Obviously I can not provide you with a definitive answer to this
question, but I can outline the debate.
Thought related to free will is evident in philosophy, science and
theology. I will attempt to isolate arguments from these fields.
Based on your question, I will operate under the assumption that human
beings have free will and focus attention on from where human choices
I hope this helps.
?Free Will? is a philosophical term of art for a particular sort of
capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among
various alternatives. Which sort is the free will sort is what all the
fuss is about. (And what a fuss it has been: philosophers have debated
this question for over two millenia, and just about every major
philosopher has had something to say about it.) Most philosophers
suppose that the concept of free will is very closely connected to the
concept of moral responsibility. Acting with free will, on such views,
is just to satisfy the metaphysical requirement on being responsible
for one's action. (Clearly, there will also be epistemic conditions on
responsibility as well, such as being aware?or failing that, being
culpably unaware?of relevant alternatives to one's action and of the
alternatives' moral significance.) But the significance of free will
is not exhausted by its connection to moral responsibility. Free will
also appears to be a condition on desert for one's accomplishments
(why sustained effort and creative work are praiseworthy); on the
autonomy and dignity of persons; and on the value we accord to love
and friendship. (See Kane 1996, 81ff. and Clarke 2003, Ch.1.)
Philosophers who distinguish freedom of action and freedom of will do
so because our success in carrying out our ends depends in part on
factors wholly beyond our control. Furthermore, there are always
external constraints on the range of options we can meaningfully try
to undertake. As the presence or absence of these conditions and
constraints are not (usually) our responsibility, it is plausible that
the central loci of our responsibility are our choices, or ?willings.?
Do we have free will?
"The majority view, however, is that we can readily conceive willings
that are not free. Indeed, much of the debate about free will centers
around whether we human beings have it, yet virtually no one doubts
that we will to do this and that. The main perceived threats to our
freedom of will are various alleged determinisms: physical/causal;
psychological; biological; theological. For each variety of
determinism, there are philosophers who (i) deny its reality, either
because of the existence of free will or on independent grounds; (ii)
accept its reality but argue for its compatibility with free will; or
(iii) accept its reality and deny its compatibility with free will.
(See the entries on compatibilism; causal determinism; fatalism;
arguments for incompatibilism; and divine foreknowedge and free will.)
There are also a few who say the truth of any variety of determinism
is irrelevant because free will is simply impossible."
"Determinism holds that each state of affairs is necessitated
(determined) by the states of affairs that preceded it, an extension
of cause and effect. Indeterminism holds this proposition to be
incorrect, and that there are events which are not entirely determined
by previous states of affairs."
"Some philosophers hold that determinism is at odds with free will.
This is the doctrine of incompatibilism. Incompatibilists generally
claim that a person acts freely (has free will) only in cases where
the person is the sole originating cause of the act and the person
genuinely could have done otherwise."
As incompatible with determinism:
"We generally hold people responsible for their actions, and will say
that they deserve praise or blame for what they do. However, many
believe moral responsibility to require free will. Thus, another
important issue is whether we are ever morally responsible, and if so,
in what sense."
As compatible with determinism:
"Compatibilists often argue that, on the contrary, determinism is a
prerequisite for moral responsibility ? you can't hold someone
responsible unless his actions were determined by something (this
argument can be traced to Hume and was also used by the anarchist
William Godwin). After all, if indeterminism is true, then those
events that are not determined are random. How can one blame or praise
someone for performing an action that just spontaneously popped into
his nervous system? Instead, they argue, one needs to show how the
action stemmed from the person's desires and preferences ? the
person's character ? before one starts holding the person morally
Compatibilist theories and the could-have-done-otherwise principle
"Many claim that, in order for a choice to be free in any sense that
matters, it must be true that the agent could have done otherwise.
They take this principle ? van Inwagen calls it the "principle of
alternate possibilities" ? to be a necessary condition for freedom."
William James on determinism and free will:
"But 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 our actions become a better
one. Determinism, he argued, undermines that meliorism."
"Existentialism is a philosophical movement that views the individual,
the self, the individual's experience, and the uniqueness therein as
the basis for understanding the nature of human existence. The
philosophy generally reflects a belief in freedom and accepts the
consequences of individual actions, while acknowledging the
responsibility attendant to the making of choices. Existentialists
prefer subjectivity, and can view human beings as subjects in an
indifferent and often ambiguous universe."
