractable epilepsy or due to a stroke. The standard neurological explanation is that the felt will reported by the speaking left hemisphere does not correspond with the actions performed by the non-speaking right hemisphere, thus suggesting that the two hemispheres may have independent senses of will.[85][86]

Similarly, one of the most important ("first rank") diagnostic symptoms of schizophrenia is the delusion of being controlled by an external force.[87] People with schizophrenia will sometimes report that, although they are acting in the world, they did not initiate, or will, the particular actions they performed. This is sometimes likened to being a robot controlled by someone else. Although the neural mechanisms of schizophrenia are not yet clear, one influential hypothesis is that there is a breakdown in brain systems that compare motor commands with the feedback received from the body (known as proprioception), leading to attendant hallucinations and delusions of control.[88]

Also, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other compulsive behaviour, such as compulsive overeating and addiction, may be linked to a lack of free will.[citation needed] And only hints, or degrees, of this may be linked to a lack of totally free will.[citation needed]

Determinism and emergent behaviour

In generative philosophy of cognitive sciences and evolutionary psychology, free will is assumed not to exist.[89][90] However, an illusion of free will is created, within this theoretical context, due to the generation of infinite or computationally complex behaviour from the interaction of a finite set of rules and parameters. Thus, the unpredictability of the emerging behaviour from deterministic processes leads to a perception of free will, even though free will as an ontological entity is assumed not to exist.[89][90] In this picture, even if the behavior could be computed ahead of time, no way of doing so will be simpler than just observing the outcome of the brain's own computations.[91]

As an illustration, some strategy board games have rigorous rules in which no information (such as cards' face values) is hidden from either player and no random events (such as dice rolling) occur in the game. Nevertheless, strategy games like chess and especially Go, with its simple deterministic rules, can have an extremely large number of unpredictable moves. By analogy, "emergentists" suggest that the experience of free will emerges from the interaction of finite rules and deterministic parameters that generate infinite and unpredictable behaviour. Yet, if all these events were accounted for, and there were a known way to evaluate these events, the seemingly unpredictable behavior would become predictable.[89][90]

Cellular automata and the generative sciences can model emergent processes of social behavior on this philosophy.[89]

Experimental psychology

Experimental psychology's contributions to the free will debate have come primarily through social psychologist Daniel Wegner's work on conscious will. In his book, The Illusion of Conscious Will[92] Wegner summarizes empirical evidence supporting the view that human perception of conscious control is an illusion. Wegner observes that one event is inferred to have caused a second event when two requirements are met:

1. The first event immediately precedes the second event, and
2. The first event is consistent with having caused the second event.

For example, if a person hears an explosion and sees a tree fall down that person is likely to infer that the explosion caused the tree to fall over. However, if the explosion occurs after the tree falls down (i.e., the first requirement is not met), or rather than an explosion, the person hears the ring of a telephone (i.e., the second requirement is not met), then that person is not likely to infer that either noise caused the tree to fall down.

Wegner has applied this principle to the inferences people make about their own conscious will. People typically experience a thought that is consistent with a behavior, and then they observe themselves performing this behavior. As a result, people infer that their thoughts must have caused the observed behavior. However, Wegner has been able to manipulate people's thoughts and behaviors so as to conform to or violate the two requirements for causal inference.[92][93] Through such work, Wegner has been able to show that people will often experience conscious will over behaviors that they have in fact not caused, and conversely, that people can be led to experience a lack of will over behaviors that they did cause. For instance, priming subjects with information about an effect increases the probability that a person falsely believes to be the cause of it.[94] The implication for such work is that the perception of conscious will (which he says might be more accurately labelled as 'the emotion of authorship') is not tethered to the execution of actual behaviors, but is inferred from various cues through an intricate mental process, authorship processing. Although many interpret this work as a blow against the argument for free will, Wegner has asserted[citation needed] that his work informs only of the mechanism for perceptions of control, not for control itself.

Psychologists have shown that reducing a person's belief in free will makes them less helpful and more aggressive.[95]

In Eastern philosophy

In Hindu philosophy

The six orthodox (astika) schools of thought in Hindu philosophy do not agree with each other entirely on the question of free will. For the Samkhya, for instance, matter is without any freedom, and soul lacks any ability to control the unfolding of matter. The only real freedom (kaivalya) consists in realizing the ultimate separateness of matter and self[citation needed]. For the Yoga school, only Ishvara is truly free, and its freedom is also distinct from all feelings, thoughts, actions, or wills, and is thus not at all a freedom of will. The metaphysics of the Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools strongly suggest a belief in determinism, but do not seem to make explicit claims about determinism or free will.[96]

A quotation from Swami Vivekananda, a Vedantist, offers a good example of the worry about free will in the Hindu tradition.

Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality. ... To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here.[97]

However, the preceding quote has often been misinterpreted as Vivekananda implying that everything is predetermined. What Vivekananda actually meant by lack of free will was that the will was not "free" because it was heavily influenced by the law of cause and effect – "The will is not free, it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free."[97] Vivekananda never said things were absolutely determined and placed emphasis on the power of conscious choice to alter one's past Karma: "It is the coward and the fool who says this is his fate. But it is the strong man who stands up and says I will make my own fate."[97]

Similarly, Vivekananda's teacher Ramakrishna Paramahansa, using an analogy said that man is like a cow tied to a pole with a rope - the karmic debts and human nature bind him and the amount of free will he has is analogous to the amount of freedom the rope allows; as one progresses spiritually, the rope becomes longer.

Mimamsa, Vedanta, and the more theistic versions of Hinduism such as Shaivism and Vaishnavism, have often emphasized the importance of free will. The doctrine of Karma in Hinduism requires both that we pay for our actions in the past, and that our actions in the present be free enough to allow us to deserve the future reward or punishment that we will receive for our present actions.

