Free Will Exists
A common topic in philosophy. I find it quite interesting and fun to debate. Please comment if you want to accept this.
Please note that following the Rules is mandatory, and violating them will cost you conduct points and, possibly, result in a loss. Acceptance of the debate is regarded as an acceptance of the Rules. Any issues/questions/requests must be dealt with before the debate in the comments section.
Free will - the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces. 
Exist - to have actual being; be. 
Burden of Proof
As this is not an obvious or easy topic by any means, nor is there any consensus on this, the burden of proof is shared and equal between both positions. Pro will need to show that free will exists, while Con (me) will need to show that free will doesn't exist.
Round 1: Acceptance only. No arguments.
Round 2: Con's Case; Pro's Case. No rebuttals.
Round 3: Con's Rebuttals; Pro's Rebuttals. New arguments allowed.
Round 4: Con's Rebuttals and Conclusion; Pro's Rebuttals and Conclusion. No new arguments.
1. The Definitions above must be accepted. It is forbidden to alter them in any way.
2. The Burden of Proof must not be shifted or altered.
3. The Structure of the debate must be strictly followed.
4. No kritiks or semantics.
5. No trolling or swearing.
6. No personal attacks.
7. Sources must be cited at the end of the round. Do not use the comments section for that.
I would like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate. Hopefully, this will be an enjoyable experience for both of us, and the readers. I will now supply my argument against free will.
In order for me to show that the free will hypothesis is unreasonable, I will need to argue against the assumptions of free will, that is:
In general, everything that happens must have happened because of some cause. Thus, any thoughts that arise, or any intentions or actions that one makes, must have been caused by something. One cannot alter causality, because one is governed by causality. There does not seem to be any evidence suggesting that one has free will, because the existence of causality necessarily limits your choices and actions, and such limitations contradict free will.
This is an argument which I adapted from a speech by Sam Harris.  It shows that there is absolutely no evidence of free will. The argument goes as follows:
b) Similarly, Chun Siong Soon has found similar results in his experiments, where an unconscious cause preceded the conscious decision to act. 
c) Stefan Bode was able to experimentally predict decisions, by looking at brain activity 
In essence, these are my three main arguments, which should be refuted by my opponent. I will likely provide additional arguments together with my rebuttals in the next round.
First, let me mention something in this debate something that was already brought up in the comments. When we say that free will exists we are not saying that it is a "thing," either physical or spiritual, which could be interacted with. Free will is a way of describing the human condition and our ability to, at some level, make a choice that is not entirely determined.
I will not waste time with complex philosophy or multilayered arguments when the evidence can be plainly seen by all. The evidence for free will is this: We have the experience of making choices. Each of us knows what it is to exercise our free will. If Con responds to this post, he has used his will to do so. As Augustine of Hippo said, "Do not ask if you have a choice. The fact that you desire to know is evidence enough that you do."*
Is it possible that our experience is mistaken? Is it possible that our free will is an illusion? Of course! Anything is possible, but that is not a reason to say that it is so. We rightly trust our own experiences unless we have overwhelming reason not to. If we cannot trust our experience of free will then we cannot trust any experience, and therefore any evidence against free will that we encounter would also be untrustworthy.
Allow me to make an analogy. Imagine that you are walking through an orchard, you come across an apple tree, and you pick and apple. You then say, "This is not really an apple. It looks like an apple. It feels, smells and tastes like an apple. Everything I am currently experiencing tells me that it is an apple. But I still don"t think that it is apple."
That is what it is like to argue against free will. The very act of arguing against the will requires us to use our will. We must deny our own experiences at this moment in order to say that free will does not exist. And if we say that our experience of free will is untrustworthy, what makes any of our other experiences trustworthy?
The evidence is plain and insurmountable. We can make all the arguments we want, but at the end of the day we each have the choice at this moment to close our eyes or leave them open, to continue reading or to choose not to finish reading this sentence. We each have free will, and we are exercising it at this moment.
I will respond to Con"s arguments in my next post.
*On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine of Hippo, p2.
Thank you for posting your argument. I will dedicate this round to rebuttals.
Before I start, I'd like to say that I indeed agree with you on the definition of free will that we have discussed in the comments. It seems unlikely or impossible that free will is a physical or a spiritual "thing", as you have put it. Rather, I see it as a way to describe the nature of human thought and choices. I argue that this description contradicts the evidence that we have, and that it is not compatible with our reality. This is basically what I mean when I say that free will doesn't exist.
