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The Contender
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Free will does not exist

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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/27/2013 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,575 times Debate No: 32997
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (4)
Votes (3)




I am arguing that free will does not exist with human beings. First round for acceptance, no new arguments in last round.

Free will is a particular sort of capacity of rational agents to choose a course of action from among various alternatives.

I am therefore arguing that each human has only one possible 'choice' in any given situation.


I hearby formally accept the decree of challenge presented by my opponent, Duckserto.

That sounded a lot better in my head...
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for accepting in such a fanciful way. This is my first round of debate, so please let me know if I'm doing something incorrectly.

I would like to approach this debate from two different perspectives: 1) a theoretical approach and 2) a more practical approach.

1) The decisions people make are decided by their personality, which is who they are. So a question then becomes what makes a person who they are? Do they have a "choice" over that? The answer is no.

Assuming both sides of the nature vs nurture debate are relevant, a person is determined by both their heritage and their environment, neither of which a person has control over. If a person cannot control who they are (which determines the decisions they make), then they cannot control the decisions they make by extension, it's simple logic. This could prove convincing point on its own, but I'd like to expand this approach.

One way to approach the underlying reasons we make decisions is to look at causality. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes explains causality in Elements of Philosophy: an agent affects the patient (the object affected) when it is the necessary action of physics. When a patient is influenced by an agent, the patient will become an agent itself, and so on until the end of time. In other words, there is only one outcome of any given situation, and the objects effected will go on to effect other objects. Even something as freeflowing as smoke is actually very determinate: where the smoke flows and dissipates depends on the temperature of the smoke, the temperature of the outside environment, air pressure, etc. Any physical action can only have one outcome when all the factors are considered.

The same can be said of the human brain in heritage: when one specific sperm and one specific egg meet, the physical brain that is created by the two cannot be any different if all the factors remain exactly the same (temperature, nutrition, blood type, etc). Similarly, that brain can be no different when all of the same stimuli are present, experiences shape the mind and to be a different person the experiences would need to be different; nobody has control over their environment.

For example, when you see little brats running around a store and yelling at each other, what do you think? Those parents are not raising their children very well, those kids are going to grow up and be a-holes. Why? Because environment creates habit. Using that same logic then, why is the parent to blame? Aren't they simply the way that they are because of how their parents raised them, and so on?

When we think of hypotheticals or a different possible outcome of a situation, we are looking at a situation in which physics is different, where the outcome of the agent/patient relationship had a different set of factors that caused a different necessary outcome with the exact same natural laws. This is impossible, since there is only one universe we live in and only one set of natural laws; the brain, along with synapses and neurons, are part of the physical world we live in and are subjected to the same physics of the universe like any other material thing. If my opponent disagrees on this point, I would be happy to go more in depth using the psychology of William James.

Going back to the smoke example however, the smoke has only one option based of what is comprised within the smoke and the environment around the smoke. However, if the smoke were self-aware it would also believe itself to have free will in it's movements. The same can be said of the human brain; simply because we are AWARE that we are having thoughts, we assume that we control them. We do not. All thoughts are connected, because all neurons are connected. You see a dog on the sidewalk, so you think of animals, and then zoos, and then that experience you had at the zoo. This is why those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have such difficulty in every day lives; certain stimuli triggers their thoughts into something traumatizing. Any attempt to 'randomize' thought is futile: you thinking of something 'random' is only a result because I made the claim that it cannot be random and you are challenging it, and any thought you have is somehow connected in your mind to 'random', such as a zebra or pink elephants.

An example Hobbes uses is just "as when a man throws his goods into the sea for fear the ship should sink" So a man sometimes pays his debt, only for fear of Imprisonment"" The reason for an action is grounded in the agent/patient necessity and without that previous stimuli, the resulting action would not have occurred. These examples greatly oversimplify the issue, our brains take in a significant amount more information that affect our decisions than we are aware, if my opponent disagrees I will be happy to provide sources of subconscious manipulation. Just as any other part of the physical world, the human mind is a continuous reaction to previous actions that flow necessarily from those causes.

