Chapter 5 – Free Will, Determinism and Morality

If there were no free will, then the doctrine of sin and punishment, which is common to most religions, would have no justification.

Most people feel intuitively that they have free will. Some people deny that it exists. Some of those who argue that they have it do so out of a belief in their accountability to a God that lays down laws of behaviour and expects compliance. They believe that free will is a gift from God; but it is a gift with accompanying obligations. Others are Existentialists who believe in free will for philosophical reasons. Some people think that science and philosophy show that there can be no such thing as free will, but they still usually act as if they and other people do have free will.

I think the issue has fundamental implications for the concept of morality in both religious and secular contexts. And by morality I mean an obligation to do things that are necessary or desirable and to abstain from doing anything that is both unnecessary and undesirable, in accordance with some set of rules and values. (See Chapter 6: Five Contesting Foundations of Morality for a discussion on how people justify their beliefs about morality.)

Sometimes people use the claim of the non-existence of free will to justify certain types of behaviour that to others might seem unacceptable. Sometimes people may condemn other people who do things that are seen to be harmful or undesirable, irrespective of the circumstances, saying they did it because they have free will. The following discussion looks at both sides of the argument.


Free Will

Free will is the ability to make decisions that are not completely compelled by natural, social or divine influences.

Free will might be clearly absent from some decisions, e.g., when there are compelling effects like abnormal mental conditions, strong emotions, addictions, mind-altering drugs or having a knife at your throat. Sometimes courts of law excuse people who have done terrible things if it is accepted that the things they have done were “compelled” by some condition. But that still leaves scope for other decisions that might involve free will.

The possibility of free will is challenged by the concept of determinism and by consideration of the process by which free will might be exercised.



Physical determinism is the idea that the universe operates strictly in accordance with natural laws, and so everything that occurs is the consequence of the laws acting upon some initial conditions. Everything in the universe had to happen in the way it has done, without exception. This applies to living things as well as inanimate, and includes every action and thought of human beings. We could never have done anything differently or thought differently about anything. So physical determinism, if it is valid and universal, precludes free will.

Determinism is often described as the idea that, at least theoretically, it would be possible to predict everything that will happen if the initial conditions and processes were accurately known. But in this complicated world many things are unable to be accurately predicted because not enough is known about the detailed conditions and processes that cause them. Moreover, the nature of the material world as described by quantum theory prevents the ability for absolute precision of knowledge about anything. It is sometimes concluded from this that there can be no such thing as determinism. I do not think that the inability to predict undermines the principle that everything is the universe must have a material cause.   This fuzziness of predictability is a consequence of the whims of the material universe. That is enough for determinism to preclude free will – unless some supernatural entity is invoked.

The term determinism is also used in more limited senses. For example, PsychologicalDeterminism is the idea that the behaviour of human beings, including their thoughts, is the product of genes, physiological and environmental development and external occurrences, but of nothing else. Technological Determinism means that societies are structured by the technologies they employ, as in Stone Age, etc.  Media Determinism means that each medium of communication imposes specific ways of thinking on the people using it, as explored, for example, in Marshall McLuhan’s book The Medium is the Massage. These are all implied in the concept of physical determinism, but in practice they may not necessarily be correct in the processes they describe. Very many things can, of course, be predicted to the accuracy needed in our everyday life.




Morality requires that there be personal responsibility to behave in certain specified ways. So for our actions to be said to be moral or immoral we must be free to choose how we act, that is, we need to have free will. There must, or course, be standards by which actions are classified as moral, immoral or neither. This will be discussed in he next chapter.


Arguments For and Against Free Will and Determinism

People Act Morally

There is abundant evidence that we often think and act morally and responsibly, even against our own interests. Some people think that this demonstrates the existence of free will and to invalidate the idea of determinism.

But is this a valid conclusion? If the development of physical and biological systems was the result of a deterministic process, then so also was the development of social and conceptional systems. Therefore, in a deterministic world, individual people and societies could have systems of ethics, and would behave in accordance with them. Such systems would continue to change and evolve.

Systems of morality are necessary or advantageous for the development and survival of societies, which is shown by their continued widespread existence throughout the world. Other social species, from apes to ants, act as if they have codes of behaviour or morality, including fairness. So a deterministic world in which people generally acted as if they had free will could be very like the world we know. It would be to hard argue, though, that such deterministic acts could carry moral responsibility. But people would still act as if everyone were responsible for what they did.

