The Instigator
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The Contender
Con (against)
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Free Will is Reasonable

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/23/2018 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 820 times Debate No: 114228
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
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I will define free will as the ability to have chosen otherwise within the same given circumstances.

I am arguing that belief in free will is reasonable. Our experience of our willing seems to indicate that we have free will. The typical arguments against free will are flawed and are less convincing than the evident experience that we have free will.

Con side will have to give an overwhelming argument for why determinism is more plausible than free will.


Thank you for coming to tonight's debate.

Pro defines free will as “
the ability to have chosen otherwise within the same given circumstances.” If, given the same set of conditions, one could have chosen otherwise, it would follow that there are no conditions prior to and up to the moment of choice that are sufficient to determine what that choice will be.

There are several problems with this view of free will.

The first problem is that it violates the principle of sufficient reason (PSR). According to the PSR, there is a sufficient reason for everything that happens. If there is any such thing as free will as we are defining it in this debate, there some things happen without sufficient reasons. After all, if antecedent conditions were sufficient, then the outcome would be inevitable, but since the outcome of free will choices are not inevitable, antecedent conditions are not sufficient to explain them.

That’s another problem with free will. If a person acts freely, there is no sufficient explanation for why they did what they did. People are in the habit of explaining what they did by saying things like, “I did that because I wanted to,” or “Because it seemed like a good idea.” But if people could have done otherwise even given their prior desires, motives, etc., then none of these things really explain their behavior.

So free willers are obliged to talk inconsistently. What they really ought to say is, “I did that partly for such and such reason, and partly for no reason at all.” But nobody talks like that because no free willer is consistent.

In fact, if our actions could have been otherwise, regardless of antecedent conditions, then nobody can know ahead of time what they are about to do. Even if you have every intention of acting a particular way, as long as you could act differently, you cannot anticipate how you will act. Your actions should come as a surprise to you.

If one can act contrary to all influence from antecedent desires, inclinations, biases, motives, etc., then free will actions really just amount to accidents. You have no control over them. You can only have control when acting out of your own intentions. But if your intentions are not sufficient to determine your acts, then your acts are unintentional. They are literally not done on purpose.

That means your actions cannot be subject to praise or blame. You can only be morally accountable for your actions if you do them on purpose. But if your actions are unintentional accidents, then you cannot be morally accountable for them. So free will eliminates moral accountability.

Free will also eliminates rationality. If antecedent conditions do not determine your beliefs, then your beliefs are arbitrary. Your beliefs can only be rational to the degree that they are determined by prior reasons, perceptions, and evidences. The farther these things are divorced from each other, the less rational the belief. So as long as free will is engaged in the belief-producing enterprise, rationality will be undermined. That means free will is self-refuting because the arguments that gave rise to free will are not sufficient to explain belief in free will. Belief in free will is, at least partially, arbitrary and accidental.

Debate Round No. 1


Thanks for accepting the debate.

To briefly summarize my opponents' rebuttal, it seems that their primary argument is that free will violates the psr. This would entail that there is no true reason to explain why choice A is made as opposed to choice B other than the choice simply being random. So it would seem that the choice is left unexplained. If I have mis-characterized my opponent's argument then they can correct me.

In response to this argument, I would say that free choices are explained by the fact that Person A chose choice A. The choice is of course influenced by a variety of factors that narrowed down what the choices 'might' be. For example if Person A grew up in a specific country, inherited certain genetics and traditions etc. then choice A, B, and C might appear fairly attractive to Person A as opposed to the variety of other possible choices out there. In fact some choices would be impossible for Person A given their situation.

However, the reason why Person A chooses choice A as opposed to B or C is simply because Person A chooses to use their will in a specific way. That is what free will is.

Person A might say 'I chose this because it tastes good or looked interesting etc.' but this cashes out to meaning 'I used my will for this specific thing because I valued this taste etc. as opposed to all the other options available to me and this is how I chose to exercise my will even though I could have exercised my will otherwise.' Now of course people don't talk that way because it is overly complicated and unnecessary. Nevertheless it is more plausible to believe that Person A really could have chosen choice B or choice C as opposed to choice A, even if they could not have chosen a variety of other choices.

If Person A could have chosen B or C as opposed to A, then Person A has free will in the sense that I defined it.

Would Person A be surprised be their decision? Maybe if they were told of their decision 5 minutes prior then they might be surprised because they would not know at that time, but in the moment of their choice there should be no surprise because they are in full control of their will. It is not surprising when you are the one making the decision.


In my previous post, I pointed out that free will violates the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) because if a person could have done otherwise in spite of antecedent conditions, then no antecedent conditions are sufficient to explain why the person chose as they did. That means free will choices are spontaneous accidents.