On the other hand, some philosophers view humanity as "non-beings" whose being, moment to moment, is simply to choose. In response, the rebuttal can be made that every human has a "nature" that determines what we have the "option" to choose from, and our past choices and environmental influences also shape the possibilities for us at that specific moment. There are clearly influences over the decisions we make, and having a broad brush of freedom without influences is an unrealistic conclusion.

Another contention I would like to bring up is that the human mind can only think of ideas and thoughts once they have been created, we are not able to decide what we think beforehand, we are simply subjected to our thoughts as they come up; where is the free will in that? To have "free will", we would need to be able to have complete control over our thoughts and influences. Since we cannot control our minds to that degree (for example, not being able to fully understand why we want something specific like a burrito in one moment, but something completely different in another, we just know it), we are influenced without our knowledge. But even if we did have complete control over our influences, what would influence our decision over those influences? More influences? Free will itself is a paradox.

2). The next area I would like to explore is that of neurological science. One of the scientific sources I will use was written by Dr. J. D. Haynes on an experiment where Haynes and other researchers used modern neurological readers to determining whether or not human decisions could be traced in the brain ( The results were extremely astonishing and persuasive: in a study where subjects were given a series of two numbers and told to pick one at their leisure, the subjects" decision could be traced back to the mind and predicted which number they would pick, a full 7-10 seconds before they had even made their decision, let alone act.

Another study found that using only a mere 256 neurons, scientists are able to predict with 80% accuracy exactly which decision a human will make a complete 700 milliseconds before the mind has actually reached the decision and told itself that the idea was self-generated and free will (

The brain is the most complex organ known to man, and we are still centuries away from fulling understanding its action. While these studies are little more than a step in the right direction, I believe they still help support my argument.

I look forward to this debate and thank my opponent for accepting! If I need to make my future rounds shorter, I apologize for the rambling.


Contextual Definitions

Causal Determinism

"Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature" (3).

"For centuries following Newton, causality was understood in terms of a "colliding billiard ball" model of particles, based on the idea of "energy transfer" among particles that obey the laws of classical mechanics, including the fundamental laws of conservation of energy and momentum. Fundamental particles were assumed not to transform into different physical particles. Partical trajectories were thought to be entirely determined by physical properties such as mass and momentum. This energy transfer conception of causality was deterministic. If a demon could know with absolute precision the locations, masses, momenta, and all other physical properties of all elementary particles everywhere, the whole future and past of the universe could in principle be known to it" (4).

Underview: Determinism is the foundation in which a case against free will is built. If all actions are determined, then we cannot have free will as we cannot actually make decisions. If not all actions are determined, then there must be some conscious activity that causes our action, i.e. free will. Even if this is not true in every action, I will prove that in at least one action we exhibit free will. If a single drop of water falls from the sky it has rained. In the same vein, if a single account of free will can be proven, free will must exist. If it rained, water must have fallen from the sky and water must exist. If free will is utilized, free will must too exist. The antecedent is proven through the soundness of the argument's conclusion.


"Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical" (1).

"Physicalism maintains that there is only one fundamental substance or substrate, namely energy, changing within space-time in a manner that is best described by the laws of physics" (2).

Underview: The validity of physicalism is a necessary criterion for even considering determinism. I will not dispute physicalism and will operate under the assumption that it is true.


Ontology is the study of being, of what is. It is, "The study of the most general features of what there is, and how the things there are relate to each other in the metaphysically most general ways" (5).

Ontological pluralism is, "The doctrine that some things exist in a different way that other things. For the ontological pluralist there is more t olearn about an object's existential status than merely whether it is or is not: there is still the question of how that entity exists" (6).

Ontological monism then is the doctring that all things exist in the same way as other things.

Underview: Ontological monism is necessary for determinism. The assumption that all particles exist in the same way, and that all atoms exist in the same way, is necessary to make definitive and monistic statements about the nature of causation. This is true because determinism assumes the soundness of counterfactual definiteness. "Counterfactual definiteness refers to the idea that certain properties, such as momentum or position, have a definitive state, even when they are not measured or not known" (7). Ontological pluralism allows for there to be multiple states of existence, in which case the state of unknown properties may be ontologically indeterminate. Therefore my case is that ontological indeterminism proves causal determinism false.

