Philosophical Musings by T L Hurst
by T L Hurst
The Demise of Compatibilism?
Compatibilism is the view that causal determinism is compatible with free will. However, different arguments for compatibilism imply different definitions of free will. Therefore, we need to examine the compatibilist definitions of causal determinism and free will...
Causal determinism is the view that the state of the universe at any given time is wholly determined by earlier states together with the laws of nature. Hence every event is causally entailed by antecedent events. This is reflected in the description of determinism as set out in an SEP article on compatibilism: 
...if determinism is true, there are (causal) conditions for that person's actions located in the remote past, prior to her birth, that are sufficient for each of her actions.
A compatibilist may argue that although the events in the remote past entail a chain of events, all of them are causally effective. Thus they would, legitimately, assert that, barring other constraints, our will is causally effective under causal determinism.
Compatibilists present a range of arguments for causal determinism being compatible with free will:
Freedom from Coercion and Other Factors
This argument suggests that free will equates to the absence of overriding constraints like:
- Threats and coercion (e.g. someone holding a gun to your head).
- Physical impediments (e.g. chains or locked doors).
- Social norms (e.g. wearing clothes).
- Psychological impediments (e.g. mental deficiency, psychosis, addictions and compulsions).
The absence of such overriding constraints and impediments is clearly necessary for the will to be free, but is it sufficient? And is it compatible with causal determinism? Well, the list of impediments does not include entailment by prior events. So this definition of free will is compatible with causal determinism.
© copyright T L Hurst 2015