Pro’s response seems to be that free will does not violate the PSR. There is still a sufficient reason for why people choose as they do. The sufficient reason, according to Pro, for why people choose as they do is that they choose as they do.

Does that strike anybody else as an adequate response to my argument? “I chose A because I chose to choose A.” But raises a further question: why did I choose to choose A? I suppose you might say it’s because I chose to choose to choose A. But then we’ve gotten ourselves into an infinite regress. Ultimately there's no reason for why I chose A.

So i don’t think Pro has given us an adequate response. By the law of excluded midldle, one of two things must be true. Either our actions are determined by antecedent conditions or they are not. If they are, then determinism is true, and free will is false. If they are, then free will amounts to having accidents, and the PSR is violated. There doesn’t seem to be any way to escape this dilemma.

Pro could have attacked the PSR or qualified it or something, but he didn’t do that. He seems to embrace the PSR. But determinism follows from the PSR. If there is a sufficient reason for everything that happens, then everything that happens is determined by antecedent conditions. Therefore, there is no free will.

Pro does not dispute that if our choices are free, then the correct answer to why we acted as we did is, “Partly for some reason, and partly for no reason at all.” Instead of disputing the truth of that consequence of free will, he instead just says it’s not necessary to be so specific in our language. But it still causes a problem because our actions are still literally accidents.

Pro thinks the surprise would be taken out of our choices because we would know, in the moment of choice, what we were choosing. Well, of course we would. But with that kind of answer there could never be any surprise about anything all that we might witness. Imagine somebody jumps out from behind a couch to scare me. By Pro’s reasoning, I shouldn’t be at all surprised because I would see him jumping at the very moment that he was jumping. Since there’s no surprise, I shouldn’t be startled in the least.

But surprise comes because an event occurs that we did not anticipate at any moment prior. Well, if we are able to act contrary to all prior desires, plans, intensions, and inclinations, then we cannot anticipate our own actions. We cannot know what we are going to do until we are actually in the process of doing it. In that case our actions very well could be surprises.

I made two other arguments that Pro did not address. I argued that free will undermines morality, and I also argued that free will undermines rationality. Pro needs to address those arguments. Otherwise they stand, and free will is refuted.
Debate Round No. 2


I will now respond to Con's arguments.

I do accept the PSR. However, I disagree with Con that free will violates the PSR. I have argued that appealing to the fact that people have specific desires and that they simply freely choose among those desires is a satisfying explanation as to why a person makes a choice that they do.

Con has argued that this is an inadequate explanation for a choice. Con argues that a choice needs to be determined by prior conditions in order to be adequately explained, but I'm not sure why a choice can't in part be explained by the will's free selection.

Con will surely ask, 'but why does the will choose A instead of B?' The answer to this is: that is simply the way Person A chooses to act. The way the person uses their will is what explains the choice. Con and I may disagree on this, but I see that as an adequate explanation.

Con argues that if a person freely decides then their choices should be a surprise akin to someone jumping out from behind a couch. However, making a choice is different than someone jumping out from behind a couch because when someone jumps out from behind a couch, a person didn't see it coming. But when my will narrows in on a decision, I am guiding the process, so there is no surprise involved.

Can made an argument that free will undermines morality because Con thinks that free will takes away the intention of an action and therefore the purpose behind the action. I would agree that if intention was taken away from all actions, then this would undermine morality. However, I don't think free will is without intention. I think that free will involves intention. When I freely choose to do something, I use my will in an intentional way. I intentionally choose A instead of B, even though I could have chosen B.

Con also argued that free will undermines rationality because if beliefs are not entirely determined by prior conditions then the beliefs are arbitrary. In response, I disagree with this interpretation. While beliefs are influenced by prior conditions (such as where a person is born and how they are raised which will affect how they perceive the world) I think a person still narrows in on a belief freely in the same way that they use their will to freely narrow in on a choice of anything else. I don't think this undermines rationality at all. A person still has a set of perceptions etc. that they analyze and then narrow in on.

So overall, I think belief in free will is reasonable and justified. I do not see the arguments that Con has presented against free will as presenting strong enough defeaters to undermine the belief that free will is plausible to believe in.


The PSR, which Pro accepts, states that for anything that happens, there is a sufficient reason for why it happens. That means that given some set of circumstances, those circumstances are sufficient to explain why the next thing happened.

Free will states just the opposite. It states that whatever the prior circumstances are, you could still choose one way or another. There are no prior circumstances that are sufficient to explain why you chose the way you did.

