The Standard Argument Against Free Will
The Standard Argument has two parts.
First, if determinism is the case, the will is not free.
Together, these objections can be combined in the Responsibility Objection, namely that no Free Will model has yet provided us an intelligible account of the agent control needed for moral responsibility. Both parts are logically and practically flawed, partly from abuse of language that led some 20th-century philosophers to call free will a "pseudo-problem," and partly from claims to knowledge that are based on faulty evidence. We shall consider the evidence and show how to detect and correct errors in the reasoning.
Part One - The Determinism Objection
Determinism is true. All events are caused. All our actions are therefore pre-determined. There is no free will or moral responsibility. Errors and evidence...
Part Two - The Randomness Objection
Chance exists. If our actions are caused by chance, we lack control. We can not call that free will because we could not be held morally responsible for random actions. Errors and evidence...
Examples of the Standard Argument
Can you see the two standard objections and the flaws in reasoning or claims of truth that are based on faulty evidence? (These are modern examples of arguments that are at least as old as the Epicureans, Stoics, and Skeptics. See arguments from antiquity.)
"Epicurus saw that if the atoms travelled downwards by their own weight; we should have no freedom of the will [nihil fore in nostra potestate], since the motion of the atoms would be determined by necessity. He therefore invented a device to escape from determinism (the point had apparently escaped the notice of Democritus): he said that the atom while travelling vertically downward by the force of gravity makes a very slight swerve to one side. (70) This defence discredits him more than if he had had to abandon his original position. "Notice that Cicero's argument already appears in the form of a logical proposition, one or the other of determinism or randomness must be true. He claims that Epicurus must be denying such logical disjunctions.
(70) XXV. "He does the same in his battle with the logicians. Their accepted doctrine is that in every disjunctive proposition of the form' so-and-so either is or is not,' one of the two alternatives must be true. Epicurus took alarm; if such a proposition as 'Epicurus either will or will not be alive to-morrow' were granted, one or other alternative would be necessary. Accordingly he denied the necessity of a disjunctive proposition altogether. Now what could be stupider than that?
Immanuel Kant's Version
"Volitions are either caused or they are not. If they are not caused, an inexorable logic brings us to the absurdities just mentioned. If they are caused, the free-will doctrine is annihilated."
John Fiske's Version
"Volitions are either caused or they are not. If they are not caused, an inexorable logic brings us to the absurdities just mentioned. If they are caused, the free-will doctrine is annihilated."
Max Planck's Version
"Let us ask for a moment whether the human will is free or whether it is determined in a strictly causal way. These two alternatives seem definitely to exclude one another. And as the former has obviously to be answered in the affirmative, so the assumption of a law of strict causality operating in the universe seems to be reduced to an absurdity in at least this one instance. In other words, if we assume the law of strict dynamic causality as existing throughout the universe, how can we logically exclude the human will from its operation?... "Recent developments in physical science [viz., quantum indeterminacy] have come into play here, and the freedom of the human will has been put forward as offering logical grounds for the acceptance of only a statistical causality operative in the physical universe. As I have already stated on other occasions, I do not at all agree with this attitude. If we should accept it, then the logical result would be to reduce the human will to an organ which would be subject to the sway of mere blind chance."
Arthur Stanley Eddington's Version
"There is no half-way house between random and correlated behavior. Either the behavior is wholly a matter of chance, in which case the precise behavior within the Heisenberg limits of uncertainty depends on chance and not volition. Or it is not wholly a matter of chance, in which case the Heisenberg limits...are irrelevant."
L. Susan Stebbing's Version
"If previous physical events completely determine all the movements of my body, then the movements of my pen are also completely determined by previous physical events....But if the movements of my pen are completely determined by previous physical events, how can it be held that my mental processes have anything to do with the movements made by my pen....I do not think that it can reasonably be maintained that physical indeterminism is capable of affording any help in this problem."
Norbert Wiener's Version
Wiener sees no advantage in quantum mechanical indeterminism.
