Positive Case for Compatibilism and the Free Will Problem

The concept of free will has been a point of contention for philosophers for several decades. One of the reasons for these diverging viewpoints is the debate on how exactly to define the word free. It would be misleading to attribute any one exclusive idea to the concept.

However it is agreed neutrally that it is an exercise of an individual’s behavior in order for him to take moral responsibility for his actions. A person who takes on his moral responsibility is one who can chose to make decisions that are morally right or wrong. Thus, the blame or reward for the outcome of the decision falls squarely on his shoulders. It is understood that free will is an essential component of these decisions.

Conceptually it can be understood how the pre-determined nature of the universe can casually affect our decisions to such a point where free will is no longer applicable. However the theory of compatibilism states that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. That they can exist together without conflict, that an individual can exercise free will when faced with pre-determined factors. This topic will analyze, synthesize and evaluate arguments related to the problems associated with the concept of free will and how compatibilism offers a solution to these problems (McKenna, 2004).

In order to understand how compatibilism acts as a solution to the free will problem it is first important to understand that there are several concepts used attributed to free will. When these concepts are conjoined to others they invariably create several contradictions. In order to avoid these problems it is important to consider the classic formulation of free will which informs us of then several key factors associated with it. The first is that the individual has a choice to act in more than one way in a situation.

However any action taken by an individual qualifies as an event with various causes that effect the individual’s decision. Thus, the cause is casually determined and the individual cannot act in any way other than what is pre-determined by these factors. It should be noted that the existence of free will is tantamount upon the fact that the individual has no extraneous source compelling him to act. Rather all his decisions making is contingent upon his own compulsion to follow his decisions in the face of alternate possibilities. It is only in such a case that freedom to assume moral responsibility exists (McKenna, 2004).

John Martin Fincher is a philosopher who is responsible for refining the viewpoint that suggested that decisions which constitute the free will of an individual can be affected by a number of reasons. This proves why certain people can have different reactions to the same situation and rules out those individuals who have compulsive or neurotic behavior.

The refined viewpoint by Martin Fincher is known as the reasons-responsiveness theory which states that even though there are considerations which may affect the decisions of an individual. The decision made it can still be considered to be an individual free will since the choice made is rationally based according to the factors affecting the individual (McKenna, 2004).

Another concept attributed to Compatibilism is P.F Strawson’s concept of moral responsibility. This is similar to Hume’s concept and says that the practice of holding an individual morally responsible for his or her own actions is formed on the basis of both emotional and societal structures. He said that the existence of these critical responses is part of human nature defined by our basic emotional natures and cannot be abandoned, thus the fact that determinism affects our moral responsibility does not hold ground.

However in certain cases an individual can choose to give up their moral judgments in favor of rationalizing the individuals actions can exist as well but only in the cases where the actions gains favors or losses to human life (Kane, 2002 p. 516-521).

There are of course objections to the theories of compatibilism. One of the principle arguments for incompatibilism comes from Carl Ginet. The argument given by him states that the power of an individual to affect change does not extend to factors such as those of nature that are by their very nature unchangeable.

And if a certain fact affects a person directly and the consequences of that fact exist than the person will be affected by the consequences of that fact as well. Thus in the face of these facts determinism becomes true and since no one can change the facts that cause the situation, no one can affect the future (McKenna, 2004).