Libertarianism versus Determinism


‘So, a lot of us figure that our thoughts and actions are free. But, most of us also believe that every effect has a cause, and that everything that happens now, in the present, is the necessary result of events that occurred in the past. This view is known as hard determinism. And [many people would argue that both can be true]; that many of your actions are free, and that the world is governed by cause and effect.

But, it turns out, you can’t rationally hold both views. Because, traditionally, libertarians have defined free actions according to what’s known as the Principle of Alternate Possibilities. That might sound like the plot device for a sci-fi show, but this principle says that an action is free only if the agent – that is, the person doing the thing – could have done otherwise.

So, truly free actions require options. Determinism, by contrast, doesn’t allow options. It holds that every event is caused by a previous event. Which means that an agent can never have done anything other than what they did, and therefore, they are never free.’

– Green. H. (2016, August 15) Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24

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3 thoughts on “Libertarianism versus Determinism

  1. Once things happen, they happen a certain way which is impossible to change. And even a question “could things have happened otherwise?” is not very useful at that point. But before things happen, we have an illusion of choice or options because we do not know what is going to happen. Consider looking at a playing card, face up. It’s an ace of spades and you see it. There is no probability that the card is anything else. Asking “what is the probability that the card is an ace of spades?” does not make sense. It’s 1 and the probability of the card being anything else is 0. Now consider looking at the same card, face down. It’s still the same ace of spades, but you don’t know it. And this is when we can discuss “probabilities” and “possibilities”. There is nothing significantly different in the two situations except for your knowledge.

  2. Interesting points! I’ll come back to those, but I want to steer us back to the article for a moment.

    Imagine, a cup was filled with coffee because I decided to make a cup of coffee, but did I make a cup of coffee because I simply felt like getting a cup of coffee? If so, where did my decision to make a cup of coffee come from? Am I the free agent who starts a new causal chain of events leading up to a steaming java? And was there a reason why I acted the way I did? And if so, doesn’t this reinforce the view that I was not free in this matter?

  3. It’s a matter of point of view. You may think you made a decision to make a cup of coffee or you may think that this decision was a result of millions of events resulting in a specific configuration of the neurons in your head that caused you to make this cup. The reality does not change. What changes is what you think about this reality. And funny enough, you can choose to choose or think that your ability to choose is a result of something other than your free will :-).

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