A. J. Ayer's Version
Ayer is extremely clear that the "truth" of determinism cannot be proved. He says that the determinist's
"belief that all human actions are subservient to causal laws still remains to be justified. If, indeed, it is necessary that every event should have a cause, then the rule must apply to human behaviour as much as to anything else. But why should it be supposed that every event must have a cause? The contrary is not unthinkable. Nor is the law of universal causation a necessary presupposition of scientific thought.But nevertheless he states the standard argument succinctly:
But now we must ask how it is that I come to make my choice. Either it is an accident that I choose to act as I do or it is not. If it is an accident, then it is merely a matter of chance that I did not choose otherwise; and if it is merely a matter of chance that I did not choose otherwise, it is surely irrational to hold me morally responsible for choosing as I did. But if it is not an accident that I choose to do one thing rather than another, then presumably there is some causal explanation of my choice: and in that case we are led back to determinism.
J. J. C. Smart's Version
Smart states two definitions - one for determinism and one for randomness and declares them to be exhaustive of all possibilities.
P. F. Strawson's Version
...the notions of moral guilt, of blame, of moral responsibility are inherently confused and that we can see this to be so if we consider the consequences either of the truth of determinism or of its falsity. The holders of this opinion agree with the pessimists that these notions lack application if determinism is true, and add simply that they also lack it if determinism is false.
Roderick Chisholm's Version
The metaphysical problem of human freedom might be summarized in the following way: "Human beings are responsible agents; but this fact appears to conflict with a deterministic view of human action (the view that every event that is involved in an act is caused by some other event); and it also appears to conflict with an indeterministic view of human action (the view that the act, or some event. that is essential to the act, is not caused at all)." To solve the problem, I believe, we must make somewhat far-reaching assumptions about the self of the agent — about the man who performs the act.
Richard Taylor's Version
If determinism is true, as the theory of soft determinism holds it to be, all those inner states which cause my body to behave in what ever ways it behaves must arise from circumstances that existed before I was born; for the chain of causes and effects is infinite, and none could have been the least different, given those that preceded. Both determinism and simple indeterminism are loaded with difficulties, and no one who has thought much on them can affirm either of them without some embarrassment. Simple indeterminism has nothing whatever to be said for it, except that it appears to remove the grossest difficulties of determinism, only, however, to imply perfect absurdities of its own. Determinism, on the other hand, is at least initially plausible. Men seem to have a natural inclination to believe in it; it is, indeed, almost required for the very exercise of practical intelligence. And beyond this, our experience appears always to confirm it, so long as we are dealing with everyday facts of common experience, as distinguished from the esoteric researches of theoretical physics. But determinism, as applied to human behavior, has implications which few men can casually accept, and they appear to be implications which no modification of the theory can efface..
David Wiggins' Version
If it were false that every event and every action were causally determined then the causally undetermined events and actions would surely, to that extent, be simply random. So the argument goes. That a man could have done x would mean no more than it might have turned out that way - at random.It will be asked if it makes any better sense to hold the man responsible for actions which happen at random that for ones which arise from his character. Surely then, if it doesn't, we ought to prefer that our actions be caused?
Robert Nozick's Version
Without free will, we seem diminished, merely the playthings of external forces. How, then, can we maintain an exalted view of ourselves? Determinism seems to undercut human dignity, it seems to undermine our value. Some would deny what this question accepts as given, and save free will by denying determinism of (some) actions. Yet if an uncaused action is a random happening, then this no more comports with human value than does determinism. Random acts and caused acts alike seem to leave us not as the valuable originators of action but as an arena, a place where things happen, whether through earlier causes or spontaneously.
Peter van Inwagen's Version
Here is an argument that I think is obvious (I don't mean it's obviously right; I mean it's one that should occur pretty quickly to any philosopher who asked himself what arguments could be found to support incompatibilism):Van Inwagen dramatized his understanding of the indeterministic brain events needed for agent causation by imagining God "replaying" a situation to create exactly the same circumstances and then arguing that decisions would reflect the indeterministic probabilities.If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us.I shall call this argument the Consequence Argument. [A variant argument van Inwagen called the Mind Argument] proceeds by identifying indeterminism with chance and by arguing that an act that occurs by chance, if an event that occurs by chance can be called an act, cannot be under the control of its alleged agent and hence cannot have been performed freely. Proponents of [this argument] conclude, therefore, that free will is not only compatible with determinism but entails determinism. [This has been dubbed "supercompatibilism."]
