Delgado Community College Free Will and Determinism Discussion

Free Will and Determinism (390-394)

For this assignment, read the introduction on Free Will and Determinism and Baron D’Holbach: We are Completely Determined, 395-400.

For this assignement, we begin an exploration of determinism, the idea or theory that everything in the cosmos (universe) is inevitably dependent upon a causal event. This idea is in opposition of free will, or libertarianism, where the individual is the primary or only cause behind actions.

You are reading Baron D’Holbach’s “We are Completely determined” on pages 383-389. He was a materialist who argued that free will is an illusion. For him, there is no such thing as a soul. Humans are materialist objects that just happen to be able to move.

Here are some quick facts about Baron D’Holbach, Paul-Henri Thiry (1723-1789). He was a prominent French author who was very wealthy. He was also an atheist and wrote arguments against religion. He also created a salon for people to attend—these were meetings on select days for men where food and wine were provided while participating in discussions.

For the second reading, you are reading William James'response to determinism and his case for free will in "The Dilemma of Determinism" (pages 400-410). James also links morality to determinism as well as indeterminism. William James was both a philosopher and a psychologist.

It is important to review some basic terms like free will, determinism, compatibilism, and incompatibilism.

Free will is when a person can act freely and be held morally responsible.

Determinism is the complete state of the universe at a given time (t) together with the laws of nature, uniquely determine the state of the universe at only subsequent time (T’) –or simply, the view that the state of the universe at any one time rightly determines its state at any subsequent time.

Compatibilism is the view that free will and determinism are compatible--an action is free as long as it is caused in the appropriate way by the agent’s beliefs, desires, and intentions. Harry Frankfurt is a compatibilist---see the introductory notes to his essay.

Incompatibilism is the view that free will is NOT compatible with determinism, in other words, the universe forces us to act the way we do; we do not act freely.

Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24

Compatibilism: Crash Course Philosophy #25


Discussion Post:

Does D’Holbach make a convincing argument for determinism? If he does, cite examples from the text, which offers the greatest support. If he is unsuccessful, explain why? What do you think are the specific weaknesses in the text? Does William James sufficiently explain why neither free will nor determinism can be proved and why it is better to choose free will over determinism? Explain.