Sometimes it is claimed that determinism is necessary for morality, since, in an inconsistent world, no one could foresee the results of their actions and so there would be no responsibility. But morality arises out of the belief in the intended consequence of personal actions (in addition to a requirement to behave in certain ways). It could –and does – exist in a world where the outcomes of many of our actions are not what we unpredicted. On the other hand, in a world of free will, belief in determinism might incline someone to act as if there were no morality. People with no feelings of moral responsibility are regarded as sociopaths in our society, and therefore potentially dangerous. The issue is whether knowingly acting morally or immorally is a matter of free choice.


Experience of Free Will

Most people believe that they continually experience having and acting upon free will. ‘I do what I want to do, so I have free will.’ Our personal and social systems of behaviour conform with assumption of free will and on the consequent principle of personal responsibility.

Determinists argue that it is a delusion that we experience free will. To the statement, ‘I do what I want to do, so I have free will’, they reply ‘But what makes you want to do it?’. They quote findings of neurological science, such as sites and processes in the brain that are related to decision-making and emotion, and say that this is proof that all thoughts and decisions are purely physical processes.

But conscious experience is the starting point in the whole process of scientific practice and theory. Our processes of observation, measurement and reasoning arise from subjective interpretations of experience. And our consciousness directly observes occasions when we exert our will. So to go through a long process of observation and theorising, and then arrive at a conclusion that free will does not exist, suggests that there is an error somewhere in the observations or the reasoning. Could the real delusion be the idea of the non-existence of free will?

The Determinists’ answer to this argument is that while we are conscious of exercising the will, there is no reason to think  that it is free will. And to be conscious does not imply that we must have free will. The power of the unconscious (or subconscious) mind over thoughts and actions is an illustration of how the conscious mind could be deluded. Or, when we are consciously aware of making choices, are we really able to determine whether the choice was actually free or determined?



The typical argument for free will is, ‘I do what I want to do, therefore I have free will’. A stronger argument is, ‘I sometimes resist doing what I would like to do through willpower, therefore I have free will’. The rationale in this argument is that willpower is acting against the deterministic processes that make you want to take that extra piece of chocolate or avoid doing some unpleasant task. The counter to this is ‘But what makes you exert your willpower?’.



Opponents of this determinist argument say that determinism is reductionist, and hence incapable of dealing with things like free will. Reductionism is the idea that anything can be explained in terms of its components, or “the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts”. Thus chemistry can be explained in terms of physics, biology in terms of chemistry, and so on. Opponents of reductionism say there is an effect called emergence, that makes the whole indeed greater than the sum of the parts. For example, when people come together to live as a group, they develop patterns of cooperation, competition, specialisation, bartering, etc. A society emerges from their coming together So free will might be a quality emerging from the complexity of the human brain or mind. A trail of emergence leads from inanimate matter to the beginnings of intelligence in very simple organisms, to greater intelligence and ability to make considered decisions in vertebrates, culminating in the enhanced and flexible mental powers of human beings. (See also Chapter 10 Reductionism and Emergence)

If emergence does produce something new and independent, how might it occur? Perhaps it could arise out of immense complexity of interconnection, as in the brain, perhaps from the sheer number of the interacting parts, or the number of different types of parts. If it could come from something like this, and if free will could emerge, it should be possible for a very complex computer to acquire free will – provided, of course, that a computer could have a will of any kind. It has been suggested that in a human society that is closely interconnected by the Internet there could be an emergent group consciousness and group free will.

People who accept the validity of reductionism and determinism regard emergence as a vital part of the operation of the laws of nature. The whole does appear to be more than the sum of its parts: but the extra bit is the result of the way the parts interact when they are connected. So emergence  is the necessary and consistent outcome of the characteristics of the parts and of the environment they happen to be in. Reductionists readily agree that the only way to discover some of the characteristics of the parts is to see them operating in complex situations. It could be argued that we might never be sure of knowing all the characteristics of anything, because there might always be situations that we have not yet learnt about. Reductionists would (or should) concede that there are many cases where behaviour cannot yet be fully explained in terms of the known characteristics of the parts. But lack of full knowledge of the parts does not refute the principle of reductionism, nor of determinism..


Induction and Scientific Validity

Another anti-science argument against determinism is that science is dependent on induction, and therefore determinism is not valid.