1. Argument from experience.
My opponent tries to support free will by providing evidence from experience. He states that humans are able to experience their choices, and, thus, have free will. He argues that I responded to his post because I exercised my own will, and that this qualifies as evidence for free will.
However, I would completely disagree with the conclusion that our experience can be seen as a plain and obvious evidence for free will. I would like to reiterate some of my points that I brought up in my arguments in the 2nd round, especially in the "Pick a City" argument:
a) Our experience shows that our thoughts, ideas and choices simply pop up in our minds.
b) We do not have control over which choices pop up.
c) We do not ultimately know why we choose something that we choose.
Therefore, while we are able to experience our choices, it would seem that we experience them from a spectator's perspective, rather than from the perspective of an active entity, which is ultimately responsible for those choices. I see this as evidence against free will, rather than for free will. In essence, our experience is not only compatible with the notion of determinism, it actually shows evidence for it.
My opponent tries to reinforce his argument by stating that "If Con responds to this post, he has used his will to do so". However, please notice that my will is not necessarily free in this case. Indeed, my response was likely predetermined by my opponent's statements & actions, the debate topic, format and the deadline. While I did, in a narrow sense, choose to post this rebuttal, I do not know why I ultimately chose this option, nor do I know why the reasons that I mentioned above had the effect that they had on my choice. Indeed, I could have chosen a completely different debate topic altogether, yet I chose to debate Free Will, and I, from my experience, certainly could not claim that I could have chosen otherwise, under the same circumstances.
To sum up this point in a sentence, I want to say that while we are able to experience our choices, we are not able to choose our choices, nor are we able to know why we choose what we choose. As I said in my original argument, this contradicts the notion of free will.
2. Our experience is unreliable.
My opponent says that, if we assume that our experience is untrustworthy, then any evidence for and against free will is untrustworthy. He then provides an analogy about an apple, explaining how our experience and evidence leads to the conclusion that we have free will.
I do not see the reason to argue against this, because I never said that free will doesn't exist because of the unreliability of our experience. I am indeed using arguments from experience myself in order to prove my case that free will is illusory. Indeed, if there is any place to look for evidence for/against free will, I would see human experience as the main source for such evidence, due to the nature of the definition of free will.
My opponent, however, seems to misinterpret the experience itself. While I see our experience as something that contradicts free will, he sees our experience as something that shows evidence for free will. I have argued for why my arguments on this matter are stronger both in this, and in the previous round.
3. The evidence is plain and insurmountable?
My opponent provides several examples, supposedly showing evidence for free will. He says that we exercise free will, because:
a) "we each have the choice at this moment to close our eyes or leave them open"
b) "to continue reading or to choose not to finish reading this sentence"
However, he provides no evidence at all for his assertion that we have those choices. Using similar argumentation that I used above, I would rather say that we do not have such choices, or, at the very best, we can only observe what we choose, not actually choose what we choose.
Taking into account my arguments from 2nd round, and taking into account our deterministic model of the brain, I can only reiterate what I said: the choices that we make are not under our control. Firstly, we do not have control of our cellular and molecular machinery on which such choices rely on. Secondly, we cannot, from experience, see any evidence that we can actually make such choices psychologically. Both from experience, and from experiments, it seems that our choices are both determined, and, in some cases, predictable. In essence, they are not free.
With this, I'd like to conclude my rebuttals. I'd like to again thank my opponent for engaging in this debate. I now await his rebuttals/arguments before we move on to the last round.
1. The universe is governed by causality.
This is such a common fallacy that I made mention of in my opening case. In terms of the physical universe being governed by causality, this seems true. Physical objects based on causality.
However, as we Con agreed before beginning this debate, free will is not a physical thing to be governed by the laws of the physical world. Free will is a way of describing human choices and not something that can directly effect by gravity or the like.
On the philosophical side, the events which lead up to a person making a choice might be determined, but that does not mean that the choice itself is determined. There may be a cause the forces me to choose between writing this sentence or doing something else, but that cause does not make the choice for me. I still make a choice, even though the need to make a choice is caused.
Limitations on free will do not mean that there is no free will. As long as there is some level of choice then free will much exist. The human condition may be partly deterministic, but partly deterministic is still partly free. If people have the ability to make a choice at any level, no matter how limited, then free will dose exist.
The example of someone with brain tumor is in fact an excellent example against Con"s case. A person tumor could indeed "facilitate aggressiveness and rage in a patient." That is an issue of emotion, but not of free will. The issue of the will comes with what a person does with those experiences of aggressiveness and rage. The fact that not all people who experience rage and remain unrestrained then "inflict physical harm to other people" helps us see that people do indeed have a choice. People may experience emotions, such as rage, which are beyond their control. Some people then then act violently, while others choose to restrain their rage and not act upon.
