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Do we have free will?

By Louis O'Neill - posted Monday, 5 November 2018

It is not necessary to have free will to have a system of law and order, it is merely necessary to acknowledge that placing actions upon a human will likely change their course for the future. This viewpoint in fact re-iterates determinism.

Though there are counter-arguments, to the incompatibilist position. This position, as you'd expect, is called compatibilism.

The compatibilist argument has been most recently carried out by Harris and his fellow atheist brother-in-arms Daniel Dennett. Similarly to Harris, Dennett is also a philosopher and writer, who fought alongside Sam in the battle against theism and theocracy.


Dennett occupies the compatibilist position, which means that while he believes in determinism, he also believes the notion of free will can exist alongside a deterministic view of existence.

After the release of Harris' 2012 book simply entitled 'Free Will,' Dennett released a review, and critique of Harris' views on free will.

The pair exchanged verbal volleys to one another in an online discussion, in which Harris responded to Dennett's review in a piece entitled 'The Marionette's Lament.'

Daniel Dennett discussing his notion of Free Will

Upon hearing Dennett's views on the matter however, it seems to me he is sidestepping the argument. He seems to suggest that due to the fact we have the ability to anticipate potential scenario's that may occur in the future, and change our course accordingly, we have free will.

This doesn't negate Sam's arguments. We have brains capable of perceiving the future, just as we have brains capable of forgetting events of the past. We often don't choose to forget something, it is simply a glitch of the mind. Our perception of the future is still shaped by factors out of our control.


The other argument most commonly made against free will, stems from Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is summarised in the above article by The Guardian:

The uncertainty principle states that we cannot measure the position (x) and the momentum (p) of a particle with absolute precision. The more accurately we know one of these values, the less accurately we know the other.

The uncertainty principle is often mentioned when discussing free will, by ostensibly unraveling the theory of determinism, and therefore suggesting our actions are somewhat random.

However, having random or unpredictable behavior, again, doesn't give us free will. It simply gives us random behavior. If our decisions are made by the random toss of a coin, are they still our decisions?

While I still remain uncertain as to whether or not I am choosing to write this article, perhaps it's simply because I was born into an indecisive brain.

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About the Author

Louis O'Neill is a writer from Sydney having graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Writing focusing on issues of philosophy, morality, religion and social commentary.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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