Compatibilism is the belief that free will and determinism are mutually compatible and that it is possible to believe in both without being logically inconsistent.[1] Compatibilists believe freedom can be present or absent in situations for reasons that have nothing to do with metaphysics.[2] They define free will as freedom to act according to one's motives without arbitrary hindrance from other individuals or institutions.

Similarly, political liberty is a non-metaphysical concept.[3] Statements of political liberty, such as the United States Bill of Rights, assume moral liberty: the ability to choose to do otherwise than one does.


Compatibilism was championed by the ancient stoics[4] and medieval scholastics (such as Thomas Aquinas),[5] and by Enlightenment philosophers (like David Hume and Thomas Hobbes).[6] More specifically, the scholastics, including Thomas Aquinas, rejected what would now be called "incompatibilism"—they held that humans could do otherwise than they do, otherwise the concept of sin is meaningless. As for the Jesuits, their concern was to reconcile the claim of God's foreknowledge of who would be saved with moral agency. The term "compatibilism" itself was coined as late as the 20th century.

During the 20th century, compatibilists presented novel arguments that differed from the classical arguments of Hume, Hobbes, and John Stuart Mill.[7] Importantly, Harry Frankfurt popularized what are now known as Frankfurt counterexamples to argue against incompatibilism,[8] and developed a positive account of compatibilist free will based on higher-order volitions.[9] Other "new compatibilists" include Gary Watson, Susan R. Wolf, P. F. Strawson, and R. Jay Wallace.[10]

Contemporary compatibilists range from the philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, particularly in his works Elbow Room (1984) and Freedom Evolves (2003), to the existentialist philosopher Frithjof Bergmann. Perhaps the most renowned contemporary defender of compatibilism is John Martin Fischer.

Defining free will

Compatibilists often define an instance of "free will" as one in which the agent had freedom to act according to their own motivation. That is, the agent was not coerced or restrained. Arthur Schopenhauer famously said, "Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills."[11]

In other words, although an agent may often be free to act according to a motive, the nature of that motive is determined. Also note that this definition of free will does not rely on the truth or falsity of causal determinism.[2] This view also makes free will close to autonomy, the ability to live according to one's own rules, as opposed to being submitted to external domination.

Alternatives as imaginary

Gotland-Froejel-Kirche 03
Saying "there may be a person behind that door" merely expresses ignorance about the one, determined reality

Some compatibilists will hold both causal determinism (all effects have causes) and logical determinism (the future is already determined) to be true. Thus statements about the future (e.g., "it will rain tomorrow") are either true or false when spoken today. This compatibilist free will should not be understood as some kind of ability to have actually chosen differently in an identical situation. A compatibilist can believe that a person can choose between many choices, but the choice is always determined by external factors.[12] If the compatibilist says "I may visit tomorrow, or I may not", he is saying that he does not know what he will choose—if he will choose to follow the subconscious urge to go or not.


Prim clockwork
Compatibilism has much in common with so-called 'Hard Determinism', including moral systems and a belief in Determinism itself

Critics of compatibilism often focus on the definition(s) of free will: incompatibilists may agree that the compatibilists are showing something to be compatible with determinism, but they think that this something ought not to be called "free will". Incompatibilists might accept the "freedom to act" as a necessary criterion for free will, but doubt that it is sufficient. Basically, they demand more of "free will". The incompatibilists believe free will refers to genuine (e.g., absolute, ultimate) alternate possibilities for beliefs, desires, or actions, rather than merely counterfactual ones.