If God caused Marie's decision to be replayed a very large number of times, sometimes (in thirty percent of the replays, let us say) Marie would have agent-caused the crucial brain event and sometimes (in seventy percent of the replays, let us say) she would not have... I conclude that even if an episode of agent causation is among the causal antecedents of every voluntary human action, these episodes do nothing to undermine the prima facie impossibility of an undetermined free act.
John Searle's Version
Searle argues that individual particles have statistically predictable paths.
As far as human freedom is concerned, it doesn't matter whether physics is deterministic, as Newtonian physics was, or whether it allows for an indeterminacy at the level of particle physics, as contemporary quantum mechanics does. Indeterminism at the level of particles in physics is really no support at all to any doctrine of the freedom of the will; because first, the statistical indeterminacy at the level of particles does not show any indeterminacy at the level of the objects that matter to us – human bodies, for example. And secondly, even if there is an element of indeterminacy in the behaviour of physical particles – even if they are only statistically predictable – still, that by itself gives no scope for human freedom of the will; because it doesn't follow from the fact that particles are only statistically determined that the human mind can force the statistically-determined particles to swerve from their paths. Indeterminism is no evidence that there is or could be some mental energy of human freedom that can move molecules in directions that they were not otherwise going to move. So it really does look as if everything we know about physics forces us to some form of denial of human freedom.
Galen Strawson's Version
Strawson notes the argument is familiar and cites Henry Sidgwick's 1874 Methods of Ethics. Actually Sidgwick, with the 19th century view that freedom is metaphysical, is a firm determinist and only cites the Determinist Objection to free will.
It is a compelling objection. Surely we cannot be free agents, in the ordinary, strong, true-responsibility-entailing sense, if determinism is true and we and our actions are ultimately wholly determined by "causes anterior to [our] personal existence"* And surely we can no more be free if determinism is false and it is, ultimately, either wholly or partly a matter of chance or random outcome that we and our actions are as they are?(Freedom and Belief, 1986, p.25)
Colin McGinn's Version
The argument is exceedingly familiar, and runs as follows. Either determinism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all our chosen actions are uniquely necessitated by prior states of the world, just like every other event. But then it cannot be the case that we could have acted otherwise, since this would require a possibility determinism rules out. Once the initial conditions are set and the laws fixed, causality excludes genuine freedom.
Paul Russell's Version
...the well-known dilemma of determinism. One horn of this dilemma is the argument that if an action was caused or necessitated, then it could not have been done freely, and hence the agent is not responsible for it. The other horn is the argument that if the action was not caused, then it is inexplicable and random, and thus it cannot be attributed to the agent, and hence, again, the agent cannot be responsible for it. In other words, if our actions are caused, then we cannot he responsible for them; if they are not caused, we cannot be responsible for them. Whether we affirm or deny necessity and determinism, it is impossible to make any coherent sense of moral freedom and responsibility.
Derk Pereboom on the Randomness and Responsibility Objections
Let us now consider the libertarians, who claim that we have a capacity for indeterministically free action, and that we are thereby morally responsible. According to one libertarian view, what makes actions free is just their being constituted (partially) of indeterministic natural events. Lucretius, for example, maintains that actions are free just in virtue of being made up partially of random swerves in the downward paths of atoms. These swerves, and the actions they underlie, are random (at least) in the sense that they are not determined by any prior state of the universe. If quantum theory is true, the position and momentum of micro-particles exhibit randomness in this same sense, and natural indeterminacy of this sort might also be conceived as the metaphysical foundation of indeterministically free action. But natural indeterminacies of these types cannot, by themselves, account for freedom of the sort required for moral responsibility. As has often been pointed out, such random physical events are no more within our control than are causally determined physical events, and thus, we can no more be morally responsible for them than, in the indeterminist opinion, we can be for events that are causally determined.
Steven Pinker's One-sentence Version
a random event does not fit the concept of free will any more than a lawful one does, and could not serve as the long-sought locus of moral responsibility. (How The Mind Works, 1997, p.54)
Ishtiyaque Haji's Version
Among the grandest of philosophical puzzles is a riddle about moral responsibility. Almost all of us believe that each one of us is, has been, or will be responsible for at least some of our behavior. But how can this be so if determinism is true and all our thoughts, decisions, choices, and actions are simply droplets in a river of deterministic events that began its flow long, long before we were ever born? The specter of determinism, as it were, devours agents, for if determinism is true, then arguably we never initiate or control our actions; there is no driver in the driver's seat; we are simply one transitional link in an extended deterministic chain originating long before our time. The, puzzle is tantalizingly gripping and ever so perplexing — because even if determinism is false, responsibility seems impossible: how can we be morally accountable for behavior that issues from an "actional pathway" in which there is an indeterministic break? Such a break might free us from domination or regulation by the past, but how can it possibly help to ensure that the reins of control are now in our hands?
