Can someone explain Compatibilism to me?


Here is the definition of Free will:

Free Will: Ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.

and that of Determinism:

Determinism: All events are completely determined by previously existing causes.

In this form, they seem irreconcilable.

All three elements of free will:

  1. Choice
  2. Different possible courses of action
  3. Unimpeded Action

violate Determinism, imo:

  1. There can be no choice, if events are determined by previous causes.
  2. There can be no more than one course of action, if events are completely determined.
  3. If your actions are being determined by 'laws', then we cannot claim unimpeded action.

Philosophy has always been extremely hard for me. But here, I am not able to even grasp the definition of a philosophical term. Can someone please explain Compatibilism?


Posted 2018-04-09T12:37:28.943

Reputation: 959

I am still trying to explain it to myself. Here is the SEP entry for it:

– Frank Hubeny – 2018-04-09T13:02:07.227

@FrankHubeny: Turns out it is possible as long as one does not beg the question by e.g. saying that the reality described by physics is the only one. This is closely related to asking for "proof" and an explanation of how "free will" becomes causal (see this related question). Locus classicus: Kant's Third Antinomy.

– Philip Klöcking – 2018-04-09T14:34:38.350

@PhilipKlöcking Please explain it to me. This seems so difficult to wrap my head around and any help is deeply appreciated – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-09T14:56:17.067

This is a difficult thing to understand. It is quite easy to conclude that compatabilsi9m must be the correct answer for freewill-determinism and for other metaphysical dilemmas but difficult to make sense of it. For the most popular version of compatabilism you could check out Middle Way Buddhism, Philosophical Taoism and their equivalents. These endorse compatabilism of a certain kind for all metaphysical problems. . – None – 2018-04-09T15:08:52.930

It depends upon what constitutes an impediment. If your determined choice is exactly what you would want to do, you are free to do it. Since the same determinant determines what you want as what you do, and even whether you do what you want, or choose to do something else, there is never a divergence. This is the standard of Leibniz convention of harmony. The monads all obey the law that predetermines everything of their own free will. Much like 'This is the best of all possible worlds', it seems like a silly language game, but it isn't quite just that. – None – 2018-04-09T15:25:37.747

Isn't 'what I want to do' also determined? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-09T15:31:19.870

@PeterJ No; compatibilism isn't difficult to understand... it just stems from different intuition sets. At best it's difficult if you have certain intuitions, but not everyone has those intuitions. – H Walters – 2018-04-09T15:46:42.873

@HWalters You meant to say that it is easy to understand, but difficult to teach? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-09T15:51:12.827

Well, I specifically mean that not everyone needs to be taught. Furthermore, this really does go both ways; just as you struggle with compatibilism, there are compatiblists who struggle with incompatibilism. – H Walters – 2018-04-09T16:04:59.030

@HWalters But aren't the definitions before us? Free will is such and such. Determinism is such and such. If these are difficult to reconcile, then that must be the case for all, ryt? Are compatibilists using different definitions for these terms? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-09T16:21:53.203

Take this for example: "2 There can be no more than one course of action". This only works as an argument if there's some sense in which you can count more than one course. PAP, the notion that alternate choices are ontic in some way (that if I really chose chocolate, somehow my getting vanilla had to "exist" in some way), gives you the ability to count to 2, but compatibilists reject PAP. A chess program by contrast might consider tens of thousands of moves before making its move; none of the considerations are ontic except as deterministic states, but those work fine deterministically... – H Walters – 2018-04-09T16:58:54.257

...there's some intuition you're holding whereby counting one course of action means there isn't a choice; but there's a model (like the chess program) whereby the vanilla I didn't get never really existed except as a consideration in mind. A compatibilist intuits that so long as he visualizes and selects the option, he made a choice; he might have no problem with one course of action (there's only one incarnated possibility; where are the others?) These are the levels at which the intuitions are held. (I can make a full answer when I have time later, if you wish). – H Walters – 2018-04-09T17:01:59.607

Yeah, that is what I said. From a deterministic point of view, your will is determined, but that doesn't keep it from being your will. This is the illusion of the sovereign subject -- the idea that choice is some magical act that constitutes individuality, and responsibility should only adhere to choices. – None – 2018-04-09T17:17:16.957

@HWalters and jobermark How can a 'determined will' still be 'my own will'? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-10T01:20:08.357

For an extended discussion we should probably go to chat; I've created this room for it.