Induction means that for any scientific generalisation, e.g., a law of physics, the probability that it is true gets very close to 100% when the number of independently and rigorously observed cases of agreement becomes very large and also there are no cases of disagreement. Science and determinism rely on this idea being justifiable. The argument against induction is that it is usually a practical impossibility to observe every case that exists, so there might be undiscovered exceptions. This is said to undermine determinism.

Scientists don’t claim that their findings are true in some absolute sense of truth. But they do claim that the process of induction gives a high probability of scientific findings being true.

Other arguments against induction are:

  • results might continually agree with expectations, but for the wrong reasons;
  • human limitations of understanding and observation, and/or unrecognised unwarranted assumptions, may have misled scientists into thinking that their expectations were met.

An example of the first of these is the success of Newtonian physics, which, up to the end of the 19th century seemed to have been (inductively) proven beyond doubt. It is often argued that Newtonian physics is a subset of the theory of relativity, which replaced it. However, it is based on a different concept of the nature of the universe from that of relativity – which, by induction, is considerably “truer”.

What human limitations and invalid assumptions might lead to wrong scientific conclusions? The first is that we might not be observing what we think. We might be looking at the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave, seeing only distorted images. The scientific community would probably argue that, unlike the prisoners in the cave, human beings are sceptical, imaginative, resourceful, more or less aware of their limitations, and continually trying very hard to get a true picture. Others would reply that human beings also have an inordinate capacity for self deception, and that the history of science shows that even the most widely-accepted scientific explanations, apparently supported by evidence, i.e., by induction, are often shown to be untrue, or not completely true.

But the assumptions that lie behind determinism are not that science is true, but that the material world, which includes human beings, operates through cause and effect, and that logical reasoning, including formal logic and mathematics are intrinsically valid.

All physical processes seem to be consistently causal when rigorously examined. (This includes the “mysteries” of science, which most scientists think will eventually be solved.) But here is an assumption about rigour. So why do we regard rigour – in the process of checking the details and in reasoning – to be completely reliable? The only justification can be that we know, by induction, that they are reliable. However, if we insist on an inevitable fallibility of induction, we can never get anywhere on any argument or ever come to a conclusion on any matter. Furthermore, while we can never be sure that induction leads to absolute truth, there is no justification in assuming that it must lead to falsehood. Science, including determinism, is the closest we can get to truth.

This seems to leave a small loophole that could allow free will to exist. If there really is such a loophole we would need to know how free will occurs. This will be looked at later. But if there is no loophole, what could make free will possible in a causally deterministic world? Perhaps phenomena might sometimes operate inconsistently.

Quantum Theory

It is sometimes argued that quantum theory is inconsistent and breaks the dilemma of determinism. Quantum theory defies commonsense reasoning. An individual quantum particle can be in two or more contradictory conditions at the same time, and there is no way of predicting which condition it will display if made to interact with something. However, the probability of each possible way it could interact can be calculated. Yet when the combined action of a large number of particles is observed, the behaviour of the whole becomes more and more precisely predictable, that is, consistent, as the number of particles increases.

An example of this kind of quantum behaviour is radioactivity. Radioactive elements such as uranium and radium spontaneously decay and in the process emit gamma rays, electrons and helium nuclei. Radium-226 decays into radon gas with a half-life of 1601 years. This means that after 1601 years a lump of radium will have decayed to half its mass. After a further 1601 years, half of the remaining half will have decayed. All radioactive elements have half-lives, which makes radioactivity seem like a consistently causal process. But after one particular radioactive atom has decayed, there is no way of predicting when the next decay will occur, or which atom it will be. In fact the timing between successive cases of radioactive decay is sometimes used to generate sequences of pseudo-random numbers.

This aspect of quantum processes can be likened to tossing coins or rolling dice. In each toss or roll, the coin or die may be thought of as being in all possible states until it has come to rest. The result of each toss or roll is a matter of probability, one in two for the coin, and one in six for the die, and in each case unrelated to what the previous results were. But as the number of trials increases, the total number of each possible outcome will be more and more accurately predictable (including for “loaded” coins or dice, which are more likely but not certain to land in a particular way). This kind of behaviour is referred to as probabilistic. So phenomena that are probabilistic at a very small scale become consistent at the scale that we are used to in everyday life.

