Without Free Will

Lots of important people in the sciences and philosophy say that free will—the human capacity to think and do either this or do that—is a myth, a delusion. Some go so far as to recommend revamping the legal system and our ideas of ethics or morality so that concepts of guilt, innocence, responsibility, and so forth can be abandoned. No one is guilty of anything, they hold, since no one could have done anything other than what he or she did. This is just one notion that follows from the denial of free will in human life. What are some others?

Regret is out; so is pride. Apologies are pointless since no one could have acted better than she or he did. Certainly no one can be blamed for anything. Or praised. Just as it makes no sense to blame the weather for being unpleasant, even horrible, or to praise it for being great, so none of the awful stuff that people do can be blamed on them. All just happens as it must. That means, also, that editorials that congratulate some and those that chide others are equally nonsensical, gobbledygook, if there’s no free will. Forget about admiration, too, for no deed is a function of individual good judgment and effort. It’s like nice flowers that simply grow as they, too, must. Artists must do their art, murderers must do their murders. No alternative to any of it is possible, just as the way a river runs is how it must run.

Most difficult to swallow, though, is that none of what I am saying or writing here—or anything anyone else has said or written or is saying or writing or ever will say or write—is any more true or false than is the noise made by ocean waves. This follows because the very idea of truth—the independent, objective identification of reality by an unprejudiced mind—is also dead without free will. You affirm free will? No matter, you had to do it, just as, if you were to deny it, that too had to happen. The issue of which view is right cannot arise either, since when anyone claims that one is right and the other isn’t or vice versa—that, too, has to happen as it does.

Juries also must come up with the verdicts that they do—they have no freedom in their deliberations. Scientists, too must believe as they do, as must science’s detractors. Creationists cannot help but believe as they do; the same is true for Darwinians. Everyone has the beliefs he or she must have, as the unstoppable chain of causal connections has made it necessary. Qué sera, sera!

But this, of course, means that the very belief in (or disbelief in) free will (or determinism) itself amounts to something that just happens to people. Arguing is pointless and no more producing of truth (or falsehood) than the squawking of a parrot or the noise of a tape recorder.

Of course, all of this could be as I say, but none could know it because knowledge itself requires freedom of judgment, a capacity to research and think about issues without prejudice, without being driven to reach some given conclusion.

As near as I can figure, being without free will makes no sense because giving up all the things one must in order to jettison free will is nonsensical. But that may not be a decisive enough argument in support of free will. What would be?

Among other things that would have to be dealt with in constructing an incontestable defense of free will would be to explain why so many serious folks can so easily come to believe that tossing free will makes sense, despite all of what follows from doing so. What might be amiss with their framework, with how they go about considering this matter?

Getting to the bottom of this topic will require a great deal besides simply listing all the unsavory things that we would have to do in order to get by without free will. Still, considering what life would be like without free will, this is a good starting point for seriously considering the matter.


Lots of important people in the sciences and philosophy say that free will—the human capacity to think and do either this or do that—is a myth, a delusion. Some go so far as to recommend revamping the legal system and our ideas of ethics or morality so that concepts of guilt, innocence, responsibility, and so …

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