The ability to feel something and not act on it is one the most important things that most sets people apart from other animals, and it is clear example of free will.
2. "Pick a City" argument.
The "pick a city" is really just word play. All reasonable people make assumptions in their speech that do not need to be stated explicitly.
For instance, in baseball someone might say, "Throw the ball as fast as possible!" Taken literally, that statement would be a command to throw the ball at 299,792,458 meters per second, the speed of light in a vacuum. 
However, all reasonable people recognize that is not the intended meaning. The intended meaning of the statement "Throw the ball as fast as possible" is "Throw the ball as fast as you are able to while still maintaining control of where it goes without risking injury to yourself or anyone else."
Of course we don"t say that lengthy second sentence because there is no need to. The intended meaning of the statement "Throw the ball as fast as possible" is easily inferred.
Similarly, when someone says, "Pick any city you want," they do not mean that in an absolutely literal sense. All reasonable people understand that sentence is, "Of the cities you know of that occur to you at this moment, and for any considered or unconsidered reason, pick any city you want."
We don"t say the lengthier second sentence, and there is no need to. The intended meaning of the statement "Pick any city you want" is easily inferred.
3. Experimental evidence against free will.
There may well be subconscious intentions before conscious intentions forms. How does this argue against free will? The subconscious is still a part of the person. Subconscious decisions can still be freely made.
Also, these experiments are a long way from establishing that subconscious thoughts will always determine that final conscious choice. The idea "it is, in theory, possible to predict, what action a subject will make before the subject has consciously decided to make that action" may be true, but only in theory. There is simply not enough evidence to support the claim in practice.
I would also agree that human choices are often predictable, except when they are not. That is the nature of choice. People always act a certain way, except when they don"t. People tend to act in ways that maximize good while minimizing bad, but that does not show the choices they are making are not genuine choices.
This is the last round of the debate and, therefore, I will use it to defend my original arguments, which my opponent attempted to rebut in the previous round. Finally, I will summarize the debate.
1. Defense of the causality argument.
A. My opponent asserts that my argument from causality is fallacious, because "free will is not a physical thing to be governed by the laws of the physical world." Indeed, we did agree that the concept of free will is itself just a concept and not a physical thing, but that does not mean that our thoughts cannot be predetermined by physical laws. Our thoughts arise by completely neurophysiological processes, which are governed by the interactions of molecular biology and physics. Therefore, if I were to show that our thoughts are deterministic, the definition of free will that we have agreed on would contradict reality, which is exactly what I have shown in the previous rounds. I have clearly stated the relationship between our ideas and thoughts (which are physical) and the concept of free will (which is a concept). My opponent seems to have misunderstood my points. My whole debate strategy was simply to show that the hypothesis of free will fails to correctly describe the nature of human thoughts, ideas and choices.
B. My opponent asserts that "the events which lead up to a person making a choice might be determined, but that does not mean that the choice itself is determined." Furthermore, he states that "There may be a cause the forces me to choose between writing this sentence or doing something else, but that cause does not make the choice for me". Additionally, he implies that we are only partly deterministic, which allows us to have some freedom. Please note that my opponent never supported these statements. I fail to see his reasoning why his choices are not predetermined, if everything else is. All of our decisions and thinking are by nature neurophysiological. I do not see where the extra freedom that my opponent argues for is coming from. Moreover, I have provided several reasons, both from experience and from scientific experimentation, why we cannot actually actively make our choices in a manner that is described by the concept of free will.
C. My opponent argues that my example of brain tumor contradicts my point of view, arguing that those effects are issues of emotion, but not of free will. But it is completely obvious that if we cannot control our emotions, which may or may not arise from brain tumours, we are not in control of our conscious actions either. If one is already predisposed to agressiveness and rage (or, indeed, any emotions), a predisposition that comes directly from the physical brain, that person would not be in control of his actions. If one has a rage disorder, for instance, you would not expect such a person to behave calmly, because that person would never make such a choice. He is not able to freely determine his following actions, because he already has a neurophysiological bias, which is not only partly deterministic, but also fully deterministic, as I have argued on several occasions throughout this debate. I do not see how my opponent could claim that this example negates my position.
