Free Will: Determinism, Libertarianism, Compatibilism

Subject: Philosophy
Pages: 8
Words: 2191
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: Undergraduate


Determinism is the phenomenon proposed by psychology which states that all actions and events that take place including the human decision-making and comprehension process are derived by a chain of prior occurrences. It also pertains to the thesis which depicts that for every action at a given time, there exists only one future. The concept deals with determining whether the actions taken by a person are caused by free will.

The basic aim of the field of psychology is to be able to determine what drives people to do certain things and how their cognitive systems perform and interpret these actions. According to Gill and Bohnert, all the actions that are performed and taken up by any human being are triggered by stimuli. There is no Free will behind these actions as unknown to us we tend to get triggered by the environment in order to make a decision regarding and action and activity. The reason for this is that if the actions were performed without any chain of events or stimuli triggering the behavior and the psychological process in the human being then all events would be unpredictable. This is not the case in real life where predictions can be made about the behavior of humans by understanding how they employ decision-making techniques and what criteria is prioritized in their minds.

There actually exist varieties of determinism. Casual determinism pertains to the thesis that the events taking place in the future are entirely dependent upon the events that have taken place in the past and the laws of nature. This is also referred to as scientific determinism where both past and present events are employed in the decision making and cognition process. The logical determinism on the other hand states that all propositions that are made about the past, the present as well as about the future can either be true or false. The concept of free will comes here in determining whether the choices made are free or not. Environmental determinism deals with the physical environed and how its drives humans. The biological determinism on the other hand is that the behavior of the human is essentially dependent on the inherited genes of the person while cultural determinism seeks to point out the different ethnic an, cultural and societal factors which determine the human behavior.


Libertarianism is a concept of philosophy which states the presence individual liberty in people. It states that humans are free to chose the alternatives which best suit them. They are allowed to make choices bases on their own preferences and predetermined criteria. Libertarianism tends to promote this freedom by stating that everyone should be given the right to make their own choices.

Libertarianisms have been debating against determinists in regard to their approach toward psychology and their points of views. They state that even though determinism may exist the factors that influence the decision making are of the choosing of the individuals. They state that when individuals experience deliberation it is about their own behavior, their future prospects and their own actions. They clearly state that people to not deliberate on issues if they do not relate to them. Another debate that they have against the determinists is that they believe that their exists no necessities and governing body which can result in a causal or logical determination as all decision are made based on the individuals self perception and choices only.

The two main types of theorists in this field pertain to rights theorists and consequentialists. The right theorists debate that people are actually having absolute control over their lives and that they are free to do as they like. However the consequnetailists state that people are free and in control of their lives but to a certain extent. Instead they are also molded by their culture, their environment and their family and peers. The state that if a scope of the political and economic liberty is allowed then this results in well being and efficiency for the society. Therefore limitations have to be set in terms of government regulations, code of conduct, ethics and morality in order to make the society an efficient body.

Aside form this libertarians also tend to side with ethnic and self responsibility. They are strongly against charity, goodwill of the society as well as they state that it puts restrictions on the free will on the person and coerces the person to perform sacrifices which he/ she would be unwilling to perform in normal circumstances


Compatibilism is the philosophy that free will and determinism are actually compatible in nature. Compatibilists tend to believe that it possible for both of them to exist without being logically inconsistent. The theory holds that the theory of determinism is true and that it is possible for volunteer behavior to free to the extent that there are no external constraines being enforced on it.

This theory was initially started by the contemporary philosophers who argued that it is possible for free will and determinism to coexist in the same setting. They defined free will as the ability to choose while being independent of influencing factors. However as stated earlier the determinists debate that proper events always lead to decision being made about future events. The hard determinists however have argued that free will is basically just an illusion. The soft determinists on the other hand state that it is possible for free will to play a role as a factor which does not result in a causal necessitation. They believe that it is possible for an act to be of free will if it is not provoked or compelled by a person or an activity. On the same note they argue that social and physical constraints are not the main issue here. They state that the term free will in this context pertains to the ability to make a choice of their won without being effected by the environment. This is to an extent a very realistic method of relating free will with determinism.

The criticism of determinism pertains to the fact that the determinists are staunch in their argument that there exists no free will under any circumstances. They also have been able to put forward that the idea of free will that is represented by compatibilists is not the true form of free will which means absolute freedom and power over actions and decisions. The libertarians also accuse the compatibilists to be promoting and depicting determinism in another form and disguise

Do Humans have free will, if so, how free is it? Are all human actions determined? To what degree? Which of these three theories do you think is most accurate in describing the human condition and why do you think so?