Bernard Berofsky's Version
Basically, the compatibilists charged the opposition with two confusions. Causation, which is not freedom undermining even in its deterministic forms, is confused with compulsion or coercion, which, of course, is freedom-undermining. A physical barrier or even an internal compulsion or addiction can be an impediment to action; but when one acts simply because one wants to, one is not being impeded from acting otherwise. Hence, one is expressing one's freedom by doing what one wants. Second, although determinism entails that all human behavior is subsumable under universal law, freedom is not thereby threatened, for the sorts of laws involved are merely descriptive (natural, scientific), not prescriptive, like the laws of a legislative body. They just describe the way in which people behave; they do not force or constrain adherence. Finally, the compatibilists argued that indeterminism would not be more desirable since, under indeterminism, behavior is random and not under the control of the agent, a situation actually antithetical to freedom.
Owen Flanagan's Version
Free actions, if there are any, are not deterministically caused nor are they caused by random processes of the sort countenanced by quantum physicists or complexity theorists. Free actions need to be caused by me, in a nondetermined and nonrandom manner.
Randolph Clarke's Version
Accounts of free will purport to tell us what is required if we are to be free agents, individuals who, at least sometimes when we act, act freely. Libertarian accounts, of course, include a requirement of indeterminism of one sort or another somewhere in the processes leading to free actions. But while proponents of such views take determinism to preclude free will, indeterminism is widely held to be no more hospitable. An undetermined action, It is said would be random or arbitrary. It could not be rational or rationally explicable. The agent would lack control over her behavior. At best, indeterminism in the processes leading to our actions would be superfluous, adding nothing of value even if it did not detract from what we want.
Mark Balaguer's Version
Any event that’s undetermined is uncaused and, hence, accidental. That is, it just happens; i.e., happens randomly. Thus, if our decisions are undetermined, then they are random, and so they couldn’t possibly be ‘‘appropriately non-random’’. Or to put the point the other way around, if our decisions are appropriately non-random, then they are authored and controlled by us; that is, we determine what we choose and what we don’t choose, presumably for rational reasons. Thus, if our decisions are appropriately non-random, then they couldn’t possibly be undetermined. Therefore, libertarianism is simply incoherent: it is not possible for a decision to be undetermined and appropriately non-random at the same time.In his book "Free Will as an Open Scientific Question," (MIT Press, 2009) Balaguer reduces his argument to J.J.C.Smart's exhaustive determinism or indeterminism. He calls it "D-or-R-ism."
Determined-or-Randomism (D-or-R-ism): None of our decisions is both undetermined and appropriately nonrandom; that is, all of our decisions are either (i) causally determined by prior events or (ii) random in the sense that they're not appropriately nonrandom. (p.8)
Thomas Pink's Version
There are but these two alternatives. Either an action is causally determined. Or, to the extent that it is causally undetermined, its occurrence depends on chance. But chance alone does not constitute freedom. On its own, chance comes to nothing more than randomness. And one thing does seem to be clear. Randomness, the operation of mere chance, clearly excludes control.
Peter Lipton's Version
First, everything that happens in the world is either determined or not. Second, if everything is determined, there is no free will. For then every action would be fixed by earlier events, indeed events that took place before the actor was born. Third, if on the other hand not everything is determined, then there is no free will either. For in this case any given action is either determined, which is no good, or undetermined. But if what you do is undetermined then you are not controlling it, so it is not an exercise of free will. Finally, we have the conclusion: there is no free will.
John Martin Fischer's Version
Fischer mistakenly attributes this dilemma to William James's Dilemma of Determinism, which was actually a dilemma about regret in a deterministic world.
Either causal determinism is true, or it is not. If it is true, then we would lack freedom (in the alternative-possibilities and source senses). If it is false, then we would lack freedom in that we would not select the path into the future — we would not be the source of our behavior. Indeterminism appears to entail that it is not the agent who is the locus of control.
Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen's Version
There are three standard responses to the problem of free will. The first, known as 'hard determinism', accepts the incompatibility of free will and determinism ('incompatibilism'), and asserts determinism, thus rejecting free will. The second response is libertarianism (again, no relation to the political philosophy), which accepts incompatibilism, but denies that determinism is true. This may seem like a promising approach. After all, has not modern physics shown us that the universe is indeterministic? The problem here is that the sort of indeterminism afforded by modern physics is not the sort the libertarian needs or desires. If it turns out that your ordering soup is completely determined by the laws of physics, the state of the universe 10,000 years ago, and the outcomes of myriad subatomic coin flips, your appetizer is no more freely chosen than before. Indeed, it is randomly chosen, which is no help to the libertarian.
Kadri Vihvelin's Version
Either determinism is true or it's not. If determinism is true, then my choices are ultimately caused by events and conditions outside my control, so I am not their first cause and therefore...I am neither free nor responsible. If determinism is false, then something that happens inside me (something that I call “my choice” or “my decision”) might be the first event in a causal chain leading to a sequence of body movements that I call “my action”. But since this event is not causally determined, whether or not it happens is a matter of chance or luck. Whether or not it happens has nothing to do with me; it is not under my control any more than an involuntary knee jerk is under my control. Therefore, if determinism is false, I am not the first cause or ultimate source of my choices and...I am neither free nor responsible.
Robert Kane's Ascent and Descent Version
Kane offers what may be the most attractive version of the standard argument against free will, with a memorable diagram. He describes the usual determinism and randomness objections (the two horns of the Libertarian Dilemma) as the ascent and descent of what he calls "Incompatibilism Mountain." The ascent problem is to show free will is incompatible with determinism. The descent problem is to show that free will is compatible with indeterminism. Kane says that if free will is not compatible with determinism, it does not seem to be compatible with indeterminism either.
Let us call this the "Libertarian Dilemma." Events that are undetermined, such as quantum jumps in atoms, happen merely by chance.Note that compatiblism with determinism has always been a great deal easier to accept than compatibilism with indeterminism. Professed " So if free actions must be undetermined, as libertarians claim, it seems that they too would happen by chance. But how can chance events be free and responsible actions? To solve the Libertarian Dilemma, libertarians must not only show that free will is incompatible with determinism, they must also show how free will can be compatible with indeterminism. Imagine that the task for libertarians in solving this dilemma is to ascend to the top of a mountain and get down the other side. (Call the mountain "Incompatibilist Mountain": figure 4.1). Getting to the top consists in showing that free will is incompatible with determinism. (Call it the Ascent Problem.) Getting down the other side (call it the Descent Problem) involves showing how one can make sense of a free will that requires indeterminism. agnostics" on the truth of determinism and indeterminism implicitly equate the two difficulties, whereas there is a great asymmetry between the two. Indeterminism (irrational chance) is much more difficult to reconcile with freedom than is (causal and rational) determinism.
What's Wrong with the Standard Argument?
The most straightforward way to attack the standard argument is to see that the three objections really need to become three requirements for free will.
First, there is a Determinism Requirement - that our actions be adequately determined by our character and values. This requires that randomness not be the direct cause of our actions. Libertarians do not like this requirement. Determinists who think that determinism is all they need for free will call themselves compatibilists.
Next, there must be a Randomness Requirement, unpredictable chance events that break the causal chain of determinism. Without this chance, our actions simply the consequences of events in the remote past. This randomness must be located in a place and time that enhances free will, not one that reduces it to pure chance. Determinists do not like this requirement. Libertarians say that randomness in the decision itself is all they need for human freedom.
If we can meet these two requirements, we will satisfy the Responsibility Requirement. We do this by showing
How Do the Determinists (and Compatibilists) Go Wrong?
Determinists and Compatibilists go wrong when they mistakenly assume that any chance or indeterminism will lead directly to random actions for which we cannot be morally responsible. Though they are metaphysical determinists, they lack confidence in the personal determination of the will, guaranteed by the adequate physical determinism of our macroscopic minds. And as William James said, they have an "antipathy to chance." Our adequately determined will gives us adequate control of microscopic chaos and chance. Some of the compatibilists' fears of randomness are quite funny.