"Among the most famous and influential existentialist propositions is
Sartre's dictum, "existence precedes and rules essence", which is
generally taken to mean that there is no pre-defined essence to
humanity except that which we make for ourselves. Since Sartrean
existentialism does not acknowledge the existence of a god or of any
other determining principle, human beings are free to do as they
choose. The most programmatic and straightforward statement of this
principle is in his 1946 lecture "Existentialism as a Humanism."
Since there is no predefined human nature or ultimate evaluation
beyond that which humans project onto the world, people may only be
judged or defined by their actions and choices, and human choices are
the ultimate evaluator."
Questions arising from the notion of free will are of critical
importance throughout the history of philosophical thought. If we
assume that we do indeed have free will and that it is represented by
our choices (as per your question) we must investigate what motivates
Philosophically, the majority view is that we can conceive of choices
that are NOT free, but are impacted by external factors. However, if
we assume that free will is represented by choices that conform to the
"could-have-done-otherwise principle" mentioned above. Truly free
choices, according to incompatibilists, can not be subject to
deterministic factors. Thus, biological, physical/causal and
theological determinism is incompatible with free will in this view.
Choices must be made by the individual alone and can not be determined
by external factors.
"Incompatibilists think that something stronger is required: for me to
act with free will requires that there are a plurality of futures open
to me consistent with the past (and laws of nature) being just as they
were. I could have chosen differently even without some further,
non-actual consideration's occurring to me and ?tipping the scales of
the balance? in another direction."
Others believe that free will and a level of dererminism can co-exist.
Thus it logically follows;
" Conditional analyses of ability to do otherwise have been popular
among compatibilists. The general idea here is that to say that I am
able to do otherwise is to say that I would do otherwise if it were
the case that ? , where the ellipsis is filled by some elaboration of
?I had an appropriately strong desire to do so, or I had different
beliefs about the best available means to satisfy my goal, or ? .? In
short: something about my prevailing character or present
psychological states would have differed, and so would have brought
about a different outcome in my deliberation."
Existentialists argue that free will is available to all human beings
and is not directly impacted by causal influence which is too
incoherent and lacks clear deterministic direction. Each individual is
presented with a multitude of choices and they make decisions
independently. Thus, the choices emanate directly from the individual
and are not constricted by deterministic factors.
Robert Kane: Reflections on Free Will, Determinism and Indeterminism
Thomas Hobbes: Causation Itself, Determinism, and their Compatibility with Freedom
David Hume: The Obviousness of the Truth of Determinism
Derk Pereboom: Meaning in Life Without Free Will
Galen Strawson: Free Will
Ted Honderich, How Free Are You?
Sciences have attempted to answer the question of whether free will exists:
"Throughout the history of science, attempts have been made to answer
the question of free will using scientific principles. Early
scientific thought often pictured the universe as deterministic, and
some thinkers believed that it was simply a matter of gathering
sufficient information to be able to predict future events with
perfect accuracy. While not mechanistic in the same sense as classical
physics, most current scientific theories are also deterministic, by
necessity ? it is a basic assumption of all scientific endeavours that
the future can be predicted. It is also difficult, if not impossible,
to write the mathematics for a non-predictive science."
Nurture vs. Nature:
"How important are genetics and biology in human behaviour compared to
culture and environment? Genetic studies have identified many specific
genetic factors that affect the personality of the individual, from
obvious cases such as Down's syndrome to more subtle effects such as a
statistical predisposition towards schizophrenia. However, it is not
certain that environmental determination is less threatening to free
will than genetic determination. The latest analysis of the human
genome shows it to have only about 20,000 genes. The information
content of which is but 2 or 3 megabytes (despite junk DNA, which may
really have almost no information content), implying that nurture may
be more important than genetic determinists used to claim."
Choices come from the brain?
"It has also become possible to study the living brain and researchers
can now watch the decision-making "machinery" at work. A seminal
experiment in this field was conducted by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s,
wherein he asked subjects to choose a random moment to flick their
wrist while he watched the associated activity in their brains. Libet
found that the brain activity leading up to the subject flicking his
or her wrist began approximately one-third of a second before the
subject consciously decided to move, suggesting that the decision was
actually first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward
being translated into a "conscious decision", and that the subject's
belief that it occurred randomly was only due to their perception."