In the basic sense of the word it is possible for people to have free will as it is entirely in their power which decisions they make in life and how they go about living their life. The process of cognition and decision making is normally based on preconceived and already existent factors, however a person who is exercising free will tend to make decision based on his preference only. People who favor free will tend to not be dissuaded form their choice by the factors in the environment. Therefore in such a manner it is possible for humans to have free will. However on the other hand it is possible the previous action and events as well as cultural and environmental factors also do play a large role in the cognition and the decision making of a person, but the degree to which these factors ca influence the decision making is entirely dependent on the orientation of the human being. As a result the most appropriate theory which can combine both the concepts of free will and determinism is the theory of compatibilism.

The theory of compatibilsm states that it is possible for there ti eist free will to the extent that the decisions being made are not being influenced by socio cultural or environmental factors. “There may be repercussions or consequences for our actions so that a person might want to say something like “I am not free to rob a bank and by that mean that if they did they would be pursued and captures and imprisoned. If persons have free will they can make the choice to rob a bank and flee capture.” (Pecorino, 2001)

The theory of compatibilism is favored as it is the only theory of the three which is very much close to the real life scenario of human behavior. It is possible for one person to be guarded and reserved in his actions and decision making depicting the use of determinism, while on other occasions it is possible for the person to make use of his free will and conduct his actions without thought to repercussions or consequences. In reality a person doe not entirely act according to the free will all the time. There exist incidents when they are influenced by the cultural norms and traditions as well as the moral, and ethical code of conduct that is present in the society when they are making their decision. Aside from this the financial position, their status in the society, their family and peers as well as their own orientation at the time tends to determine the actions and decision for them. Aside from the genetically inherited skills and cognition of the person can also enable the person take on different orientation at different times.

“Compatibilism is determinism with a slight modification for the sake of appearances and for our language use. It is a position taken because of the perceived need to have some idea of accountability or responsibility for human behavior.” (Pecorino, 2001) Therefore due to the nature of the theory to be accommodating to both points of view, it is considered to be the most appropriate and relevant theory of the three highlighted in the chapter.

Due to the nature of the theory itself the compatibilism theory tends to attract criticism from both the determinists as well as the libertarians. The main point of argument is that both of these theorists believe that it is not possible for the theory of determinism and free will to exist together. They see the scenario as black and white and state that it is possible for human behavior to be either having free will or not be having free will at all.

Specifically speaking, the determinist’s state that the theory of compatibilism is simply puts freedom of will in a different spotlight, therefore changing the original concept of free will. “The determinists criticize the compatibilists for claiming that there is any freedom at all. The determinists think the compatibilists are defining freedom in a different manner in order to make the claim that there is some freedom of choice. The determinists hold that all apparent decision making or choices are determined by internal and external factors, including desires, motives, principles that are in turn the effects of prior causes” (Pecorino, 2001)However there do exist soft determinists who side with the theory of compatibilism and accept its relevance.

The libertarians however do not side with the theory of compatibilism at all. They state that it is not possible for any factors or events or even past experiences to affect the behavior, cognition and decision making of a person under free will. They are strongly against the theory of compatibilism. “The Libertarians criticize the compatibilists for being determinists in a different guise.” (Pecorino, 2001)

The main characteristic of the theory of compatibilism is that it is the only theory which is able to be applied to the behavior of human nature in the real life scenario. This gives the theory a large advantage over the others which tend to talk of theoretical scenarios which can cater to human behavior. As determinism is based on the fact that environment, and past events tend to affect the human behavior of a person at any given time, they are right to criticize the theory of compatibitilism as it goes against the basis of their concept. However they have to keep in mind that a person does not always behave in the same manner. It is possible for a person to depict volatile behavior which shows free will. As a result it is possible for a person to be making use of determinism while still employing free will in certain instances as well.

However this does not mean that the concept of pure free will is entirely correct as well. The libertarians tend to argue the compatibilsm stating it to be another form of determinism. However in reality it is the closest form of free will that is practiced by humans in their lives. This is because the humans have to face multiple factors when making decision and in almost all the circumstances they tend to make their decision on a cost benefit analysis. The theory of compatibilsm takes this into account and gives a more practical picture of the [practice of free will by humans in their decision making, cognition and behavior.


Pecorino, Philip A., “An Introduction to Philosophy”, 2001, Web.