Free will is the capacity to choose between different possible courses of action, unimpeded.

Free will is the capacity to choose between different possible courses of action, unimpeded.

Free will is the capacity of agents to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. [1][2]

Free will is closely linked to the concepts of moral responsibilitypraiseculpabilitysin, and other judgments that apply only to freely chosen actions. 

It is also connected with the ideas of advicepersuasiondeliberation, and prohibition. Traditionally, only freely willed actions are seen as deserving credit or blame. Whether free will exists, what it is, and the implications of whether it exists or not are some of the longest-running debates in philosophy and religion. Some conceive free will as the right to act outside of external influences or wishes.

Some conceive free will as the capacity to make choices undetermined by past events. 

Determinism suggests that only one course of events is possible, which is inconsistent with a libertarian model of free will. [3] Ancient Greek philosophy identified this issue,[4] which remains a primary focus of philosophical debate. The view that conceives free will as incompatible with determinism is called incompatibilism and encompasses both metaphysical libertarianism (the claim that determinism is false and thus free will is at least possible) and hard determinism (the claim that determinism is true and therefore free will is not possible). 

Incompatibilism also encompasses hard incompatibilism, which holds not only determinism but also indeterminism to be incompatible with free will and thus free will to be impossible whatever the case may be regarding determinism.

In contrast, compatibilists hold that free will is compatible with determinism. Some compatibilists even hold that determinism is necessary for free will, arguing that choice involves preference for one course of action over another, requiring a sense of how choices will turn out. [5][6] Compatibilists thus consider the debate between libertarians and hard determinists over free will vs. determinism a false dilemma. [7] 

Different compatibilists offer very different definitions of what “free will” means and consequently find different types of constraints relevant to the issue. Classical compatibilists considered free will nothing more than freedom of action, considering one free of will simply if, had one counterfactually wanted to do otherwise, one could have done otherwise without physical impediment. 

Contemporary compatibilists instead identify free will as a psychological capacity, such as to direct one’s behavior in a way responsive to reason, and there are still further different conceptions of free will, each with their own concerns, sharing only the common feature of not finding the possibility of determinism a threat to the possibility of free will. [8]

In theology

Main article: Free will in theology


Augustine’s view of free will and Predestination would go on to have a profound impact on Christian theology.

The notions of free will and Predestination are heavily debated among Christians. In the Christian sense, free will is the ability to choose between good and evil. Among Catholics are those holding to Thomism, adopted from what Thomas Aquinas put forth in the Summa Theologica. There are also some holding to Molinism, which was put forth by Jesuit priest Luis de Molina. Among Protestants, there is Arminianism, held primarily by the Methodist Churches and formulated by Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius; and there is also Calvinism held by most in the Reformed tradition, which was developed by the French Reformed theologian John Calvin. John Calvin was heavily influenced by Augustine of Hippo’s views on Predestination put forth in his work On the Predestination of the Saints. Martin Luther seems to hold views on Predestination similar to Calvinism in his On the Bondage of the Will, thus rejecting free will. In condemnation of Calvin and Luther’s views, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent declared that “the free will of man, moved and excited by God, can by its consent cooperate with God, Who excites and invites its action; and that it can thereby dispose and prepare itself to obtain the grace of justification. The will can resist grace if it chooses. It is not like a lifeless thing that remains purely passive. Weakened and diminished by Adam’s fall, free will is yet not destroyed in the race (Sess. VI, cap. i and v).” John Wesley, the father of the Methodist tradition, taught that humans, enabled by prevenient grace, have free will through which they can choose God and to do good works, with the goal of Christian perfection. [235] Upholding synergism (the belief that God and man cooperate in salvation), Methodism teaches that “Our Lord Jesus Christ did so die for all men as to make salvation attainable by every man that cometh into the world. If men are not saved, that fault is entirely their own, and lies solely in their own unwillingness to obtain the salvation offered to them. (John 1:9; I Thess. 5:9; Titus 2:11-12).” [236]

Paul the Apostle discusses Predestination in some of his Epistles.

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” —Romans 8:29–30

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” —Ephesians 1:5

There are also mentions of moral freedom in what is now termed as ‘Deuterocanonical’ works, which the Orthodox and Catholic Churches use. In Sirach 15 the text states:

“Do not say: “It was God’s doing that I fell away,” for what he hates he does not do. Do not say: “He himself has led me astray,” for he has no need of the wicked. Abominable wickedness the Lord hates, and he does not let it happen to those who fear him. God, in the beginning, created human beings and made them subject to their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given to them. Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; mighty in power, he sees all things. The eyes of God behold his works, and he understands every human deed. He never commands anyone to sin, nor shows leniency toward deceivers.” – Ben Sira‬ ‭15:11-20‬ ‭NABRE

The exact meaning of these verses has been debated by Christian theologians throughout history.


Main article: Free will in theology § Judaism

Bas relief of Maimonides in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In Jewish thought the concept of “Free-will” (Hebrew: bechirah chofshit בחירה חפשית, bechirah בחירה) is foundational. The most succinct statement is by Maimonides, in a two-part treatment, where human free will is specified as part of the universe’s Godly design:

  1. Maimonides’s reasoned [237] that human beings must have free will (at least in the context of choosing to do good or evil), as without this, the demands of the prophets would have been meaningless, there would be no need for the Torah and Mitzvot (“commandments”), and justice could not be administered.
  2. At the same time, Maimonides – and other thinkers – recognize [238] the paradox that will arise given (i) that Judaism simultaneously recognizes God’s omniscience and further (ii) the nature of Divine providence as understood in Judaism. (In fact, the problem may be seen to overlap several others in Jewish Philosophy.)


In Islam, the theological issue is not usually how to reconcile free will with God’s foreknowledge, but with God’s jabr, or divine commanding power. al-Ash’ari developed an “acquisition” or “dual-agency” form of compatibilism, in which human free will and divine jabr were both asserted and which became a cornerstone of the dominant Ash’ari position. [239]. In Shia Islam, Ash’aris understanding of a higher balance toward Predestination is challenged by most theologians. [240] Free will, according to Islamic doctrine is the main factor for man’s accountability in his/her actions throughout life. Actions taken by people exercising free will are counted on the Day of Judgement because they are their own; however, the free will happens with the permission of God. [241]


The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard claimed that divine omnipotence cannot be separated from divine goodness. [242]. As a truly omnipotent and good being, God could create beings with true freedom over God. Furthermore, God would voluntarily do so because “the greatest good… which can be done for a being, greater than anything else that one can do for it, is to be truly free.” [243] Alvin Plantinga’s free-will defense is a contemporary expansion of this theme, adding how God, free will, and evil are consistent. [244]

Some philosophers follow William of Ockham in holding that necessity and possibility are defined with respect to a given point in time and a given matrix of empirical circumstances, and so something that is merely possible from the perspective of one observer may be necessary from the perspective of an omniscient. [245] Some philosophers follow Philo of Alexandria, a philosopher known for his homocentrism, in holding that free will is a feature of a human’s soul, and thus that non-human animals lack free will. [246]

Choice is central to the American experience. (EZM)

WE&P by: EZorrillaM