"The will has also recently become a target of empirical study in
neuroscience and cognitive psychology. Benjamin Libet (2002) conducted
experiments designed to determine the timing of conscious willings or
decisions to act in relation to brain activity associated with the
physical initiation of behavior. Interpretation of the results is
highly controversial. Libet himself concludes that the studies provide
strong evidence that actions are already underway shortly before the
agent wills to do it. As a result, we do not consciously initiate our
actions, though he suggests that we might nonetheless retain the
ability to veto actions that are initiated by unconscious
psychoilogical structures. Wegner (2002) masses a much range of
studies (including those of Libet) to argue that the notion that human
actions are ever initiated by their own conscious willings is simply a
deeply-entrenched illusion and proceeds to offer an hypothesis
concerning the reason this illusion is generated within our cognitive
systems. O'Connor (forthcoming) argues that the data adduced by Libet
and Wegner wholly fail to support their revisionary conclusions."
Scientific analysis often opts for a deterministic perspective.
However, if we assume that free will is not subject to determination,
many scientist would argue that choices develop in the brain. It can
be argued that the brain is not entirely subject to determinism and
that its very structure allows for the individual to make decisions
only conditioned by the ability of the brain to processs such
In opposition to free will?
"The theological doctrine of divine foreknowledge is often alleged to
be in conflict with free will. After all, if God knows exactly what
will happen, right down to every choice one makes, how can one's
choices be free? God's already true or timelessly true knowledge about
one's choices seems to constrain one's freedom. 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 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. This means that the
future, whatever it is, is completely fixed by past truths ? true
propositions about the future. (However, some philosophers hold 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.)"
In Christian thought
"In Christian theology, God is described as not only omniscient but
omnipotent, which some people, but not most, (Christians and
non-Christians alike) believe implies that not only has God always
known what choices you will make tomorrow, but actually chose what you
would choose. That is, they believe, by virtue of His foreknowledge He
knows what will influence your choices, and by virtue of His
omnipotence He controls those factors."
Predestination and free will
"Proponents of the opposing view would make the point that knowledge
of a future happening is entirely different than causing the event to
happen. The definition of predestination varies among Christians. Many
hold that it does not imply that God chose certain people to receive
salvation and the rest have no chance of salvation, but rather, He
knows that not everyone will choose salvation, and He specifically
knows who will and who won't. The Bible says of God, "...God our
Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of
the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4, NIV)."
The Garden of Eden:
Some interpret the Garden of Eden story to demonstrate a theological
basis for free will. According to this interpretation, God gives human
beings the ability to freely make decisions. While God warns against
eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve
presumably have the ability to decide whether to eat from it and bear
the moral responsibility for doing so.
Although tempted by a serpent, it can be argued that Adam and Eve had
chosen consciously to eat from the tree and acquire the knowledge of
good and evil. Understanding good and evil allows for free will to
develop as choices are no longer meaningless and random but are
informed by morality.
Free will stems from the soul?
"Free will is important in the Catholic Church, St. Augustine and St.
Thomas Aquinas being major early figures in the history of the
concept. Catholic Christianity's emphasis on free will and grace is
generally in contrast to the emphasis on predestination in Protestant
Christianity (see the link to Catholic Encyclopedia below for more).
Some philosophers believe that free will is equivalent to having a
soul, and thus that (at least some) animals do not have free will.
This is also the position of Jewish philosophy, which stresses that
free will (Hebrew: bechirah chofshith) is a product of the intrinsic
human soul (neshama); see further below."
In Jewish thought
Free will is key to justice:
"Free will is discussed at length in Jewish philosophy, firstly as
regards God's purpose in creation, and secondly as regards the closely
related, resultant, paradox.
