Free Will – Universal Causation

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In this paper, I will argue that the principle of universal causation is inconsistent with free will. Universal Causation is the principle that all events or actions that occur have a prior event or action that caused that specific event or action to take place. Varying philosophical schools of thought including the hard determinism, libertarianism, and both the traditional and the hierarchical compatibilism strive to explain the problem surrounding free will in societies. Arguments promoting and criticizing the aspect of free will are presented in the different theories.

One of the theories that argue that free will is an illusion is hard determinism which is the doctrine that there are no free actions. People who accept this are known as hard determinists. They believe that everything is causally determined and because of this, no one acts freely. (Vaughn, 180-181) The philosophical theory of hard determinism is based on the principles of causal determinism, which is the doctrine that every event is the consequence of past events plus the laws of nature. Incompatibilism is the doctrine that causal determinism is incompatible with the view that we sometimes act freely. (Vaughn, 184)

Libertarianism is the doctrine that free actions are caused by selves (agents, persons). (Vaughn) Two arguments that correlate with the libertarian free will are the argument from experience and the argument from deliberation. The argument from experience explains that there are alternatives opens to us and that nothing prevents us from choosing any one of them. We as humans are under the impression that we act freely because we experience making alternative choices or decisions every day. The argument from deliberation is the experience of deliberating about which action to choose.

Traditional compatibilism is the doctrine that free actions are (1) caused by one’s will and (2) not externally constrained. (Vaughn, 203) Hierarchical compatibilism is the doctrine that free actions are caused by second-order volitions that one decisively identifies with. (Vaughn, 209) First-order desire is a desire directed on an object or state of affairs. An example of these desires would be things like food, clothing, and shelter as well as conditions like being healthy, being well informed, and being well paid.

Second-order desire is a desire directed on a first-order desire. An example of these desires would be a smoker that has a desire to not desire to smoke. Second-order volition is a second-order desire on which one wants to act. An example of these desires would be a priest who regularly counsels people with marriage problems. In this situation, the priest might have the desire to know what it’s like to be married however if he got married, he could no longer be a priest. (Vaughn, 208)

Events experienced individually and collectively are the outcomes of previous processes which operate within the confines of the law of nature (Schmidtz et al., 64). It is important to note that human actions result from an informed decision making process and while some conclusions made might be deemed as non-optimal, prior knowledge about the given scenario plays a critical role in informing the choice of an alternative cause of action.

Human development is attributed to the socialization process where individuals are able to learn the society’s way of life and ascribe to the given routine through the observation of what other people are doing or through direct experimenting and experience. A person’s actions are bound to support the expectations of the rest of the society or seek to avoid previous mistakes and improve on an existing state of life. In this case, free will can be deemed as impossible as every aspect of the human actions will contain effects from the external environment. While an individual can presume that the decision making process and the ability to exercise self-determination is an indication of free will, the given presumption is deemed as an illusion in that, all the human actions are a result of previous events (Ekstrom, 68).

  1. Some agent, at some time, could have acted otherwise than he or she did.
  2. Actions are events.
  3. Every event has a cause.
  4. If an event is caused, then it is causally determined.
  5. If an event is an act that is causally determined, then the agent of the act could not have acted otherwise than in the way that he or she did.

This specific instance provides 6 different concepts which are an agent, an action, could have done otherwise, event, cause, and causal determination.

Free will is an illusion and determinism is real as asserted by the hard determinism theorists based on the fact that every event has an explanation which can be available or yet to be discovered and that events are outcomes of previous process. Human beings are not able to exercise free will due to the fact that determinism is evident in influencing mental processes such as decision and choice thus providing the basis for the prediction and explanation of actions. The lack of free will among human beings indicates that sufficient reason can be accorded to every occurrence thus ensuring that balance and sensitivity is achieved among individuals. However, in the event that determinism can be further defined to understand the influence on free will, deeming independent mental actions as free actions despite the influence of past events can indicate that free will is not an illusion.

Work Cited

  1. Ekstrom, Laura W. Free Will: A Philosophical Study. Routledge, 2018
  2. McKenna, Michael, and D. Justin Coates. “Compatibilism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 25 Feb. 2015,
  3. Schmidtz, David, and Carmen E. Pavel. The Oxford Handbook of Freedom. New York, NY Oxford University Press, 2018
  4. “The Problem of Free Will.” Determinism,
  5. Vaughn, Lewis, and Theodore Schick. Doing Philosophy : an Introduction through Thought Experiments. 5th ed., David Patterson, 2012.
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Free Will - Universal Causation. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved July 12, 2024 , from

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