In Buddhist philosophy

Buddhism accepts both freedom and determinism (or something similar to it), but rejects the idea of an agent, and thus the idea that freedom is a free will belonging to an agent.[98] According to the Buddha, "There is free action, there is retribution, but I see no agent that passes out from one set of momentary elements into another one, except the [connection] of those elements."[98] Buddhists believe in neither absolute free will, nor determinism. It preaches a middle doctrine, named pratitya-samutpada in Sanskrit, which is often translated as "inter-dependent arising". It is part of the theory of karma in Buddhism. The concept of karma in Buddhism is different from the notion of karma in Hinduism. In Buddhism, the idea of karma is much less deterministic. The Buddhist notion of karma is primarily focused on the cause and effect of moral actions in this life, while in Hinduism the concept of karma is more often connected with determining one's destiny in future lives.

In Buddhism it is taught that the idea of absolute freedom of choice (i.e. that any human being could be completely free to make any choice) is foolish, because it denies the reality of one's physical needs and circumstances. Equally incorrect is the idea that we have no choice in life or that our lives are pre-determined. To deny freedom would be to deny the efforts of Buddhists to make moral progress (through our capacity to freely choose compassionate action). Pubbekatahetuvada, the belief that all happiness and suffering arise from previous actions, is considered a wrong view according to Buddhist doctrines. Because Buddhists also reject agenthood, the traditional compatibilist strategies are closed to them as well. Instead, the Buddhist philosophical strategy is to examine the metaphysics of causality. Ancient India had many heated arguments about the nature of causality with Jains, Nyayists, Samkhyists, Cārvākans, and Buddhists all taking slightly different lines. In many ways, the Buddhist position is closer to a theory of "conditionality" than a theory of "causality", especially as it is expounded by Nagarjuna in the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.[98]

In Kashmir Shaivism

The concept of free will plays a central role in Kashmir Shaivism. Known under the technical name of svātantrya it is the cause of the creation of the universe - a primordial force that stirs up the absolute and manifests the world inside the supreme consciousness of Śiva.

Svātantrya is the sole property of God, all the rest of conscious subjects being co-participant in various degrees to the divine sovereignty. Humans have a limited degree of free will based on their level of consciousness. Ultimately, Kashmir Shaivism as a monistic idealist philosophical system views all subjects to be identical - "all are one" - and that one is Śiva, the supreme consciousness. Thus, all subjects have free will but they can be ignorant of this power. Ignorance too is a force projected by svātantrya itself upon the creation and can only be removed by svātantrya.

A function of svātantrya is that of granting divine grace - śaktipāt. In this philosophical system spiritual liberation is not accessible by mere effort, but dependent only on the will of God. Thus, the disciple can only surrender himself and wait for the divine grace to come down and eliminate the limitations that imprison his consciousness.

Causality in Kashmir Shaivism is considered to be created by Svātantrya along with the universe. Thus there can be no contradiction, limitation or rule to force Śiva to act one way or the other. Svātantrya always exists beyond the limiting shield of cosmic illusion, māyā.

Free will in theology

The theological doctrine of divine foreknowledge is often alleged to be in conflict with free will, particularly in Reformed circles. For if God knows exactly what will happen, right down to every choice one makes, the status of choices as free is called into question. If God had timelessly true knowledge about one's choices, this would seem to constrain one's freedom.[99] This problem is related to the Aristotelian problem of the sea battle: tomorrow there will or will not be a sea battle. If there will be one, then it seems that it was true yesterday that there would be one. Then it would be necessary that the sea battle will occur. If there won't be one, then by similar reasoning, it is necessary that it won't occur.[100] This means that the future, whatever it is, is completely fixed by past truths—true propositions about the future.

However, some philosophers follow William of Ockham in holding that necessity and possibility are defined with respect to a given point in time and a given matrix of empirical circumstances, and so something that is merely possible from the perspective of one observer may be necessary from the perspective of an omniscient.[101] Some philosophers follow Philo of Alexandria, a philosopher known for his homocentrism, in holding that free will is a feature of a human's soul, and thus that non-human animals lack free will.[102]

Jewish philosophy stresses that free will is a product of the intrinsic human soul, using the word neshama (from the Hebrew root n.sh.m. or .נ.ש.מ meaning "breath"), but the ability to make a free choice is through Yechida (from Hebrew word "yachid", יחיד, singular), the part of the soul which is united with God, the only being that is not hindered by or dependent on cause and effect (thus, freedom of will does not belong to the realm of the physical reality, and inability of natural philosophy to account for it is expected).

In Islam the theological issue is not usually how to reconcile free will with God's foreknowledge, but with God's jabr, or divine commanding power. al-Ash'ari developed an "acquisition" or "dual-agency" form of compatibilism, in which human free will and divine jabr were both asserted, and which became a cornerstone of the dominant Ash'ari position.[103] In Shia Islam, Ash'aris understanding of a higher balance toward predestination is challenged by most theologists[104] . Free will, according to Islamic doctrine is the main factor for man's accountability in his/her actions throughout life. All actions taken by man's free will are said to be counted on the Day of Judgement because they are his/her own and not God's.

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard claimed that divine omnipotence cannot be separated from divine goodness.[105] As a truly omnipotent and good being, God could create beings with true freedom over God. Furthermore, God would voluntarily do so because "the greatest good ... which can be done for a being, greater than anything else that one can do for it, is to be truly free."[106] Alvin Plantinga's "free will defense" is a contemporary expansion of this theme, adding how God, free will, and evil are consistent.[107]

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