Quantum Physics

Einstein's theory of physics, that which concludes in determinism, rejects the probabilistic nature of quantum physics. He argues that at its most basic level, causation is deterministic because nature does not simply "play dice." Therefore, to explain causal determinism Newtonian physicists adopted hidden variables determinism (8). Peter Ulric Tse explains that, "According to advocates of such 'hidden variables determinism," the probability density functions whose dynamics are given by the equations of quantum physics describe uncertainty in our knowledge of partical locations and movements, not any kind of actual nonspecificity of partical locations, momenta, energies, or durations" (9). However, Bell's research which has been confirmed later through other studies has ruled out hidden local variables, i.e. hidden causes that are locally relevant in proximity to the event that occured. This means that rational conceptions of quantum mechanics, "Must either allow for nonlocal coordination or correlation of the states of distant physical events, or the must violate 'counterfactual definiteness'" (10).

Determinism is then faced with an ultimatum: "Either determinists must accept that there are causal chains involving nonlocal correlations that are instantaneous (leaving them with the problem of explaining how coordination of partical attributes ... can occur at faster than the speed of light with other 'entangled' particles over arbitrarily large distances), or they must accept that unmeasured properties do not have a definite ontological state at times when they are not measured" (11). If my opponent chooses to advocate the former, he must present a case for its soundness. The latter concludes that, "To accept that particle properties are ontologically unspecified when not measured would be tantamount to accepting ontological indeterminism, since nonspecific properties are by definition indeterminate" (12).

Underview: Determinism is clearly false as evidence points towards the soundness of ontological indeterminism. This is important as we address the aspect in which determinism attempts to exclude mental activity from physical causation. The argument from determinism is that the physical operates under a sense of closure, or that there can be no input to a causal chain once it has begun. In other words:

A => B => C => ad infinitum.

If the physical operates under an open system then we have the possibility of:

A => B => C



In basic terms, in a closed system there is only one possible set of events that could occur after the first cause is set into motion. In a closed system, however, other sources of input may alter the chain. In other words, the chain has multiple possible outcomes. If this is true, free will is rationally true. The idea that our actions cannot be influenced by mental activity collapses when alternative sources of input may change our actions other than neural transmitters themselves.

Occurences of Input

The prior claim is evidenced by a study in which acts of self-control are shown to reduce the level of glucose in our blood and that people with a drained reserve of glucose are unable to effectively display self-control. Drinking lemonade and increasing our glucose made self-control easier, yet drinking lemonade with a glucose-free substitute did not yield the same benefit. Therefore glucose serves as an energy source, similar to out metaphorical conception of willpower, that allows us to make conscious decisions of restraint. If conscious restraint is possible, then free will must exist as we have the option not to restrain outselves.


1. Stoljar, Daniel. Physicalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. February 13th, 2001; Rev. September 9th, 2009.
2. Tse, Peter Ulric. Neural Basis of Free Will. February 22nd, 2013. Page 241. Print.
3. Hoefer, Carl. Causal Determinism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. January 23rd, 2003; Rev. Jan 21st, 2010.;
4. Tse, Peter Ulric. Neural Basis of Free Will. February 22nd, 2013. Page 241. Print.
5. Hofweber, Thomas. Logic and Ontology. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. October 4th, 2004; Rev. August 30th, 2011.

Debate Round No. 2


Duckserto forfeited this round.


Because my opponent cannot post arguments in round three, per his own rules, and because my case precludes my opponent's arguments, this should be an easy Con vote.
Debate Round No. 3


Duckserto forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by Lucky_Luciano 4 years ago
My sources got cut off by the character limit.

6. McDaniel, Kris. Being and Almost Nothingness. 2010.
7. Tse, Peter Ulric. Neural Basis of Free Will. February 22nd, 2013. Page 243. Print.
8. ibid. Page 242.
9. ibid.
10. ibid. Page 243.
11. ibid.
12. ibid.

And here's the source for the glucose study.


If you provide an argument for instantaneous, nonlocal, causal chains then I will refute your case proper in the next round.
Posted by Duckserto 4 years ago
Voting period changed to two weeks!
Posted by Lucky_Luciano 4 years ago
Make the voting period 2 weeks and I will accept. Voting comes by very slowly for deeper debates on this site.
Posted by Ragnar 4 years ago
This will be deep. Kind of funny how both highly religious people and atheists can be argued to believe this.
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