Compatibilism is sometimes called soft determinism pejoratively (William James's term).[13] James accused them of creating a "quagmire of evasion" by stealing the name of freedom to mask their underlying determinism.[13] Immanuel Kant called it a "wretched subterfuge" and "word jugglery".[14] Kant's argument turns on the view that, while all empirical phenomena must result from determining causes, human thought introduces something seemingly not found elsewhere in nature—the ability to conceive of the world in terms of how it ought to be, or how it might otherwise be. For Kant, subjective reasoning is necessarily distinct from how the world is empirically. Because of its capacity to distinguish is from ought, reasoning can 'spontaneously' originate new events without being itself determined by what already exists.[15] It is on this basis that Kant argues against a version of compatibilism in which, for instance, the actions of the criminal are comprehended as a blend of determining forces and free choice, which Kant regards as misusing the word "free". Kant proposes that taking the compatibilist view involves denying the distinctly subjective capacity to re-think an intended course of action in terms of what ought to happen.[14] Ted Honderich explains his view that the mistake of compatibilism is to assert that nothing changes as a consequence of determinism, when clearly we have lost the life-hope of origination.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Coates, D. Justin; McKenna, Michael (February 25, 2015). "Compatibilism". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Podgorski, Daniel (October 16, 2015). "Free Will Twice Defined: On the Linguistic Conflict of Compatibilism and Incompatibilism". The Gemsbok. Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  3. ^ Locke, John (1690). The Second Treatise of Civil Government.
  4. ^ Ricardo Salles, "Compatibilism: Stoic and modern." Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 83.1 (2001): 1-23.
  5. ^ As long as determinism is here understood as the principle that "nothing happens without a cause". Cf. e.g. Summa contra gentiles, the part about Providence, c. 88-91. See also Free will#Free will as a psychological state. In times of the Counter-Reformation views which were close to compatibilism were held openly by at least two Catholic orders: the Jesuits (molinism) and the Dominicans.
  6. ^ Michael McKenna: Compatibilism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). 2009.
  7. ^ Kane, Robert (2005). A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. Oxford University Press. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-19-514970-8.
  8. ^ Kane 2005, p. 83
  9. ^ Kane 2005, p. 94
  10. ^ Kane 2005, pp. 98, 101, 107, 109.
  11. ^ Schopenhauer, Arthur (1945). "On the Freedom of the Will". The Philosophy of American History : The Historical Field Theory. Translated by Morris Zucker. p. 531.
  12. ^ Harry G. Frankfurt (1969). "Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility," Journal of Philosophy 66 (3):829-39.
  13. ^ a b James, William. 1884 "The Dilemma of Determinism", Unitarian Review, September, 1884. Reprinted in The Will to Believe, Dover, 1956, p.149
  14. ^ a b Kant, Immanuel 1788 (1952).The Critique of Practical Reason, in Great Books of the Western World, vol. 42, Kant, Univ. of Chicago, p. 332
  15. ^ Kant, Immanuel 1781 (1949).The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Max Mueller, p. 448
  16. ^ Honderich, Ted 1988 The Consequences of Determinism, p.169
Australian philosophy

Australian philosophy refers to the philosophical tradition of the people of Australia and of its citizens abroad.

Consequence argument

The consequence argument is an argument against compatibilism popularised by Peter van Inwagen. The argument claims that if agents have no control over the facts of the past then the agent has no control of the consequences of those facts.The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives the following syllogism of the argument:

No one has power over the facts of the past and the laws of nature.

The events of the past and the laws of nature entail every fact of the future (i.e., determinism is true)

Therefore, no one has power over the facts of the future.

Or in van Inwagan's own words, in An Essay on Free Will:

If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequence of laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it's not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us. (p. 56)

Cosmology (philosophy)

Philosophical cosmology, philosophy of cosmology or philosophy of cosmos is a discipline directed to the philosophical contemplation of the universe as a totality, and to its conceptual foundations. It draws on several branches of philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of physics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, and on the fundamental theories of physics. The term cosmology was used at least as early as 1730, by German philosopher Christian Wolff, in Cosmologia Generalis.

Danish philosophy

Danish philosophy has a long tradition as part of Western philosophy.

Perhaps the most influential Danish philosopher was Søren Kierkegaard, the creator of Christian existentialism, which inspired the philosophical movement of Existentialism. Kierkegaard had a few Danish followers, including Harald Høffding, who later in his life moved on to join the movement of positivism. Among Kierkegaard's other followers include Jean-Paul Sartre who was impressed with Kierkegaard's views on the individual, and Rollo May, who helped create humanistic psychology.

Early modern philosophy

Early modern philosophy (also classical modern philosophy) is a period in the history of philosophy at the beginning or overlapping with the period known as modern philosophy.

Free will

Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.Free will is closely linked to the concepts of responsibility, praise, guilt, sin, and other judgements which apply only to actions that are freely chosen. It is also connected with the concepts of advice, persuasion, deliberation, and prohibition. Traditionally, only actions that are freely willed are seen as deserving credit or blame. There are numerous different concerns about threats to the possibility of free will, varying by how exactly it is conceived, which is a matter of some debate.

Some conceive free will to be the capacity to make choices in which the outcome has not been determined by past events. Determinism suggests that only one course of events is possible, which is inconsistent with the existence of free will thus conceived. Ancient Greek philosophy identified this issue, which remains a major focus of philosophical debate. The view that conceives free will as incompatible with determinism is called incompatibilism and encompasses both metaphysical libertarianism (the claim that determinism is false and thus free will is at least possible) and hard determinism (the claim that determinism is true and thus free will is not possible). Incompatibilism also encompasses hard incompatibilism, which holds not only determinism but also its negation to be incompatible with free will and thus free will to be impossible whatever the case may be regarding determinism.

In contrast, compatibilists hold that free will is compatible with determinism. Some compatibilists even hold that determinism is necessary for free will, arguing that choice involves preference for one course of action over another, requiring a sense of how choices will turn out. Compatibilists thus consider the debate between libertarians and hard determinists over free will vs determinism a false dilemma. Different compatibilists offer very different definitions of what "free will" even means and consequently find different types of constraints to be relevant to the issue. Classical compatibilists considered free will nothing more than freedom of action, considering one free of will simply if, had one counterfactually wanted to do otherwise, one could have done otherwise without physical impediment. Contemporary compatibilists instead identify free will as a psychological capacity, such as to direct one's behavior in a way responsive to reason, and there are still further different conceptions of free will, each with their own concerns, sharing only the common feature of not finding the possibility of determinism a threat to the possibility of free will.