Sometimes free will has been attributed to the unpredictability of a “single throw” quantum occurrence. But if quantum phenomena do affect human thoughts and actions, this doesn’t signify free will but probabilistic will. Or, as I said earlier, it is just a (probabilistic) whim of the universe. On the other hand, if some independent mind controlled the brain by affecting individual particles (while still maintaining the overall quantum probability) we might have a mechanism for free will. However, this implies a dualistic world, which will be considered shortly.

(Illustrating probabilistic quantum behaviour by analogies with things like coins and dice may be useful, but it gives a false “feeling” about quantum phenomena. And I do not think that such “classical” phenomena can be usefully employed to illustrate any other types of quantum behaviour. But there is still a weird, if sometimes unpredictable, consistency in all quantum behaviour.)


Quantum theory provides another suggested support for the existence of free will. According to some extensions of the theory, there is not just one universe but a multiverse containing an infinite number of universes, mostly different in some way from each other. Anything imaginable and unimaginable could happen in any of them. In some of them there would be free will.

Some years ago a theoretical physicist was reported to have said that he would be quite happy to play Russian roulette, because even if he were unlucky enough for the bullet to be in the firing position when he took the revolver, there would always be another universe where he had better luck. Irrespective of whether there is such another universe, this would be cold comfort for his bereft wife and family in this one. In a similar way, while quantum theory may or may not provide an argument for the existence of free will in some other universe, it does not in this one.

Furthermore, quantum theory is just another scientific theory, and despite its remarkable power in describing and explaining many aspects of the world of physics and continually producing new forms of technology, its claim to truth is clouded because it makes some predictions that are consistently different from observation. And scientists are trying very hard to develop a “better” version.


A supernatural consciousness

Some people consider that consciousness or mind is an aspect of something quite separate from the material world. This separate entity might act according to its own rules or whims. Free will might be attributed to this entity. This would provide an explanation of how the physical entity can continue on its deterministic path while living organisms might sometimes have some choice in what they do. Each sentient organism therefore might consist of its material component – its body – and its own piece of supernatural consciousness, which experiences and influences the processes of the body and brain. If the identity of the person resides in this entity, then there might be free will.


Foreknowledge omniscience and omnipotence

Another argument invokes some entity that knows in advance everythingl that will happen. Nothing could happen that was different from what that entity already knew would happen. Therefore no one could do anything different from what was known in advance.

Omniscience – knowing everything – is a very tricky concept, particularly knowing in advance. Knowing implies the concept of truth, which is meaningful only when there is a way of testing. One way of testing without waiting would be something akin to clairvoyance, that is, looking forward (or across) through time. This might be likened to watching something happen from a distance, which would allow knowledge but not determining what was happening. If the omniscient entity were supernatural it need not be bound by material constraints and could have intrinsic foreknowledge of people’s decisions. So, by this argument, foreknowledge does not demolish the possibility of supernatural free will, but neither does it confirm it.

But if the “foreknowledge” were based not on clairvoyance but on knowledge of initial conditions and of processes, we appear to be back with determinism.


If the omniscient being were a creator who precisely created every event, could there be free will? Could such a creator include free will as part of the creation but still have foreknowledge? Notionally, an omnipotent (as distinct from omniscient) creator could do everything that is conceivable, and even more. But the very concept of omnipotence is paradoxical, because it implies the ability to do things that were impossible for it to do. So this argument is illogical. But with an “almost omnipotent” creator, one that could do everything that was not paradoxical, free will could be possible. But would this be paradoxical in our deterministic world?

Many believers in an omnipotent God consider that everything that happens is “God’s will”. If this includes their own acts and intentions, then it denies the existence of any free will except God’s. Nonetheless, most such believers also expect to be rewarded or punished for their thoughts and deeds in their next life. But if human actions were not God’s will but just part of God’s prior knowledge, there would be no reason to think that God determined them.

This whole argument depends on the unprovable assumption of an omniscient entity. It may or may not disallow free will. It does not confirm it.



Another argument is based on hindsight. If it is true that some particular thing occurred in the past, then it is not possible that it happened differently, because – time machines notwithstanding – “you can’t change the past.” So it must be true that it had to happen that way. Furthermore, it must always have been true that it would have happened that way. That means the past must have been inevitable. Therefore, no one has been able to do other than what was inevitable. Therefore there can be no such thing as free will.

This argument depends on the tacit assumption that free will cannot exist. The claim that something that has happened must have happened does not say anything about how it happened. If this were the only argument about free will and determinism, all past events could have been either determined or capricious. The argument adds nothing to the discussion.


