Are You Free? The Free Will and Determinism Debate

Free will is like a friend that everybody wants. It’s needed for moral responsibility and blame in criminal law. It’s required for creativity, and pursuing excellence. In theology it is presupposed as a basis for the doctrine of the human person in the fall and redemption. But despite the universal need that law and religion have for free will, their need for it creates a paradox. It is as if their personalities are not compatible and free will must go. This course considers arguments about free will. We shall discuss whether free will is compatible or incompatible with determinism and fate.


  • Griffith, M., 2013. Free Will: The Basics. Routledge.
  • Kane, R., 2005. A Contemporary Introduction To Free Will. Oxford University Press.
  • Pereboom, D., (ed.), 2009. Free Will. (Hackett Readings In Philosophy). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc..
  • Mele, A., 2014. Free: why science hasn’t disproved free will. Oxford University Press,.
  • Frede, M., 2012. A Free Will. University Of California Press.
  • Harris, S., 2012. Free Will, Free Press
  • Timpe, K., 2016. Free Will And Theism: Connections, Contingencies, And Concerns. Oxford University Press.
  • Beilby J.K. & Eddy P.R. (eds) 2001. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Intervarsity Press.
  • Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will -
  • The Information Philosopher -
  • Free Will -
  • Divine Foreknowledge and Free Will -
  • Future Contingents -


  • Introducing the Free Will Problem
    • The paradox of free will: The problem of free will – universal determinism appears to be inconsistent with human choice. The ubiquity of the free will problem: metaphysics, moral philosophy, law and blame, science, religion and theology. Defining free will, determinism, and fate. Free will versus political freedom. Kinds of free will worth wanting. The essential differences between determinism and fate. Have we lost fate? Do we need to revive it?
    • Break-down of the course into topics: the metaphysical, moral, theological problems and approaches to the topic of free will. Introducing the technical vocabulary of Compatibilism, Incompatibilism, Libertarianism, and Hard Determinism. Suggestions for how to study and discuss the free will and determinism debate. Allusions to cinema and film with free will themes: Minority Report, Adjustment Bureau, Ground Hog Day, Memento, Waking Life, Next, Inception.
  • The Metaphysics of Free Will (1) - Compatibilism
    • Compatibilism as a solution to the free will problem. Reasons for compatibilism. Classical compatibilism and ‘could have done otherwise’. Harry Frankfurt’s Hierarchy of Desires theory of compatibilism.
    • Arguments against compatibilism: the Consequence Argument and the Manipulation Argument.
  • The Metaphysics of Free Will (2) – Incompatibilism
    • Libertarianism as a solution to the free will problem – determinism is false. Reasons for libertarianism and its critiques. Two conditions for libertarianism – alternative possibilities and the source-hood condition. Agent-causation, and mind-body dualism. Frankfurt-counterexamples against alternative possibilities.
    • Hard determinism as a solution to the free will problem: there is no free will. The belief in alternative possibilities is false - free will illusionism, Saul Smilansky. Galen Strawson’s argument for hard determinism
  • Moral philosophy and the free will problem.
    • The important connection between free will, moral responsibility, legal responsibility, praise and blame. Another version of compatibilism: Peter Strawson’s Reactive Attitudes theory as a solution to the free will problem – the metaphysics of free will does not matter.
    • Autonomy and manipulation: Immanuel Kant and not using people as a means to your end. The un-ethical practice of human to human manipulation: getting others to do to what you want. Recap: Manipulation Arguments against compatibilism.
  • Free Will and Theology
    • The definition of Classical Theism. The two main threats to human free will from theology: (i). theological determinism - God’s will, providence and predestination; and (ii). theological fatalism - God’s omniscience and foreknowledge. Overview of Christian theistic positions: The Calvin-Augustinian approach, the Simple Foreknowledge Approach, Open Theism, and Molinism.
    • A closer look at the Molinist solution to the divine foreknowledge and free will dilemma. Middle knowledge and counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. An appraisal of Molinism: manipulation again.
  • A Brief Taste of Specific Topics and Applications
    • Situationism, nudging, and the By-Stander Effect.
    • Moral luck
    • Free Will themes from science-fiction cinema.
  • Are You Self-Determined? The Existential Implications of Free Will.
    • The linguistic ambiguity of ‘I am determined’. Self-determination and self-forming actions.
    • Are there ‘degrees of freedom’ or is the free will and determinism issue an either/or case?
    • Final discussion and course overview.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe the essential differences between free will, determinism, and fate; and give conventional definitions for each.
  2. Compare and evaluate the arguments for compatibilism and incompatibilism.
  3. Identify and discuss the metaphysical and moral implications for libertarianism, hard determinism, and compatibilism.
  4. Discuss the theological problems associated with classical theism and human free will.
  5. Consider further implications of the reach of the free will problem in the world, the self, and society by thoughtful discussion of situationism, nudging, manipulation, and moral luck.
  6. Apply findings of the various theories and approaches to the free will problem to one-self and to the observation of others.

This course has no current classes. Please the waiting list.