FREE WILL/
PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY/FREEDOM OF CHOICE:
An Evolving Web Resource List


"Free will" (and its associated concepts of "freedom of choice" and "personal responsibility"), once the near exclusive province of religion and philosophy, are increasingly matters of legal, scientific, and concrete practical concern. They are also matters central to both the evolution and the theoretical inquiries of Serendip. The following is a serendipish sampling of web materials relevant to further exploration of the meaning and significance of "free will". Suggestions for useful additions to this list are welcome, and should be sent to pgrobste@brynmawr.edu.


One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license ... P.J. O'Rourke

My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will ... William James

Does one have to "believe" in free will? Or is it something that one can make observations about/explore/develop new understandings of?

Is it perhaps something that one can have more or less of, something that an be cultivated?

Materials gathered here are intended as a contribution to developing an empirical understanding of "free will."

Overviews

Free will, from The Catholic Encyclopedia

The issue of free will originally arose in a theological context, and related to the question of whether humans can or cannot act free of God's instructions/intentions. The Christian doctrine believes that God has created man to obey his moral law which creates a question as to the role of free will. This website explores the history of free will and the Catholic Church, ranging back to St. Thomas Aquinas, through Luther and Calvin while in addition examining the influences of Descartes and Hobbes. This website thinks strongly about how free will relates to moral duties and obligations and examines the role of free will toward both good and evil. Overall this website presents a focused perspective on the ways in which free will influences the Catholic doctrine.

Free will, from the Skeptic's Dictionary

This site focuses on free will in the context of a deterministic universe. It briefly touches on Hobbes, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and their arguments about deterministic free will. The main focus of this article is to look at the control of human behavior and actions and what human responsibility is due to the presence of free will. There is a brief reference to dualism as a viable modern philosophy for the nature of free will, and a link for a further discussion on these main ideas. Although there is no real mention of Descartes' mind-body problem, the website does mention the ways in which this debate relates to contemporary discussion in neuroscience.

Lectures Notes on Free Will and Determinism, from Norman Swartz, Simon Fraser University

This article examines three types of determinism: logical determinism, epistemic determinism and causal determinism. These three types of determinism are discussed primarily in a contemporary context with little relation to the historical origins of their discussion. This website is helpful because it outlines the logical steps in each argument and gives the reader straightforward examples in order to understand the concepts. After a discussion of the types of determinism, the discussion transitions into talking about the laws of nature, physicalism and their influence on free-will. This website is written from a personal perspective, but does a solid job of working through the arguments with understandable examples.

Free will, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This website does an excellent job of giving an overview about the existing ways of thinking about free will. It discusses free will as a general concept from a broad contemporary perspective and gives many references to the different philosophers and theorists who have thought about free will. This website looks at three broad aspects which define ‘free will': rational deliberation, ownership, and causation and control. There is a section specifically devoted to "Theological Wrinkles," which looks at free will from a Western monotheistic perspective. This section connects nicely with the Catholic Encyclopedia (see link above). There are helpful links to further explore different types of free will including: compatibilism, causal determinism, fatalism, arguments for incompatibilism, and divine foreknowedge and free will. There is also a strong bibliography with notes and links to internet resources which provide further specialized discussion.

Free will, from Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This is one of the strongest sources on traditional free will theory since it references many different philosophers (Kant, Hume and others) as well as incorporates contemporary theories on free will. This site is able to take the discussion of free will to a more philosophical level, while incorporating examples which are easy to grasp and understand. This site references a number of different philosophical debates about free will including: compatibilism, incompatibilism, pessimism, moral responsibility, and metaphysics. Each of these areas are discussed both from a historical perspective and then related to the modern day reader. This is one of the best sites to get an overview about ‘who said what' about free will.

Free will, from Wikipedia

This site is a general information site about free will. It is divided into sections which gives a brief overview of different areas of free will as well as some notice to the philosophers involved. It discusses contemporary issues including crimes, neuroscience and physics and their relationship to free will. There is an interesting discussion about free will as it is seen in the Western liberal tradition as well as in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, which are helpful in seeing the different ways one can think about free will. There is a long list of links and references associated with this site, and it is a good starting point in thinking about free will.

Summary and Commentary

A general perspective on "free will" is that it reflects an interest in and concern about the constraints on the actions of individual human beings, and the significance for morality of such constraints. Originally, the issue was the extent to which human behavior is constrained by the actions of a deity or other supernatural forces. More recently, the concern has become the extent to which individual behavior is constrained by other forces, such as overriding social and cultural influences or a deterministic universe governed by impersonal laws and rules that make the future an inevitable product of the past.

Our interest here is not with the theological issues, though we think they can indeed help to inform the discussion, but rather with the issues of constraints or lack thereof that result from social/cultural forces and modern scientific understandings of the universe including the human brain. In these terms, the critical features needing to be further explored can be summarized in the following diagram

We further believe that these issues need to be treated empirically as well as philosophically, and depend on observations made from the perspectives of a variety of disciplines and traditions of thought. One critical issue is whether we live in a deterministic universe, one in which the future is in principle determined by the past. If so, there are, it seems to us, only two viable postures with regard to free will, either that it does not exist ("fatalism") or that it is simply an acknowledgment that individuals differ from one another and therefore play different roles in creating the future ("compatabilism"). The alternative track is that the future is in principle influenced by decisions of humans to act in one of several different ways they can conceive of acting, and so either have ("free will") or refuse to acknowledge ("fatalism") their own personal agency. The resulting issue of the existence and nature of personal agency in turn can be approached from either a dualistic or a materialist perspective. Whether the brain is organized in such a way to support personal agency, and hence free will, is a major concern of this site.




Free will in the press
Physics and free will
Science does not at the moment require the presumption that the universe is deterministic
Free will and the brain
Consciousness and free will
Moral/ethical/legal issues and free will

Free Will, thoughts of a Swedish humanist (and pharmacy student), with interesting links to other resources from here and his home page.

Ability, Practical Reason, and Free Will Thoughts about the necessity of free will in the context of robotics/artificial intelligence, from John McCarthy, Computer Science, Stanford University

Free will, from Quotes to Inspire You

Froggy Free Will?, originally from Mad or Rad at abcnews.com

The Free Will Problem, interactive from Serendip

Variability in Brain Function and Behavior, a neurobiological way into the free will issue, by Paul Grobstein, Bryn Mawr College