The justification for being conscious

There is an argument that without free will there would be no point in having conscious knowledge of any kind, because we would not be free to use it. The counter argument is that knowledge and beliefs are two of the determinants of our thoughts and actions, irrespective of whether free will exists.




Some people (“Compatibilists”) think that free will can exist in a deterministic world. Compatibilists contrast a baby that has, presumably, no powers of judgment, and a sane adult with the ability to make “mature choices”. The acts of the baby are presumed to be not “responsible”, in the sense that the baby cannot reason about any likely consequences. Sane adults know the motives behind their acts, and the consequences, and accordingly exercise free will.

Does this argument support free will in the baby or in the adult? If the baby cannot reason and is just acting on automatic impulses, it is not exercising any kind of will. If the baby or the adult is acting on motives and reasoning, this does not seem to imply free will.

Exercising the will involves thought, as distinct from being spontaneous or reflex. A considered decision depends on some or all of the following:

  • awareness of the current situation;
  • memories;
  • thoughts about possible outcomes;
  • invention of strategies to achieve desirable outcomes and/or alleviate any undesirable outcomes;
  • value judgments and preferences;
  • processing to make a choice.

For free will, at least one of the above would need to be neither random nor completely determined. Compatibilists would claim that at least the thoughts about possible outcomes, invention of strategies and processing require free will. That means, we freely decide to think of outcomes, devise solutions and pick the one we like best.


But if we look at these processes of decision-making, none seems to allow free will.

Awareness of the current situation is not an act of will.

Memories are already stored in the mind.

Thoughts about possible outcomes arise spontaneously.

Invention of strategies to achieve desirable outcomes and/or alleviate any undesirable outcomes is a process that comes automatically.

Value judgments and preferences are already there, stored in the mind.

And processing to make a choice is dependent on all of the above.

Consider a choice between alternative possible actions with significant and different outcomes, involving, say, making a donation to charity or spending the money on yourself. How is the choice made? We can imagine weighing up the pros and cons of each alternative, but a computer programmed with the same inputs and biases would do the same. Perhaps there would be doubts about the choice. But a computer could have an equivalent of doubt, calculating a range of probabilities about the worth of each choice. The processes of deciding are the same for person and machine.

A person might choose altruism, but ten minutes later might have chosen indulgence, with no apparent reason in either case. This type of wavering might possibly be free, but it doesn’t seem like will. What about tossing a coin to decide? Would deciding to toss the coin be an act of free will, or would it be the result of a deterministic chain of reasoning in the search for a decision? And if it were done on impulse, without thinking, it would not be will, free or otherwise. Many things done or said on impulse would never have been said or done if they had been thought about first. When you say something and immediately wish you hadn’t said it, was saying it an act of free will? I think it was neither free nor will.

Another situation would be some spur-of-the-moment decision to take one path and not another during a walk. We might imagine a sudden impatience (caused by what?) with following the same old path one more time, or there may be no reason apparent to either the person or an observer.

If the decision is caused by a combination of experience, present circumstances and personality, it may be will, but it would not seem to be free. If it is not caused by anything whatever, it may be free, in the sense used in the definition of free will given at the beginning of this chapter. But it would not be free will. If the decision were random (if there is such a thing as a random decision) it would not be a matter of intent, that is, of will.

Again, consider an unthinking action made in a state of high emotion, such as rage. Three would be strong will involved, but the conditions that prompted it – the incident that was noticed, the connections in the brain that associated the incident with memories or attitudes, the activation of neurotransmitters, further neuronal activities, and the resultant angry action – would all be causal.


I don’t think that any convincing explanation of a process that could allow free will has yet been proposed. For many people, there doesn’t have to be one.

Determinism depends on the assumption that the principle of consistent cause and effect applies to everything that occurs, both physically and mentally. There seems to be no reason to think that this assumption is false. But if it were false, that would mean that
decisions could occur without having a cause,
and/or that decisions could be made without knowing what was going to be decided.

In neither of these cases would the decision be free will or the decider be morally responsible.

But perhaps my mind is just in a rut about causality, which stops me from seeing how free will can exist. Or perhaps the idea of free will is a contradiction in terms: if it is free it is not will, and if it is will it is not free.

