The Classical Argument Against Free Will: Determinism

Determinism can be interpreted in many ways. Is everything certain or do we as a people have control over what we do? The problem of free will is one of the most famous problems in philosophy. Many philosophers have thrown themselves into it, and many arguments have been fought on paper. But what is this problem based on? There are many arguments back and forth, but there is one standard argument against free will that forms the basis of the discussion. By understanding this argument, you can better follow the rest of the discussion.

The standard argument against free will:determinism

The standard argument against free will poses a problem for our normal thinking about guilt and merit. That is why there is a lot at stake.

Step 1: Recognition materialism

Materialism – the true thesis that everything consists of matter, of physical parts – means the end for the free will of man.

Step 2: Definition free will

The free will consists in that you could not have done an act; that the final choice as to whether or not something happens to you, and is not already determined.

Step 3a: Natural laws, molecules, and determinism

However, we could not have done otherwise. The mind is produced by the brain. The brain determines what people do and think. But the brain consists entirely of matter, of molecules and the like. And these molecules move according to established natural laws (or coincidence in quantum mechanics). If all parts of the brain, the molecules, move according to established laws, then the actions of the brain as a whole are also determined by the laws of nature (gravity, collision and movement laws, similar to billiard balls). Our actions are determined by natural laws.

Step 3b: An all-knowing being

This means that someone’s actions are fixed, even though nobody has enough knowledge to predict what someone will do or think. If there was a being who knew everything about all molecules, he could predict the actions and thinking of people. A person cannot do anything else than what he does because he consists of molecules.

Step 4: Determined free choice

Now some will say that they can raise their arm or not. And that they can make that choice. It depends on their will and therefore they are free. Actions are indeed often driven by a will, but this will consist of molecules in the brain. You can do what you want, but what you want comes to mind – you don’t control that yourself, those are the molecules that move according to fixed laws of nature.

Step 5: No responsibility

Therefore, there is no real responsibility and guilt, because there is no freedom. People could not have done anything other than what they did, because they are part of nature and matter, which run according to fixed laws. Nobody deserves punishment, it is useful for society at most.

Reactions to the argument


Philosophers have handled this argument in various ways. Some doubt step 1 and think that man has a soul, something different from molecules and atoms. The criticism of other philosophers is how a soul and a body can work together if they are different things. Descartes, for example, struggled with this problem.


Some thinkers doubt the definition of free will or Determinism generally. Instead of emphasizing that someone could have done it differently, they state that someone is free if he agrees with his wishes. Someone who smokes, but actually wants to quit, is not free.

Natural laws

Some philosophers state that the laws of nature do not fully apply to people, even though they consist of molecules. Laws are disrupted when molecules are organized into large units. Biological rules cannot be translated into molecular laws, say these philosophers. The life force disrupts the laws. And biological organisms with a capacity for thought and language are organized differently. The organization of the spirit/thought world disrupts the laws even more.


Some philosophers think that we don’t have to be completely free for responsibility. Talking in terms of responsibility – this is your fault, this is your merit – is simply how people interact. It has a function in dealing with each other and people cannot help but think (unknowingly) in those terms. The responsibility therefore remains. They are called compatibilist: determinism and responsibility can exist at the same time, it is compatible.

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