– H Walters – 2018-04-10T01:25:13.813

@H Walters - Compatabilism comes in various favours. The version I endorse states that Freewill and Determinism are both incorrect theories. You may find this easy to understand but most people have to work at it. If we apply the same solution for Something-Nothing then it may require a little more work, and applied to Existence-nonExistence the conceptual problem becomes even more interesting. These problems of comprehension are well-known.and are certainly not easy. . – None – 2018-04-10T12:12:13.770

@PeterJ I think you missed the point. I'm making the claim that for a lot of people, compatibilism is intuitive, and incompatibilism is counter-intuitive. If you are an intuitive incompatibilist trying to understand compatibilism, this should be an interesting and relevant point--it suggests that there's something you can relate to by examining your own intuitions and contrasting them with intuitive compatibilist intuitions. It means that, at least for some people, compatibilism isn't a "hard fought" conclusion. – H Walters – 2018-04-10T14:43:55.573

@HWalters - True enough, it is not a hard fought conclusion. Indeed, it's difficult to avoid it. But ask most compatabilists and you'll find that they do not understand their own theory and have no global metaphysical theory that would explain it. This is because it is not easy to understand. – None – 2018-04-10T15:01:26.047

Is my question just a different way of asking what is the difference between 'compatabilist free will' and 'libertarian free will'? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-12T05:20:53.070



Sure. Compatibilism is not that hard to understand if you just start from the basic idea that compatibilists use the term "free will" to mean a different thing than--I think--you are using it.

When they say "free will" they mean a person took a voluntary action and was not forced to do that action by anything outside of their normal brain operations that interfered with their normal will. Things that might force their actions and therefore make them not free could be:

  • A person pointing a gun to one's head, demanding they do something.
  • A drug that forces the person to do something.
  • A brain tumor that dysregulates their conscious control over their actions.
  • Hypnosis
  • A brain stimulating machine that forces certain actions.
  • Being physically restrained from taking actions.

In other words, they are using the term "free will" in the same way it is used in a court setting. For example:

Judge: Did you take the money of your own free will?
Defendant: No, your honor. I was hypnotized when I took the money.

But, under normal circumstances, picking out a favorite flavor of ice cream for your cone would be an action they'd say used your free will--because no person, drug, tumor, robot, mind-ray, demon, etc., was forcing you to pick that flavor.

Important to note: Those same compatibilists would also admit that whichever flavor of ice cream you picked would be due to the state of your brain at the moment you picked it, and that that particular state of your brain was due to the previous states of your brain and the world around it, and so you were caused to pick rum raisin by the state of the universe.

But as long as no one had a gun to your ribs whispering "Psst! Pick rum raisin!", they want to call that a free willed action.


Posted 2018-04-09T12:37:28.943

Reputation: 1 458

In the ice cream example I would state it as the illusion of free will, as opposed to true free will - although within the human experience they are one and the same I think – Callum Bradbury – 2018-04-09T20:57:17.383

So brain tumor that dysregulates conscious action is considered an 'impediment'. But the fact that your will is determined by previous states of your brain and the world around it, is not? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-10T01:17:44.097

@BlowMaMind Yes (if by "impediment" you mean something that constrain's one's freedom to exercise your normal conscious will) and yes, your will is determined by your brain and the world around it. – Chelonian – 2018-04-10T11:37:09.017

But isn't "will is determined by your brain and the world around it" an 'impediment'? – BlowMaMind – 2018-04-10T12:38:11.687

It's an impediment to contra-causal/libertarian free will, sure. It's not an impediment to compatibilist version of free will; in fact, the compatibilist free will requires it. – Chelonian – 2018-04-10T13:08:58.750