Is Free Will compatible with Determinism?

      Free will is a concept used to refer to the unique capacity of people to exhibit control over their behavior to the effect that they act in a manner which is morally responsible. This concept does not, however, imply that the person concerned only engages in morally acceptable practices at all times. On the other hand, determinism can be delineated as a conjunction between past facts and the laws of nature to dictate future happenings. The implication is that if the laws of nature were to be held constant, then a particular past event would inevitably lead to a specific future happening. Sider (2005) summarizes the concept of determinism by stating that the future is already determined and people can do nothing to change it. This paper will advance the argument that determinism and free will are incompatible, a concept referred to as incompatibilism

        A vast number of philosophers have made clear their diverse views regarding determinism and free will. Peter Van Inwagen, for instance, asserts that the fact that moral responsibility exists points to the requirement that people must be allowed to exercise free will. Otherwise it would be unfair to hold people accountable for their moral actions if their actions are already pre-programmed (Van, 1975).  Scientists such as Sam Harris argue in favor of the concept of determinism by stating that free will can only be an illusion. Nonetheless, scholars are yet to arrive at a consensus about which theory is true, the fact that the debate has gone on for decades notwithstanding (Bandura, 2006).

     By relying on hard determinism arguments, it can be shown that while determinism is true, it cannot coexists with free will. As such, free will simply does not exist. To assert this viewpoint, one can look at how the brain works when a person is faced with a situation in which they are required to choose between various alternatives. Scientists argue that the brain is composed of molecules whose arrangement is dictated by the genes and the environment. If one is to make a decision, molecular-based electrical impulses are transmitted between brain cells. This transmission is usually controlled by the laws of physics. As such, the decisions one makes are consistent with these laws. This control, therefore, implies that even if a person deliberates about the issue prior to arriving at their seemingly appropriate decision, such a deliberation does not have any effect on their ultimate choice (Bandura, 2006).

     Another illustration to underscore that free will does not exist is the behavior of twins who are geographically separated.  In this case, scientists argue that the decisions made by one twin end up to be the same as those made by the other one despite their geographical separation. For instance, when one of them decides to wear a blue dress on a particular day, the other one makes exactly the same decision despite the fact that no communication takes place prior to the decision. Additionally, scientists argue that brain scans carried out on people indicate that the choices they make can be predicted seconds before they actually make them. Brain stimulation has also been used to increase or reduce a person’s sense of control over the decisions they make (Bandura, 2006).

     Scholars also assert that the proponents of free will are wrong as the idea that choice can exist in a world where the future is random is mistaken. Looking at the issue of alcoholism produces further evidence that determinism and free will cannot be compatible. Researchers assert that some people are born with genes which make them more vulnerable to alcohol abuse. These people struggle to quit alcoholism with futility. Their endeavor to stop abusing alcohol means that they have a free will to change their character. These people even go to the extent of seeking the assistance of rehabilitation centers in an effort to procure behavior change. If free will and determinism were compatible, then the mere wish that they stop the character would be enough to see them leave the habit. Since these wishes never become reality, it therefore points to the fact that they are not able to influence the underlying causes which predispose them to the abuse (Bandura 2006).

     In another example, all college students express the desire to score very good grades as they start their higher education. However, factors beyond their control may end up making them unable to post good grades. These factors may for instance include the death of their sponsor so that they are forced to stay away from lecture halls for some time. Some of them also do not manage to complete their studies despite their strong will to do so. This means that causes beyond their control end up interfering with their studies. If free will and determinism were compatible, then each one of them would post the grades they desire and every one would be able to complete their studies (Trueba 1988).

          From the preceding discussions, it is clear that free will and determinism are not compatible. As seen, genes play a key role in determining the future of people as far as academic performance and behavior is concerned. Although people always wish to do the best in the various activities they engage in, other factors beyond their control hand them the quite opposite results. It has also been clearly seen that laws of physics dictate many happenings in life. Certain experiments are not able to produce the desired results as they entail making attempts which are already in violation of the laws of nature.



Bandura, A., 2006. Toward a psychology of human agency. Perspectives on        psychological science, 1(2), 164-180.

Cassirer, E., 1956. Determinism and indeterminism in modern physics.

Sider, T., 2005. Free Will and Determinism. Riddles of Existence, 112-133.

Trueba, H., 1988. Culturally based explanations of minority students’ academic              achievement. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 19(3), 270-287.

Van Inwagen, P., 1975. The incompatibility of free will and determinism. Philosophical    studies27(3), 185-199.