If there were events that have no cause whatever but are not random, and if some human decisions or wishes were of this kind, then there might be a better case for free will, and therefore for personal responsibility. But without knowing how such hypothetical conditions might be possible there are no grounds for judgment. (This issue is discussed in more detail in the later sections of Chapter 12 Randomness.)



Is it now possible to decide whether, among these conjectures, the concept of free will is true or false? I have presented all the arguments I could find or devise in favour of the existence of free will, but I do not think any are convincing.

I have also presented arguments in favour of determinism. And I have acknowledged that determinism depends on assumptions about causality and consistency, about the reliability of evidence and about the reliability of logic and our use of it. So I cannot say that the concept of determinism is absolutely true, but I think it is the closest to truth that we can get. I have argued (logically) that free will is incompatible with determinism. And I have argued (logically) that even without determinism there is no apparent way that free will could occur.

But no amount of reasoning and reasoned evidence will convince people who have no doubt that they continually experience exercising their free will. For some people, inner feelings such as this are more reliable than what they perceive through their senses. And the senses can often be deceiving.

All that I can say about this is that inner feelings depend heavily – and some people would say entirely – upon what has been built up from a lifetime of experiences that were delivered by the senses into a brain that operates in accordance of the laws of physics. But then, we interpret the inputs from the senses in accordance with our inner feelings, which have the same origins. It is a self-reinforcing circle, and consciousness is one of the causal links. But the content of consciousness is dependent on the causal physiological processes of the brain.

Perhaps my mind is just in a rut about causality and reason, which stops me from seeing how free will can exist. But no organism could get by without assuming causality, having the ability to process information, and acting accordingly.

There are some things whose existence or non-existence is generally said to be unprovable, God being the prime example. Perhaps free will is one of them. Perhaps free will is a property of a supernatural mind, and the supernatural is not constrained by the logic of the material world. If this opens a crack for free will to creep through, it would have to be the tiniest of cracks. (See also Chapter 9 The Hard Problem of Consciousness.)

But even though some of us may prefer the determinist argument, most of us have an existentialist feeling that we have both free will and responsibility. Without living a solitary life, it would be impractical to act as if we had neither (assuming, of course, we had the free will to choose). The law and society operate as if we are responsible for our actions, but allow for some obvious things that “we have no control over”. But how would a society operate if the law were based on the principle that there was no such thing as free will?

If there is no free will and if that were widely known, then, unless there were deterrents or restraints, many people might act as if they could do whatever they liked. But there would be no justification to take revenge other than as a deterrent, and there would often be fairer deterrents. However, most people just act according to some innate feeling of fairness or morality and a need for confidence in the way their society operates.

All social species seem to act in accordance with rules of conduct, and when members transgress those rules they are likely to be restrained or punished by other members. It would seem that societies could not survive without such constraints, so would not have evolved without them. If there is no free will but it is known that certain kinds of actions incur punishment, then that knowledge may be included in the thought processes that determine our actions. It may, depending on personality and other things, be the deciding factor.

Our own feelings of responsibility, and our expectations that others will usually act responsibly, make us feel that we have free will. Our feeling of having free will may have been an aspect of our evolution.

It seems to me that if such a thing as free will were to exist, the best practical option would be to act and think as if it existed, remembering that there are many situations and conditions where people have little or no control over what they do. And if there is no such thing as free will, then whatever it is that determines my thoughts also makes me hope that I and others will have no option but to act responsibly and in consideration and compassion for other people and sentient creatures. However, people who are antisocial, or of criminal intent, or otherwise destructive to society would need to be treated in a way that paid respect to them but minimised the damage they could cause to other people and to society at large. This would require institutions that were different from those now provided by most countries. We might just be able to manage crocodiles, giving them due respect and acknowledging that they can’t help acting like crocodiles. But managing humans by humans is a lot more tricky.

Although I dismiss the idea that I have free will, I often act as if I, and other people, do have it. Whenever I hear about acts of bastardry, my first reaction is to hope that the perpetrators get their comeuppance. And then it can be hard for my intellect to overrule that reaction.

Gut reaction has its own evolved logic and a persistent will of its own. We are seldom free of it, and it is not free will.


For there to be free will there would need to be a decision process that was not causal. Even pure chance is a causal process: as discussed in Chapter 12 Randomness, its causes are just too complex or obscure to be identified. No decision made at random – if there were to be a process that was truly random – could be an act of will.

Unless there is some other kind of process that is not causal, there can be no such thing as free will.