Do We Really Have Free Will?

aanya khandelwal
5 min readJan 24, 2021


Your love, your marriage, your children, your job and your decisions. Have you really had any free will in these matters? Do we really have a choice of our own, or was everything predetermined from the get go?

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Philosophers and scientists akin try to answer this question. From Immanuel Kant to Harry Frankfurt, to David Hume and Peter Strawson. All these great philosophers have spent years worth time exploring the same question; time and time again.

There are 4 main philosophical theories, each who aims to answer the question of Free Will in the most accurate notion possible. The theories include Determinism, Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Hard Determinism. Delving into each of these theories, we can explore loop holes, benefits and perhaps find another theory altogether.


Known as the theory of Determinism or Mechanism, it revolves around the notion that everything that happens is determined, that is, fixed completely by the physical condition that preceded it.

The key ideology of Determinism explored the idea that we may experience uncertainty or free will from our Point of View; but in reality, there is no metaphysical uncertainty.

Determinism is based on causal chains that flow from:
(which is caused by)
A decision
(which is caused by)
A background condition

Taking a simple example. I ate a cake today. This is an action. I ate a cake today because I ordered it online. This is the decision that caused the action. Now I ate the cake because I was craving chocolate. This is a background condition. I was craving chocolate because I have been eating too many salads for the past week. I have been eating too many salads for the past week because my friends challenged me into a healthy eating bet. They challenged me because I am a chocolate addict. The causal chains go on and on in the manner illustrated above.

It is a good practice to mention that fate or fatalism is not equal to determinism. Whilst fate is one unavoidable outcome, determinism is an outcome at the microlevel. Fate is brought by a conscious agent while we see determinism as just the blind forces of nature. Finally, fate can happen in various different ways, but determinism has 1 singular determined future.

Looking at the outcomes of determinism, we can see that praise, blame and moral responsibility all essentially dissolve because we are part of a physical world and we are by the ideals of determinism not free.

But like always, there are some gaps that determinism fails to explain. Just how feeling free is not equal to being free, determinism on the same basis is not true. A livid example are of quantum level particles, which more often than not present some degree of indeterminism.

Determinism removes responsibility or moral obligation and says there is no freedom. But we clearly are aware of the fact that we have both moral responsibility and freedom in our lives.


The first and foremost basis of Libertarianism is that we do have free will. Libertarianism states that we are causes outside of the usual causal chain. It proclaims that we cause things the same way, but we as humans are special. That we are caused by a different way, by agent causation. Agent causation can be defined when we believe that not events, but agents can cause an event.

Libertarianism says that agent causation is said to be caused as a deity has provided to us free will. It claims that a deity gave this special sort of ‘agent causation’ for us humans.

I think you can see where questions get raised with such a philosophy. The first issue is that is doesn’t seem to quite answer the question of whether we have free will or not. It seems to hinder from that question. Secondly, it has failed to answer about the problem of evil. Why would agent causation incite cruel or evil?

Libertarianism comes back to answer these questions and has tried to explain agent causation by explaining the role of deities providing human great good. But once again, the flaw is easily pointed out. Such an explanation is exceptionally hard to reconcile with our natural world. In theory, we should operate with causes just like everything else around us. And if not, what are we then? Perhaps supernatural?

Immanuel Kant had quite a say in this, who claimed that whilst the Phenomenal self was not as free, our Noumenal selves like our thoughts are free. He claims that we have various reasons behind our causes and therefore have a free will, because the amount of causes can be innumerable and a quantification and determination of such a value is indeterminable.

Robert Kane added on by stating that when reasons are not clear, they’re ‘self-forming actions’. When looking for Free Will, we are searching for autonomy, and not quantum indeterminacy.


The view that although we do not have a metaphysical free will, we are determined. A famous ideology on these lines were presented by philosopher David Hume, who sums this up nicely by stating that being free is not equal to being constrained. Therefore he believes what matters is that we decide what we would want to do.

Harry Frankfurt added onto the view of Compatibilism by bringing the idea that making your mind up because of your own reasons is what makes you morally responsible, not the fact that you could’ve done something else. Ergo, determinism doesn’t matter.

Peter Strawson made the Compatibilist case stronger by adding in the idea that it does not matter where their quality of will or where their motivations come from, what matters os that they’re there and we reaction to them with “reactive attitudes”.

Hard Determinism

Finally, Hard Determinism comes in with a perspective that we have no metaphysical free will and that we have no moral responsibility. It is stringently based on the case put forth by determinism. One of the biggest Hard Determinism philosopher included Peter Strawson’s(the Compatibilist) son, Galen Strawson.

At the end of the day, questioning the existence of free will is a deep and extravagantly enlightening experience that allows you to delve into the world of philosophy.

So ask yourself the question. Was the ice cream you ate last night really by your own free will?