"Indeterminism does not confer freedom on us: I would feel that my freedom was impaired if I thought that a quantum mechanical trigger in my brain might cause me to leap into the garden and eat a slug." (J. J. C. Smart) "For the simplest actions could not be performed in an indeterministic universe. If I decide, say, to eat a piece of fish, I cannot do so if the fish is liable to turn into a stone or to disintegrate in mid-air or to behave in any other utterly unpredictable manner." (P.H.Nowell-Smith)
How Do the Libertarians Go Wrong?
Libertarians go wrong when they try to keep some "freedom" (i.e., indeterminism) in the act of the determining will. Their particular concern is that an agent must be able to do something different in exactly the same circumstances. Agents could not do otherwise, they say, if they are determined by any preceding events, including the results of their immediately prior "free" deliberations. Although this is not the pre-determination of the strict causal chain in metaphysical determinism going back to the big bang, libertarians over-react. They have what William James might call an "antipathy to determinism." Despite advice from Daniel Dennett and Alfred Mele to keep indeterminism in the early pre-deliberation stages, libertarians like Robert Kane, Peter van Inwagen, Laura Waddell Ekstrom, and Mark Balaguer want indeterminism in the decision itself. Kane calls it The Indeterminist Condition:
the agent should be able to act and act otherwise (choose different possible futures), given the same past circumstances and laws of nature. ( A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, 2005, p.38)But personal determination of the will is only acting consistently, in character and according to values expressed in one's habits and customs, when one does the same thing in the same circumstances. (Note that identical circumstances are essentially impossible, given the information of the past stored in the world and the agent's memory.) An adequately determined will, given genuinely unpredictable alternative possibilities, many of which are generated within the agent's mind (thus "up to us"), gives us real choice and gives us control over chaos and chance. However, an additional mistake made by many libertarians is to assume that these alternative possibilities are probabilities. This shows how even libertartians can mistakenly think that chance is the direct cause of action. Robert Kane makes this "possibilities imply probabilities" mistake in his "probability bubbles" model of free will. Peter van Inwagen makes this mistake in his instant replays by God. The libertarians' fears of determinism are not quite as funny, but are equally misplaced.
Consider an agent whose act is, in such a sense, "libertarian free." Now a duplicate agent in exactly similar circumstances governed by the same natural laws and subject to the same occurrence of considerations at the same points in the deliberative process will form exactly the same judgment concerning the best thing to do and will act accordingly. But then, given the consideration pattern that occurs (but might not have), there is no "wiggle room" for the agent in forming an evaluative judgment — it simply falls out, of necessity, from the consideration pattern. Hence such an account does not leave sufficient room for free agency.
A New Comprehensive Compatibilism
The "New Compatibilists" are philosophers who mostly declare themselves to be agnostic on the "truth" of either determinism or indeterminism, and on the question of the compatibilism of free will and determinism. Some are very interested in the independent possibility of the compatibilism of moral responsibility and determinism (or indeterminism). It should only strengthen their hopes for moral responsibility - and the power of origination needed to make our own futures - if they would recognize what we can define as the
Comprehensive Compatibilism of Adequate Determinism and Free Will as well as the Compatibilism of Limited Indeterminism and Free Will:
The common sense idea of free will is compatible with the adequate physical determinism of the real world. We can be responsible for the actions of our adequately determined will. This idea is also compatible with a limited indeterminism because the will has adequate macroscopic control over microscopic randomness and chance. Microscopic noise can be suppressed when needed, so that chance is never the direct cause of action. See our Cogito model.
Two Questions for the New CompatibilistsImmanuel Kant taught us to limit Reason to make room for Belief in Freedom. Here are two specific limits we must place on over-reaching reason.
Question 1. Can We Limit Determinism? Do you believe that quantum mechanics has added indeterminism to the world, so that strict causal physical determinism is not "true?" Question 2. Can We Limit Indeterminism? If an Anti-Frankfurt Demon created some realistic options for your actions, and especially if some of the options were generated randomly, could you feel responsible for your de-liberate choice from among these possible actions?