The traditional teaching regarding the purpose of creation,
particularly as influenced by Jewish mysticism, is that "This world is
like a corridor to the World to Come" (Pirkei Avoth 4:21). "Man was
created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in God, and deriving
pleasure from the splendor of His Presence? The place where this joy
may truly be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created
to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this
world..." (Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Mesillat Yesharim, Ch.1). Free will
is thus required by God's justice, ?otherwise, Man would not be given
or denied good for actions over which he had no control? . It is
further understood that in order for Man to have true free choice, he
must not only have inner free will, but also an environment in which a
choice between obedience and disobedience exists. God thus created the
world such that both good and evil can operate freely ; this is the
meaning of the Rabbinic maxim, "All is in the hands of Heaven except
the fear of Heaven" (Talmud, Berachot 33b)."
The paradox of free will and God's omniscience:
?The Holy One, Blessed Be He, knows everything that will happen before
it has happened. So does He know whether a particular person will be
righteous or wicked, or not? If He does know, then it will be
impossible for that person not to be righteous. If He knows that he
will be righteous but that it is possible for him to be wicked, then
He does not know everything that He has created. ...[T]he Holy One,
Blessed Be He, does not have any temperaments and is outside such
realms, unlike people, whose selves and temperaments are two separate
things. God and His temperaments are one, and God's existence is
beyond the comprehension of Man? [Thus] we do not have the
capabilities to comprehend how the Holy One, Blessed Be He, knows all
creations and events. [Nevertheless] know without doubt that people do
what they want without the Holy One, Blessed Be He, forcing or
decreeing upon them to do so... It has been said because of this that
a man is judged according to all his actions.? (Maimonides, Mishnah
Torah, Teshuva 5:5)"
Some claim that the decisions of human beings are foreknown by God
"Although the above represents the majority view in Rabbinic thought,
there are several major thinkers who resolve the paradox by explicitly
excluding human action from divine foreknowledge. Both Saadia Gaon and
Judah ha-Levi hold that "the decisions of man precede God's knowledge"
. Abraham ibn Daud, Maimonides' critic, holds that in regard to
human acts, God limits his omniscience as well as His omnipotence.
Gersonides holds that God knows, beforehand, the choices open to each
individual, but does not know which choice the individual, in his
freedom, will make. Isaiah Horowitz takes the view that God cannot
know which moral choices people will make, but that, nevertheless,
this does not impair His perfection. See further discussion in the
article on Gersonides."
Thus, if we assume that free will exists, theologically we could
justify the claim by attributing free will to the creator, whom wished
us to make free choices. These choices could be argued to be derived
from the "soul".
However, claims that the soul is predestined towards good decisions or
evil decisions violates the concept of free will. The soul, then, must
be viewed as independent and fluid, changing based on the choices that
are made. Advocates of this view, argue that free will is a uniquely
human quality made possible by a higher power.
I believe that people are capable of free will and this is only
subject to our biological ability to process choices. I do not believe
that people's choices are predetermined, as such a belief would deny
us all agency over our lives. I believe that personal agency can be
affirmed through experience. I can detect no clear causal pattern for
the choices I have made. All choices were made in response to somewhat
However, choices are subject to certain factors. Biologically, our
brain is the center of our decision making abilities. Absent a brain,
free will is impossible. This begs the question; is the brain
programmed with a predetermined tendency towards specific decisions?
I do not believe it is. The brain allows the individual to make
decisions based on a multitude of external factors that can not be
entirely predicted. Biological factors can effect the ability for an
individual to adequately make decisions. This is evident by the
inability of people with certain neurological disorders to control
their choices. Obsessive compulsive disorder is a good example of
Theologically, I do not believe there is a higher power that has
foreknowledge of our choices as this, again, would nullify our ability
to truly make FREE choices. These choices would instead be
predetermined. It is consistent with the concept of free will,
however, to believe that we were created by a higher power with the
ability to freely make decisions and to have the ability to understand
the consequences of our decisions. Presumably, if we assume that a
creator does exist, our brains were created with the ability to allow
for free choice.
Thus, I believe that our choices stem from our brains and are subject
only to the ability of our brains to make free choices. To me, these
decisions are not subject to predetermination by external physical or
theological laws. Our ability to freely choose is limited by external
factors only in that these factors may impact the tendency to make
certain choices. However, I believe that there is no coherent system
of external factors, but instead a conflicting plethora of factors
that impact our choices. Therefore, while our decisions may be
affected by external factors, the choices are still our own.
I hope this helps. Please request clarification if I approached this
question the wrong way.