- Freedom of the Will (This post) (October 11, 2011)
- What Free Will Is Good For (October 31, 2011)
- Free Will and the Good (November 3, 2011)
- Goodness: Intrinsic and Instrumental (November 8, 2011)
- An Argument for Moral Pluralism (November 11, 2011)
In my previous series on freedom, I focused on freedom in general. There are various freedom in society such as the freedom of association, speech, expression and excellence. But what in human nature makes these freedoms possible? It is at this point that a discussion on metaphysical freedom begins. Metaphysical freedom is an ability of an individual to freely choose their course of action. There are two main theories of how this works: libertarianism and compatibilism.
Metaphysical freedom is the kind of freedom that we have when we freely choose particular actions, plans, thoughts and the directions our lives take. It is difficult to say much about this particular kind of freedom without referring to a particular theory of how freedom works. This kind of freedom is valuable for two reasons. First, it allows us to choose g0od rather than evil. Second, it allows us to choose one good thing rather than another. The second of these reasons gives us support for our political freedoms. If we wish to choose one form of creative expression rather than another then this is a use of our metaphysical freedom to choose that is also a political freedom.
Lurking in the background are two theories of what the freedom to choose is and how it works. One of these theories is called libertarianism. It is the belief that the freedom to choose means that we can choose to do something or not to do it given the exact same circumstances, beliefs, thoughts and desires. Another theory is called compatibilism. It is the belief that freedom to choose is the same as our ability to choose what we want, desire, plan or some other internal state – even if our wants, desires and plans are completely determined by other forces, circumstances or people. I have only given the barest outline of these two theories. When they are actually examined, there is a lot more detail.
Theories of the freedom of the will are not the only issue in the debate over metaphysical freedom. There are also those who deny the existence of free will. These people are called free-will skeptics. There are some who deny that human beings are morally responsible for anything. Finally, there are those who believe in determinism and those who do not. These extra debates can appear alongside the debate over the nature of freedom itself. So it is possible for someone to affirm the existence of both responsibility and human freedom, deny determinism and be a compatibilist.
Finally, underlying this entire debate is how we should understand human beings. Are we machines operating in lawful world or are we rational substances operating in a rational world? How we understand human beings, morality and the universe will determine what sort of view of human freedom we adopt.