Con's explanation for why one freely chooses A rather than B basically amounts to “Just because.” I chose A because that’s what I chose.

Consider this conversation.

Pro: I chose A.

Con: Why did you choose A?

Pro: Because I just did.

Con: But why did you?

Pro: Because that’s what I chose.

Con: But why is that what you chose?

Do you see what’s going on here? Con is not really supplying a sufficient explanation for why he chose A. Whenever he’s asked why he chose A, he states it as if it were just a brute fact. It’s just the way thing are. But brute facts are inconsistent with the PSR.

Pro appears not to understand my jumping out from behind the couch analogy. The analogy is suppose to illustrate that if an event can occur when there’s nothing prior to that event that tells you the event is about to occur, then the event will be a surprise. If one has free will and can therefore act contrary all inclination from motives and desires that exist prior to the moment of choice, then the final choice can be just as much of a surprise to the one who does it as it would be if somebody jumped out from behind a couch.

Pro says he’d be guiding the process during the choice. But what does that mean? To guide a process, one’s will must be engaged in the process. One must be acting on some desire, motive, or inclination. As long as you are doing something on purpose, your prior plans, intentions, motives, etc., are bringing about your actions. That’s what it means to be in control of your actions.

But if one can act contrary to their own pre-existing desires, motives, etc., then one is not in control of their actions. Their actions arise spontaneously, apart from all antecedent conditions, including whatever antecedent conditions exist in their own heads. That means free will acts are accidents.

Pro’s claim that he is “guiding” his actions is at odds with free will. One cannot guide their actions and have free will at the same time since free will acts are spontaneous accidents and guiding involves exerting ones will in accordance with one’s desires, motives, inclinations, plans, etc.

Pro attempts to rescue morality by claiming that even under free will, one can act intentionally. The only way one could’ve chosen B instead of A is if they had a prior intention to choose B instead of A. But as long as you have any control over your action, your action must be determined by your intention. If you choose A rather than B, and you do it intentionally, then your intention determined your choice. If your intention determined your choice, then your choice could not have been otherwise. You can’t both intend and not intend to do the same action at the same time and in the same sense because that’s a contradiction. So whatever you intend, that’s what you do.

And since intention determines your choice, your choice is not free in the sense that we have been discussing. So Pro has not rescued morality from free will.

In the case of rationality, Pro claims that prior circumstances influence your beliefs, and this does not undermine free will. He’s right about that. Free will does allow for prior conditions to influence your choices and your beliefs. They just can’t determine your beliefs. That means you could’ve chosen otherwise. Your belief could’ve been otherwise.

But think about this. Influence comes in greater or lesser degrees. The stronger evidence is, the closer it is to determining your belief because the stronger it is, the more influence it has over your belief.

So free will comes in degrees. The weaker evidence is, the farther the evidence is from determining your belief, and the farther evidence is from determining your belief, the more free you are because the father evidence is from determining your belief, the less influence evidence has over your belief.

And that’s the problem with free will. The better your reasons are for believing something, the less free you are to believe otherwise. So reasons and evidence diminish free will. Free will, on the other hand, diminishes the influence of reasons and evidences. You cannot have both.

So which one makes you rational? Are you more rational the more free you are to act contrary to what the evidence suggests? Or are you more rational the more influence evidence has in bringing about your beliefs?

Well, obviously we are rational to the degree that our beliefs are based on reasons and evidence. The more hand reason and evidence has in bringing about our beliefs, the more rational those beliefs are. The less hand reason and evidence has in bring about our beliefs, the less rational we are because the less hand reason and evidence has in bringing about our beliefs, the more arbitrary our beliefs are. It follows that we are most rational when reason and evidence determine our beliefs, and we are the least rational when we are most free, i.e. when reason and evidence has no influence over our beliefs at all.

So free will undermines rationality. Since free will undermines rationality, it’s a self-refuting belief. One cannot be rational in holding to free will because free will undermines the necessary preconditions for rational thought. So it is irrational, and therefore unreasonable, to believe in free will.

Thank you for coming, and thanks to Pro for the debate.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by Leaning 3 years ago
I'm not so sure about the argument that the more you know and better you are able to clarify your reasons, the less free you are.
To me it makes you more free.
If you don't understand a situation at all, then prior, current, and unknown future circumstance certainly carry you like the strong current of a river you are unable to understand and barely able to get your head above water.
More you know, easier it is to swim... Maybe.
Posted by theodebater42 3 years ago
I posted the round 1 response. So you can post your round 1 response.
Posted by philochristos 3 years ago
Do you want me to go first, or do you want me to say "I accept," then you go first?
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