Free Will and Determinism: A Dialogue
Clifford Williams
Hackett Publishing Company, 1980 
78 pages 

  


Over 50,000 copies in print

“. . . nicely conceived, very clearly written and sure to spark interest and debate in 
undergraduate philosophy courses. While maintaining a high level of philosophic 
substance and sophistication, it is not obscure or overly ‘heavy’ . . . a considerable 
achievement.”   – David M. Mowry, SUNY at Plattsburgh
 
“Excellent: competent, complete, fair. The abstract is helpful. The examples are 
appropriate. The language is clear and even moving.”   – Peter Koestenbaum, 
San Jose State University
 
“. . . engages the reader in an interesting and penetrating debate among advocates 
of the classic positions on the problem of free will and determinism.”   – James Valone, 
Teaching Philosophy
 

Contents
 
Introductory Remarks 
Determinism 
Whether Determinism Is an Empirical Theory 
Deliberation and Free Will 
The Awareness of Free Will 
Whether the Awareness of Free Will Conflicts with Determinism 
Whether Determinism Is Compatible with Free Will 
Determinism and Moral Responsibility 
Whether Determinism Is Compatible with Moral Responsibility 
Concluding Remarks 
Abstract 
Questions 
  

Excerpt from the book
 
Frederick: A free-willist 
Daniel: A determinist 
Carolyn: A compatibilist
 
Frederick: If everything we do were caused, and if the causes of what we do were 
caused, and so on, there would be a chain of causes stretching back to happenings 
that occurred prior to our births. But we certainly do not have control over anything 
that happened prior to our births. You will admit that, I presume? 
Carolyn: Yes. 
Frederick: Well, then, it follows that if everything we do were caused, we would have 
no control over anything we do, because everything we do would be caused ultimately 
by happenings over which we have no control. So there cannot be an endless chain of 
causes causing everything we do if our actions are free. Our actions, or the choices that 
cause our actions, must be uncaused if we are to be in control of what we do. That means 
that if people have free will, as I say, then determinism is false; and if determinism is true, 
as you and Daniel say, then people have no free will. 
Daniel: I agree with you. That is an excellent argument for the incompatibility of free will 
and determinism. 
Carolyn: Your argument sounds a little bit like Clarence Darrow’s statement that “any one 
of an infinite number of causes reaching back to the beginning” made Leopold and Loeb 
commit murder. 
Frederick: That’s right. Of course, I disagree with Darrow’s belief in determinism, but I 
agree with him that if everything we do is caused by events occurring before our births, 
then we have no free will. 
Daniel: What are your reactions to this argument, Carolyn? 
Carolyn: I think that we all have freedom even though everything we do is caused by 
happenings occurring prior to our births. That’s because the way we decide in daily life 
whether or not we have freedom is to determine whether or not there is anything 
preventing us from doing what we want to do. If there isn’t anything, then we have 
freedom, even though what we do is caused by an endless chain of happenings. 
Frederick: Your response seems to me to sidestep the issue entirely. 
 
From Free Will and Determinism: A Dialogue (Hackett Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 
38-39. 
Copyright © 1980 by Clifford Williams. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights 
reserved.


An extension of this book on determinism, God, evil, and the meaning of life is at www.cliffordwilliams.net/determinism

 
Lists of websites on free will and determinism:
 


 

Books on free will and determinism:
 
Bernard Berofsky, Editor, Free Will and Determinism 
C. A. Campbell, In Defence of Free Will 
Daniel Dennett, Elbow Room 
Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will 
Sidney Hook, Editor, Determinism and Freedom in the Age of Modern Science 
Peter Van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will

 




 

© 1980 Clifford Williams