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This lecture will help you understand:

Soft determinism (compatibilism)
The theoretical insolubility of the free
will problem
The dilemma
Garden of Forking Paths (Borges)
Free will vs. randomness

William James (1842-1910)

Question 1:
James rejects which premise of the
following argument?
P1: If every event has a cause, then there are no free actions.
P2: Every event has a cause.
C:. There are no free actions.

A. P1: If every event has a cause, then

there are no free actions.
B. P2: Every event has a cause.
C. Both Premises
D. Neither Premise

James agrees with dHolbach that if
determinism is true, then there is no room for
free will, and thus man cannot be held morally
accountable for his actions.
But unlike dHolbach, James does not believe
that determinism is true.


Libertarianism/Free Will(ism)

Soft Determinism
Soft determinism is intended to be a half way
position between so-called hard
determinism (Holbach) and libertarianism
(Reid, James).
It basically says that determinism and free will
are compatible.
Well look at the compatibilist position in
more detail when we examine Humes
position in the next lecture.

quagmire of evasion
James rejects the compatibilist position, which
constitutes an evasion of the real issue:
Now, all this is a quagmire of evasion under
which the real issue of fact has been entirely
smothered (IP 321).

For James, you are either a determinist or an

indeterminist; there is no middle ground. Soft
determinism is a form of sophistry or

Free will Thesis

The question relates solely to the existence
of possibilities, in the strict sense of the term,
as things that may, but need not, be (IP 322)

Definition of Determinism
(block universe)
It professes that those parts of the universe already
laid down absolutely appoint and decree what the
other parts shall be. The future has no ambiguous
possibilities hidden in its womb; the part we call the
present is compatible with only one totality. Any
other future complement than the one fixed from
eternity is impossible. The whole is in each and every
part, and welds it with the rest into an absolute
unity, an iron block, in which there can be no
equivocation or shadow of turning. (IP 322)

Definition of Indeterminism
Indeterminism, on the contrary, says that the parts
have a certain amount of loose play on one
another, so that the laying down of one of them
does not necessarily determine what the others shall
be. It admits that possibilities may be in excess of
actualities, and that things not yet revealed to our
knowledge may really in themselves be ambiguous.
Of two alternative futures which we conceive, both
may now be really possible; and the one becomes
impossible only at the very moment when the other
excludes it by becoming real itself. (IP 322)

No Scientific Solution
According to James, there is no scientific or
evidential solution to the problem of
metaphysical freedom since facts are always
If we have no other evidence than the evidence
of existing facts, the possibility-question must
remain a mystery never to be cleared up. (IP 323)

Jamess thought experiment to show that there is

nothing incoherent in the indeterminist position

Divinity Avenue

Oxford Street

Lecture Hall

El Jardn de senderos que se bifurcan (1941)

no criterion
Determinists in hindsight will say that James
couldnt have gone home via Oxford Street.
However, James argues that this is sheer
dogmatism and not a claim based on real
There would be absolutely no criterion by which
we might judge one necessary and the other a
matter of chance (IP 324).

Question 2:
According to James, indeterminism
allows that the world has

no ambiguous possibilities
a fixed future
ambiguous possibilities
no shadow of turning

Since there is no theoretical proof of either
determinism or indeterminism (the matter is
theoretically undecidable or insoluble) the
question for James becomes: Which belief
(determinism or indeterminism) would it be
more rational to adopt given other beliefs we
generally hold?

The Dilemma of Determinism

Jamess answer is that indeterminism is the
more rational belief to hold because
determinism gives rise to a dilemma.
What is that dilemma?

A Dilemma
A dilemma in general is a situation that
requires a choice between mutually exclusive
options that are equally unfavorable.

The Formal Argument


I must accept either D (determinism) or

not-D (indeterminism).
P2 If I accept D, then I must accept either P
(pessimism) or O (optimism) (a
P3 But I cannot accept P.
P4 But I cannot accept O.
C Therefore, I cannot accept D (and thus
must accept not-D).

Brockton Murder
. . . to get rid of the wife whose continued
existence bored him, he inveigled her into a
desert spot, shot her four times, and then, as
she lay on the ground and said to him, You
didn't do it on purpose, did you, dear?
replied, No, I didn't do it on purpose, as he
raised a rock and smashed her skull (IP 325).

According to James the determinist would have to

say either:
1) it is regrettable that the murder had to occur, thus the
universe was set up in such a way that murder was
inevitable (pessimism)
James argues that 1) is undesirable because it makes life not worth

2) it is not regrettable that the murder had to occur
because it leads to the best of all possible worlds
James argues that 2) is morally objectionable because it turns bad
actions into good things.

Both implications are unacceptable!

We feel that, continues James, although a
perfect mechanical fit to the rest of the
universe, it is a bad moral fit, and that
something else would really have been better
in its place (IP 325).

The only deterministic escape from pessimism is
everywhere to abandon the judgment of regret. That
this can be done, history shows to be not impossible.
The devil, quoad existentiam, may be good. That is,
although he be a principle of evil, yet the universe, with
such a principle in it, may practically be a better
universe than it could have been without. On every
hand, in a small way, we find that a certain amount of
evil is a condition by which a higher form of good is
brought. . . . Thus, our deterministic pessimism may
become a deterministic optimism at the price of
extinguishing our judgments of regret. (IP 326)

If I dont accept determinism, then I must
accept indeterminism and the pluralism
which goes with it, namely, that there is good
and bad in the universe, but it is possible that
through our action we may improve it. This is
called meliorism.

The sting of the word chance seems to lie in the
assumption that it means something positive, and that
if anything happens by chance, it must needs be
something of an intrinsically irrational and
preposterous sort. Now, chance means nothing of the
kind. It is a purely negative and relative term, giving us
no information about that of which it is predicated,
except that it happens to be disconnected with
something else-not controlled, secured, or necessitated
by other things in advance of its own actual presence.
(IP 323)
Chance doesnt mean uncertain or fate.

Is indeterminism possible?

Quantum Mechanics?

A gram of uranium-238, a commonly occurring radioactive substance,

contains some 2.5 x 1021 atoms. It has a half life of 4.47 billion years.
About 12,600 times a second one of the atoms in each gram will decay,
emitting an alpha particle. This decay does not depend on external
stimulus and no scientific theory predicts when any given atom will
decay, with realistically obtainable knowledge.

1) Violation of the Principle of Sufficient
Consider, for instance, an experiment where an electron
goes through a magnetic field and either moves upward
or downward, but the direction of its movement is not
determined by the previous state of the system. Should
there not be a reason why the electron moved, say,

Albert Einstein
God doesnt play dice with
the universe.
I claim credit for nothing.
Everything is determined,
the beginning as well as the
end, by forces over which we
have no control. It is
determined for the insect as
well as for the star. Human
beings, vegetables, or cosmic
dust, we all dance to a
mysterious tune, intoned in
the distance by an invisible
piper (October, 1929).

2) Indeterminacy v. Free Will

It is difficult to see how the indeterminacy of
quantum mechanics makes free will more
plausible. On the contrary, free will presumably
implies rational thought and decision, whereas
the essence of the indeterminism in quantum
mechanics is that it is due to intrinsic
randomness. When I claim my action was done
freely, I do not mean to say that it was random!