The Standard Argument in AntiquityIn view of the basic conflict between human freedom and physical causal determinism, it is hard to believe that one of the inventors of determinism, Democritus (c. 5th century BCE), intended it to liberate humans from the arbitrary interventions of the gods in our affairs. Democritus saw divine intervention and foreknowledge as a threat to moral responsibility. His reduction of mind to atoms and a void working by natural laws was such a gain over the traditional view of arbitrary fate and capricious gods determining our actions, that Democritus simply insisted that determinism provided humans more control for moral responsibility. We can say that the determinist objection, the first part of the standard argument against free will, was recognized at the creation of determinism, with the creator simply denying its importance. The first indeterminist was Aristotle. In his Physics and Metaphysics he said there were "accidents" caused by "chance (τυχῆ)." 2 In his Physics, he clearly reckoned chance among the causes. Aristotle might have added chance as a fifth cause - an uncaused or self-caused cause - one that happens when two causal chains come together by accident (συμβεβεκός). He noted that the early physicists found no place for chance among the causes. Aristotle's solution to the problem of free will (though he very likely did not see any problem) was metaphysical. He probably assumed that the human mind was somehow exempt from the materialist laws of nature, whether causally determined or accidental chance, so that our actions can depend on us (ἐφ ἡμῖν). In this respect, we can call Aristotle the first agent-causal free-will libertarian. One generation after Aristotle, Epicurus (c. 4th century BCE), proposed a physical explanation for free choice as a better basis for moral responsibility. His solution was a random "swerve" of the atoms to break the causal chain of determinism, giving us more control than was possible in Democritus' strict determinism. Summarizing Aristotle's position, Epicurus saw three possibilities for causes - necessity, chance, and autonomous human agency (a "tertium quid").
...some things happen of necessity, others by chance, others through our own agency. For he sees that necessity destroys responsibility and that chance is inconstant; whereas our own actions are autonomous, and it is to them that praise and blame naturally attach. It were better, indeed, to accept the legends of the gods than to bow beneath that yoke of destiny which the natural philosophers have imposed. The one holds out some faint hope that we may escape if we honor the gods, while the necessity of the naturalists is deaf to all entreaties. (Letter to Menoeceus)Epicurus wanted a purely materialist solution to the conflict with determinism. He proposed that his random swerves could happen at any time and place. As long as there were some uncaused events in the past, there would no longer be a chain of causes back before our births limiting human agency. Many subsequent philosophers argued mistakenly that Epicurus wanted a swerve to happen at the moment of decision - one swerve for each decision. But this is implausible. That would make our actions random. Epicurus could not explain when and where randomness could occur in his idea of free will to explain moral responsibility. Although Epicurus' physical model for chance is ingenious and anticipated twentieth-century quantum mechanics, it provides little of deep significance for free will and moral responsibility that is not already implicit in Aristotle. Nevertheless, we can say that the randomness objection, the second part of the standard argument against free will, was recognized at the creation of indeterminism. Epicurus provided no specific idea of how his free will model would meet the objection. The first compatibilist, the Stoic Chryssipus (c. 3rd century BCE), strongly objected to Epicurus' suggestion of randomness, arguing that it would only undermine moral responsibility if chance was the direct cause of action. Chryssipus was also aware of the charge that physical determinism had been equated with a necessitarianism that denied any human freedom. He sought a solution to both these objections to free will and moral responsibility. So we can also say that the responsibility objection, the two parts of the standard argument against free will, were recognized at the creation of compatibilism, with its creator rejecting Epicurean randomness but also claiming there is no Leucippean necessity for our human decisions. Chryssipus agreed with Aristotle that our decisions depend on us (πάρ’ ἡμᾶς). They need our assent or choice (ἁιρήσις) to act or not act, even if our actions are fated. Chryssipus felt that his compatibilism handled both objections, and it continues to this day as the most common model for free will among professional philosophers. A generation later, Carneades, the head of the Platonic Academy in the 2nd century BCE, chastised Epicurus for suggesting the swerve of the atoms as a solution to the free will problem. It would be better, he said, for Epicurus to have given a special power to the mind than to the atoms. In this regard, Carneades was favoring a metaphysical agent causalism.
Other names and terms for the Standard ArgumentPeter lipton "the philosopher's classic free will dilemma." John Martin Fischer calls it the Dilemma of Determinism and mistakenly credits it to the William James essay of that name. Paul Russell also describes it as the Dilemma of Determinism. It can be seen as liberty of indifference (chance) vs. (or and) the liberty of spontaneity (will). Peter Strawson makes the argument between optimists and pessimists.