My opponent claims that "The fact that not all people who experience rage and remain unrestrained then "inflict physical harm to other people" helps us see that people do indeed have a choice." This is a non-sequitur. Just because people act differently in similar situations does not mean that they have free choice. This is because all of us are inherently neurophysiologically different. You will never find two identical tumours with absolutely identical effects on the brainø nor will you find two identical brains. The input information always varies, and, due to causal effects, the results vary. You cannot make valid comparisons here, nor can you make any conclusions from those. The fact that people behave differently is not a valid argument for free will.
D. My opponent states that "The ability to feel something and not act on it is one the most important things that most sets people apart from other animals, and it is clear example of free will." I would argue that many other animals are by their neurophysiological nature identically deterministic, just as humans, since brains function through molecular biology, physical interactions and electrochemical neurocircuits. My opponent never contested this point and he never showed how a biologically deterministic system,such as the brain, could result in non-deterministic choices and actions.
2. Defense of the "Pick a City" argument.
My opponent asserts that my argument relies on word play, arguing that it is analogical to the "throw the ball as fast as possible" scenario. However, it seems that he misses the point completely. My argument relies on the impossibility to have a free, unlimited choice, with all possible options available. It has nothing to do with the analogy of throwing a ball that my opponent provided. I fail to see the connection.
However, even if we allow that this point (2a) does not contradict free will, my argument still stands due to the points (2b) and (2c), which offer further limitations, which are certainly not word play, but arise due to the impossibility to know where one's choices come from, and due to the impossibility to accurately and absolutely assess one's reasons for one's choices. My opponent completely dropped those points and never contested them.
3. Defense of the Experimental evidence.
My opponent comes up with an assertion that "subconscious decision can still be freely made." Please note that he never provides any evidence for this statement. Moreover, my opponent tries to change the definition of free will and includes the subconscious as a valid reason for free will. This is nonsense, because obviously a free decision must necessarily be a conscious one. A free decision is that, of which a person is completely aware of and is ultimately responsible for. The subconscious decisions are no more the responsibility of a human than the decisions by the bacteria in our gut. The conscious is what we are talking about here.
My opponent argues that the experiments predict human actions only in theory, but it shows that he has not read those sources. My citations clearly show that such predictions were made in practice. Furthermore, the fact that some decisions cannot be predicted are not due to free will, but to the complexity of human brain. A complex system can still be unpredictable, even though it is fully deterministic. The weather is an example of this.
I still maintain that my arguments are completely sound and my opponent failed to meet his burden of proof. Also, I think that I have successfully managed to rebut my opponents points. Vote Con.
My central argument remains that we have the experience of free will, which is sufficient evidence to say that free will exists.
Con argues that our experience shows that our thoughts, ideas and choices simply pop into our minds and that we do not have control over which choices pop up. However, this does not fit with our actual experience. Yes, some thoughts may simply pop into our minds, and some choices may be instantaneous. However, we also make choices for which we have considered the available information. The choice to, say, blink might often happen spontaneously, but we also have the option at any given moment to consciously choose to blink or not blink.
Con also says that we do not ultimately know why we choose something we choose. Indeed there are some choices for which we put in little thought and do not consider why we made the choices we made. However, there are also choices which we make in which we do no why made such choices. We each have the experience of considering the information available, making a choice, a being able clearly state the reasons why we made that choice.
Con then writes the he did, in a narrow sense, choose to post his rebuttal (doesn"t that pretty well end this debate?), but that he doesn"t know why he chose that option. Yet in the same paragraph he told us the reasons that informed his choice " the debate topic, format and deadline. These reasons cannot be said to cause his choice " a deadline do not actually force someone to write something " but it clear the Con did consider his options and does know why he made a specific choice.
In his second point, Con and I are in agreement that we should not consider our experiences unreliable. Therefore nothing else need be said on this topic.
Finally, concerning our experience of making choice, such shutting our eyes or reading this debate, Con says I provide no evidence at all for his assertion that we have made those choices.
Yet it is the experience of making a choice that is the evidence itself. If one were to look at the White House and say, "That building is white," there would be no need to add additional evidence to show that the building is white. The experience of seeing a white building is sufficient evidence in itself.
Perhaps all of this debate can in the end be summed up by our experiences. Con writes, "If there is any place to look for evidence for/against free will, I would see human experience as the main source for such evidence, due to the nature of the definition of free will." In contrast, I say that our experiences reveal the existence of free will.
So now you, the reader, have the evidence easily available in your own life. If your experience is that you have no choice in voting on this debate, if your experience is that the way you will vote is determined and beyond your control, then you should vote Con. However, if your experience is that you do have a choice, if your experience is that you can consider the arguments made by both sides and decided for yourself which way you will vote understand why you made that choice, then you should vote Pro. The choice is yours.
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