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5.2.3: Compatibilism

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    Soft determinism (or compatibilism)  is the position or view that  causal determinism is true, but we still act as free, morally responsible agents when, in the absence of external constraints, our actions are caused by our desires.  

    Compatibilism does not maintain that humans are free. Compatabilism does not hold that humans have free will. 

    Compatibilism holds that:

    1) the thesis of determinism is true, and that accordingly all human behavior, voluntary or involuntary, like the behavior of all other  things, arises from antecedent conditions, given which no other behavior is possible: all human behavior is caused and determined

    2)voluntary behavior is nonetheless free to the extent that it is not externally constrained or impeded

    3) the causes of voluntary behavior are certain states, events, or conditions within the agent: acts of will or volitions, choices, decisions, desires etc...  

    Compatibilism is NOT a position that combines the libertarian and determinist positions.

    Compatibilismis NOT a compromise of the two other positions.

    Compatibilism is NOT a position that holds that humans are "a little bit" free.

    Compatibilism is NOT a position that holds that humans have "limited free will".

    Compatibilism is NOT a position that holds that humans have some free will.

    Compatibilism is determinism with a slight modification for the sake of appearances and for our language use.  It is a position taken because of the perceived need to have some idea of accountability or responsibility for human behavior. 

    For those who hold this position humans can be held accountable for their actions and blameworthy if they act according to their will (however formed) and are not coerced or forced by external agencies or agents. If the motives or goals or other factors that form the will are the results of prior events and experienced and are so determined that does not nullify the idea that the human acts according to a will and has freedom of the will.

    Humans are either free or they are not.  They either possess free will and can use it or they do not have it at all.  They either have it and can use it as often as they want to do so or they have only the appearance of free will and really never make decisions or choices devoid of prior influences that determine the outcome of the decision or choice making procedure.

    That there may be social or physical constraints is not the issue here.  Humans are not able to fly using only their own bodies to propel them through the air.  You could say that humans are not "free " to do so but that would be to misuse the word free and change its meaning from "being able to choose" to "being physically able to do".

    There may be repercussions or consequences for our actions so that a person might want to say something like "I am not free to rob a bank and by that mean that if they did they would be pursued and captures and imprisoned.  If persons have free will they can make the choice to rob a bank and flee capture. 

    Freedom in this context of the freedom versus determinism issue has a meaning that identifies it with possessing free will or being able to make choices for ones self.

    Definition and suggested links by Garth Kemerling READ:

    READ: Wikipedia on compatibilism  on Free Will 

     W. T.  Stace position in   from Religion and the Modern Mind

    Orthodox Christian View: A Dialogue on Free Will and Determinism :  Deacon Father John Whiteford

    Humean Compatibilism:


    Criticisms of Compatibilism:

    The determinists criticize the compatibilists for for claiming that there is any freedom at all.  The determinists think the compatibilists are defining freedom in a different manner in order to make the claim that there is some freedom of choice.  The determinists hold that all apparent decision making or choices are determined by internal and external factors , including desires, motives, principles that are in turn the effects of prior causes.

    The Libertarians criticize the compatibilists for being determinists in a different guise. 

    Criticism of the Compatibilist's Analysis of "Could Have Done Otherwise" by James Pryor




    David Hume: Our Freedom Reconciled with Determinism

    Who's afraid of Determinism?   
    Article by Christopher Taylor and Daniel Dennett (Tufts University) against incompatibilism

    Freedom and Determinism: A Naturalistic Approach   
    Article defending Dennett's compatibilism by David L. Thompson (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

    The Nature of Freewill Defense of compatibilist position by Peter Voss

    A Case for Free Will and Determinism
    Collection of discussions on compatibilism by Ben Best

    5.2.3: Compatibilism is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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