Do we have “free will” or are we merely “a planet of playthings dancing on strings with nothing left to chance” as Rush describes in the song “Free Will”.
Discussing the concept of “free will” is always a mind bending topic. Especially given the various views on how it works and whether we really have it.
I like the definition Daniel Whedon gave in his work entitled The Freedom of the Will as a Basis of Human Responsibility and a Divine Government (1864). The freedom of the will is the power of the soul by which it is the conscious author of an intentional act.
There are three major views on “free will”, which I have tried to briefly summarize.
- Determinism: asserts that any future event is determined (caused) by past events and the laws of nature. For any given set of past events there is only one possible outcome for a given future event. Therefore a person (an agent) will always “choose” the same option given the same set of past events. The outcome is considered an absolute necessity and all options though they may appear possible are actually impossible.
- Libertarian Free Will: is probably what most think of when we hear the term “free will”. It is often described as the ability to “choose otherwise” or the ability “to choose to do something or not do something”. In this view a person is able to choose an option from among several possible options. These options do not just appear to be possible to the one choosing but are actual alternatives that can be realized. The outcome is considered “open”. Given the same set of past events, a person is still free to choose different options therefore libertarian free will is not compatible with determinism. This view is generally held by those who are not in the Calvinist/Reformed camp.
- Compatibilism: asserts that “free will” and determinism are compatible (hence the name). The “free will” in this view is different from that described in the libertarian position. Free will in this view is the ability for a person to freely act according to their desires (or nature). However the outcome is limited to only one possible option (just like determinism). The outcome is fixed because the desire, which causes the person to choose one option over another, is the result of (or is caused by) past events. The person will always pick the same option, given the same set of past events, because the desire that a person has is always the same. There is no ability to “choose otherwise”. In order for a different choice to be made the past events (causes) would also need to change. This view is held by those in the Calvinist/Reformed camp.
A Football player faces Free Agency
In order to illustrate Libertarian free will and Compatibilism I came up with an example that does not focus on how one is saved or involve the commission of a sin/wrong. In this story we examine how a football player entering free agency might choose which team to play for.
A football player playing for a team has reached the end of his contract. He is a running back who has played well. He has been the second back for a team that uses a running back by committee (RBBC) approach. It is the off-season and he has to evaluate where he is going to play next year. His agent calls him up and says he has the following offers.
- Team A – his current team has offered to re-sign him for 2 years at $1 million per year. He is projected to have the same role as he currently does on the team.
- Team B – a SuperBowl contender has offered to sign him as their backup for 3 years at $600 K per year. His role and playing time would be reduced compared to playing for Team A.
- Team C – a mediocre team has offered to make him the starter signing him for 4 years at $2 million per year. He would be a focal point of the offense as the team continues to rebuild.
The player is wrestling with the options he does have before him. He is well liked on his current team and coaches. His family likes the area where they are living and does not want to up root and move. The player sees strong reasons to sign with Team A.
However, the player has always wanted to experience the thrill of playing in the big game and contend for a SuperBowl championship. Despite the pay cut and limited playing time the best way to make this dream come true is to sign with Team B.
Like most players, he would like the chance to prove he can start in the NFL and carry a team. Team C believes he can be a dynamic player in the league and be a key part of the rebuilding process. They have also offered him the most money and in the NFL a player never really knows how long they will be able to play so “cashing in” while healthy is always a strong factor.
Finally, the player grew up in the city where Team D plays. He was really hoping to have the chance to play in his home town during his career. However they have two great players at the running back position and did not make him an offer.
The player has chosen to sign with Team C.
In future posts we will explore whether the player was a restricted free agent (compatibilism) or an unrestricted free agent (libertarian free will).