Professional philosophers, armchair philosophers and even lackadaisical, first-year undergraduates in an introductory philosophy course have all stood in front of the incredibly daunting and equally frightening question: Do we have free will? Some find peace within the pragmatic principles that, as humans, we have to make a practical choice of what we are to believe. Some escape this dilemma by finding solace in Cartesian dualism1. But, those still skeptical of such philosophical doctrines are left aimlessly fumbling with the discrepancy between our innate feeling that we have complete control to make our own decisions and the understanding that our minds operate within what science asserts to be a deterministic universe. This discussion between free will and determinism can be traced back to when the human minds first began fathoming the meaning and the purpose of their existence. The notion that a man has the power of acting with constraint has long since stood as the pillar for the supporters of free will. While, the doctrine that all events, including human action, are determined by causes external to the will has stood as the foundation for the proponents of determinism.
This paper seeks to use experimental data to guide the discussion toward determinism as per the limitations of free will. If this paper establishes that these new findings can update the free will vs. determinism discussion, this paper will also discuss what that means for today’s societal conceptions of legal and moral responsibility. The first part of this paper will define both sides of the discussion as well as introduce how contemporary philosophy is gaining recognition in the free will debate. The second part of this paper will discuss how neuroscience is disputing the notion of free will as well as discuss the current limitations of neuroscience’s ability to define free will. The third part of this paper will address the potential legal, moral, and ethical consequences. The fourth part of this paper will explore how the next generation of experiments in physics, chemistry, neuroscience, and other relevant scientific fields will affect the free will discussion in the future. Before we are able to see the impact of neuroscience on the discussion of free will, we must first look back at the philosophical doctrines that have defined free will and determinism, thus far.
1 Rene Descartes holds that the mind is nonphysical substance. He clearly identifies that mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Therefore, the separation of mind and body allows dualists to believe in both determinism and free will, untangling the association and escaping the debate all together.
The most common problem of free will has been balancing the element of freedom with the apparent determinism that is present in a world of events in a great causal chain. The debate on free will has thus been far too polarized between complete freedom and complete determinism. We, as humans, have not been able to find the right balance between free will and deterministic constraints to understand how our world operates. Although it is a commonly regarded intuition that we have free will, a dichotomy arises when we attempt to define the concept of free will. Depending how one defines free will, one falls somewhere in between the polarized ends of complete freedom or complete determinism.
We will be exploring two main types of Determinism: Hard and Soft determinism. Hard determinism lies on the end of the spectrum near complete determinism. The Hard determinist’s theory believes that one’s present actions control the outcome of the events in the future. This outcome is usually conceived by a person’s actions. Therefore, we must view our actions analogous to events. According to the Hard deterministic doctrine, we do not possess the ability to