Free Will and Determinism: Compatibilism Theory

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 5
Words: 1124
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

Since ancient times, philosophers have been trying to provide people with answers to the questions of the meaning of life and the role of human beings in the world. Even though they all attempted to fill the life of individuals with purpose and make it easier and more explainable, the teachings of different theorists appear to be distinct. For instance, various scientific facts and personal life experiences encouraged professionals to develop different opinions about moral responsibility and its relationship with freedom and determinism. While all the perspectives, such as libertarianism, hard determinism, and compatibilism, have several supportive arguments, the third theory is the most applicable to the everyday life of people. In general, compatibilism suggests that human free will and moral obligation are consistent with the ideas of determinism (Salles, 2017). Therefore, the following paper will prove that this theory best explains the true nature of freedom and responsibility by discussing these concepts using all three theories and providing a possible counterargument.

Hard determinism is the easiest way to explain moral responsibility and freedom because it states that individuals do not possess any power over their actions, and every situation is inevitable. The followers of this theory claim that every state of the universe is determined at any given time; thus, events cannot happen any other way than they do (Talbert, 2016). Since the actions of human beings are an inevitable part of the universe, all their activities are predetermined from the time of their birth, which means that people have no freedom whatsoever (Talbert, 2016). As a result, individuals cannot be morally responsible for their actions (Talbert, 2016). If this would be true, and human life could be explained from the perspective of hard determinism, society would live in constant chaos. Every citizen of the world would develop a feeling that they do not have any contribution to the processes happening daily; consequently, human existence would not have any meaning. Hence, hard determinism does not explain the nature of freedom and moral responsibility because it claims that these concepts do not exist.

Libertarianism is the opposite of the previously discussed concept since it rejects the idea of determinism and states that people have the freedom to perform however they want and should hold responsibility for their actions. Philosophers and scientists who favor libertarianism believe that, in any situation, individuals are “able to select a given course of action, yet can also refrain from selecting it” (Deery, 2015, p. 330). This tendency creates a free choice and requires people to take moral responsibility for their activities and decisions. On the other hand, the libertarian approach suggests that some events occur randomly, meaning that they are inevitable, and humans do not have any power over the outcomes of those situations (Deery, 2015). Therefore, even though the processes are not predetermined, individuals have no freedom because the results of actions cannot be predicted (Deery, 2015). Hence, it can be concluded that libertarianism creates an inconsistency between its ideas and rejects the concept of freedom and moral responsibility by stating that situations happen randomly.

The concept of compatibilism proposes the idea that free will and moral responsibility exist in harmony with the realities of the deterministic world; thus, it can explain the nature of the two mentioned concepts without inconsistencies. As mentioned by Salles (2017), “at first sight, the compatibilist position may seem questionable” because it can be hard to understand how people can be both free and controlled by the universe (p. 1). However, once a person researches the concept profoundly, it becomes clear that the main idea of compatibilism is that people hold responsibility for the actions they choose to perform voluntarily (Salles, 2017). While acknowledging that specific elements influence individuals’ decisions, such as personality traits, gender, and upbringing, philosophers claimed that humans have the freedom to choose what to do within the boundaries presented by nature (Salles, 2017). Thus, people can perform according to their personal will when the confines of nature allow them to do so and hold responsibility for those actions.

Some people may argue that the concept of compatibilism cannot be applied to the everyday life of people because of its complexity. This philosophy claims that there is only a range of alternatives that human beings can choose from when making a decision (Salles, 2017). Thus, individuals cannot be morally responsible for the actions they did not perform voluntarily. As a result, this tendency makes it harder to assign people with responsibility for their behaviors and decisions. For instance, it can be challenging to claim that a criminal is guilty of murdering another person because no one will be able to prove if this action was done freely. The offender can state that this situation was predetermined since he was abused by his parents in childhood or suffered from a mental illness during his teenage years. In this situation, the concept of compatibilism should not make the person morally responsible for killing another human. Hence, many people may claim compatibilism should not be relevant in contemporary society because individuals can use its complicated nature and refuse from accepting guilt for various immoral activities and behaviors.

Even though the possible counterargument is strong, compatibilism proves to be the best explanation for the nature of moral responsibility and freedom. As mentioned earlier, both hard determinism and libertarianism reject free will, making it impossible to explain the nature of the moral obligation. Moreover, referring to the example provided in the counterargument, it can be said that the criminal did have a free choice and, therefore, should be assigned moral responsibility. This claim is based on the fact that if the person believes that parental upbringing or a specific psychological illness influenced their choice, they are consciously aware of the individual confines provided by nature. For this reason, they acted within their natural boundaries and made a free choice to murder another person. Consequently, while compatibilism can seem to be a sophisticated concept, it rationally explains the nature of freedom and moral responsibility.

To summarize, philosophers have always been working hard in order to help people understand the meaning of life and various processes happening in the world. By analyzing their life experiences and scientific discoveries, they were able to develop various theories and opinions about the universe. For instance, specialists created three perspectives, such as hard determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism, aiming at explaining the nature of free will and moral responsibility. While all of them are professionally developed, the third theory best determines the relationship between responsibility and freedom and can be applied to the everyday life of people. Therefore, the presented essay proved the relevance of compatibilism by discussing the two mentioned concepts in relation to all theories and exploring a possible counterargument.


Deery, O. (2015). The fall from Eden: Why libertarianism isn’t justified by experience. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 93(2), 319-334.

Salles, R. (2017). The Stoics on determinism and compatibilism. Routledge.

Talbert, M. (2016). Moral responsibility: An introduction. John Wiley & Sons.