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


Introductory Remarks
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

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

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

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