Illusionism (philosophy)

Illusionism is a metaphysical theory first propounded by professor Saul Smilansky of the University of Haifa. It holds that people have illusory beliefs about free will. Furthermore, it holds that it is both of key importance and morally right that people not be disabused of these beliefs, because the illusion has benefits both to individuals and to society. Belief in hard incompatibilism, argues Smilansky, removes an individual's basis for a sense of self-worth in his or her own achievements. It is "extremely damaging to our view of ourselves, to our sense of achievement, worth, and self-respect".Neither compatibilism nor hard determinism are the whole story, according to Smilansky, and there exists an ultimate perspective in which some parts of compatibilism are valid and some parts of hard determinism are valid. However, Smilansky asserts, the nature of what he terms the fundamental dualism between hard determinism and compatibilism is a morally undesirable one, in that both beliefs, in their absolute forms, have adverse consequences. The distinctions between choice and luck made by compatibilism are important, but wholly undermined by hard determinism. But, conversely, hard determinism undermines the morally important notions of justice and respect, leaving them nothing more than "shallow" notions.Smilansky's thesis is considered a radical one, and other philosophers disagree with it. Professor Derk Pereboom of Cornell University, for example, disagrees that hard incompatibilism necessarily does away with self-worth, because to a large extent that sense of self-worth isn't related to will at all, let alone to free will. Aspects of worthiness such as natural beauty, native physical ability, and intelligence are not voluntary.James Lenman takes a similar line, arguing that Smilansky's expression of the problems is overstated. The problems that he presents are less fundamentally metaphysical than simply practical in nature.


Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that persons have a free will; that there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other. This view is pursued in at least three ways: libertarians deny that the universe is deterministic, the hard determinists deny that any free will exists, and pessimistic incompatibilists (hard indeterminists) deny both that the universe is determined and that free will exists.

Incompatibilism is contrasted with compatibilism, which rejects the determinism/free will dichotomy.

Libertarianism (metaphysics)

Libertarianism is one of the main philosophical positions related to the problems of free will and determinism, which are part of the larger domain of metaphysics. In particular, libertarianism, which is an incompatibilist position, argues that free will is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe and that agents have free will, and that, therefore, determinism is false. One of the first clear formulations of libertarianism is found in John Duns Scotus; in theological context metaphysical libertarianism was notably defended by Jesuit authors like Luis de Molina and Francisco Suárez against rather compatibilist Thomist Báñezianism. Other important metaphysical libertarians in the early modern period were René Descartes, George Berkeley, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Reid. Roderick Chisholm was a prominent defender of libertarianism in the 20th century, and contemporary libertarians include Robert Kane, Peter van Inwagen and Robert Nozick.

List of Slovene philosophers

Slovene philosophy includes philosophers who were either Slovenes or came from what is now Slovenia.

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

List of years in philosophy

The following entries cover events related to the study of philosophy which occurred in the listed year or century.

Moral responsibility

In philosophy, moral responsibility is the status of morally deserving praise, blame, reward, or punishment for an act or omission performed or neglected in accordance with one's moral obligations.

Deciding what (if anything) counts as "morally obligatory" is a principal concern of ethics.

Philosophers refer to people who have moral responsibility for an action as moral agents. Agents have the capability to reflect upon their situation, to form intentions about how they will act, and then to carry out that action. The notion of free will has become an important issue in the debate on whether individuals are ever morally responsible for their actions and, if so, in what sense. Incompatibilists regard determinism as at odds with free will, whereas compatibilists think the two can coexist.

Moral responsibility does not necessarily equate to legal responsibility. A person is legally responsible for an event when a legal system is liable to penalise that person for that event. Although it may often be the case that when a person is morally responsible for an act, they are also legally responsible for it, the two states do not always coincide.

Philosophy of film

The philosophy of film is a branch of aesthetics within the discipline of philosophy that seeks to understand the most basic questions regarding film. Philosophy of film has significant overlap with film theory, a branch of film studies.

Philosophy of geography

Philosophy of geography is the subfield of philosophy which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and axiological issues in geography, with geographic methodology in general, and with more broadly related issues such as the perception and representation of space and place.


Semicompatibilism is the view that causal determinism is compatible with moral responsibility, while making no assertions about the truth of determinism or free will. The term was coined by John Martin Fischer.Prominent semicompatibilists include Sam Harris, and Harry Frankfurt.

Criticisms of this view include the principle of alternative possibilities.

Theological determinism

Theological determinism is a form of predeterminism which states that all events that happen are pre-ordained, or/and predestined to happen, by a God/gods, or that they are destined to occur given its omniscience. Theological determinism exists in a number of religions, including Jainism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also supported by proponents of Classical pantheism such as the Stoics and Baruch Spinoza.

Turkish philosophy

Turkish philosophy has long been affected by Islam and the country's proximity to Greece and ancient Greek philosophy.

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