Essay Sample on Determinism, Libertarianism, and Compatibilism

Published: 2022-12-26
Essay Sample on Determinism, Libertarianism, and Compatibilism
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Philosophy Liberty Personality Social psychology
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1467 words
13 min read

The questions revolving what constitutes good life are based on the concepts of whether human nature has a free will to do whatever they please. The choices made by human beings dictate a good life and whether they are free to make choices or whether external forces predetermine the choices. The concept of free will presents tough questions such as how can human nature make free choices if the past and the laws of nature are what dictate human actions. Other scholars argue that moral responsibility facilitates the existence of free will. In this paper, I will discuss the different types of freedom and how people perceive freedom about the good life and present an in-depth analysis of the paradox created by the different philosophical concepts of determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism.

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Two concepts define freedom, and these are circumstantial and metaphysical freedom (Buckareff et al., 2016). Circumstantial freedom posits that people are free to carry out any action they choose because they are free from the external forces, natural laws and limitations that compel or restrict activities, and any other obstacles (Buckareff et al., 2016). However, this type of freedom is only limited to the extent that there are no existing external forces, because in cases where one is faced with external forces, then the freedom ceases to exist (Buckareff et al., 2016). For instance, when one is held hostage, then their freedom to choose whatever action they want to do perishes.

Metaphysical freedom, on the other hand, provides that people are free to make undetermined choices and decisions (Buckareff et al., 2016). This type of freedom states that an individual is the cause of a decision, and the decision is not affected by history or any existing forces and that people can choose their actions from the alternatives available to them (Buckareff et al., 2016). However, since the individual is the cause of decision and freedom, they are held morally responsible for their actions. Metaphysical freedom is often discussed with causality because proponents of causality claim that the human behavior, activities, and freedom are predetermined by nature and existing external forces whereby the past shapes the present (Buckareff et al., 2016). Metaphysical freedom also states that prior causal factors do not influence people's actions.

The concept of good life or freedom and determinism always create a lot of debate scholars argue that if people's actions and behaviors are determined, then they should not be held morally responsible for their actions (Pereboom, 2015). The paradox of determinism also asserts that people have freedom and thus should be held accountable for their moral acts. Determinism theory claims that all actions and events are determined by history where the present is shaped by the past (Pereboom, 2015). Determinism supports circumstantial freedom and claims that everything that happens cannot be prevented because of the natural order of things. The notion of incompatibilism provides determinism cannot coexist with the freedom required for people to be held morally responsible for their actions (Pereboom, 2015). Incompatibilism discusses the questions of punishment and rewards as a consequence of moral responsibility.

However, compatibilism offers a different opinion and claims that determinism is compatible with the freedom that requires people to be held morally responsible for their actions (Pereboom, 2015). What then do people consider a good life and what type of freedom should people possess to be held morally responsible for their actions? Compatibilism supports circumstantial freedom and provides that freedom is sufficient enough for people to be held accountable for their actions (Pereboom, 2015). However, other theorists posit that circumstantial freedom is not adequate and presents a minimal condition, and for one to be held responsible they must have the metaphysical freedom (Pereboom, 2015).

Freedom and moral responsibility are further illustrated by the concepts of hard determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism (Salles, 2017). Hard determinism claims that all human actions are determined (casually) and that people should not be held responsible for their actions (Salles, 2017). Determinism provides that if all actions are a result of causality, then people do not have the freedom to free actions and thus should not be held accountable for any actions or behaviors (Salles, 2017).

Libertarianism opposes the concept of determinism and claims that people have metaphysical freedom and that they should be held morally responsible for their actions (Salles, 2017). Libertarianism posits that some human events are not are a result of causality, for instance, the social cognition. The libertarianism concept proposes that since the human actions and behavior are not as a result of causal necessity, but out of free will and voluntary actions makes it difficult to predict aspects of the human behavior (Salles, 2017). Libertarianism concept further provides that if human actions and reactions were predictable, then it would be easy to predict human behavior just as the weather is forecasted. Supporters of libertarianism argue that since it is difficult to predict human actions and behaviors, then it automatically means that people have free will to choose their actions and thus should be responsible for their actions (Salles, 2017).

Compatibilism, on the other hand, provides that even though human actions and freedom are determined, circumstantial freedom enforces moral responsibility (Salles, 2017). This theory tries to harmonize the concepts of libertarianism and determinism. Libertarianism provides that the universe is determined but people have the free will to choose their actions and thus should be held accountable (Salles, 2017). However, people should be held responsible to the extent where their actions have not been affected by external forces and constraints but as a result of their desires and choices. Some scholars argue that compatibilism does not seek to harmonize the concepts of libertarianism and determinism, but instead it's a position taken to hold people responsible for their actions and behaviors (Salles, 2017). Compatibilism holds that however informed or determined the human behavior or action is, they should be held responsible for the actions done out of free will.

Different theorists argue for the concept of good life some supporting the existence of free will while others claim that it is an illusion. For instance, Baron d'Holbach explains that free will is an illusion (Lemos, 2018). He argues that the causal forces influence people and that all actions and behaviors are dictated by the connection to the universe (Lemos, 2018). Baron d'Holbach claims that actions are controlled by the motive, object or idea that has been dictated by prior cause (Lemos, 2018). People act according to external forces and natural laws. Baron d'Holbach argues that philosophers have misunderstood the concept of free will and that they wrongly claim the human free will is the cause of actions (Lemos, 2018). Baron d'Holbach asserts that human's free will is affected by many reasons and that they have no control over their desires and wishes. He concludes by stating that humans do not have freedom or the free will because their actions are influenced by views reinforced through education, life aspects and experiences, feelings, and temperament (Lemos, 2018).

In conclusion, a good life is thus supported by the theory of compatibilism that tries to harmonize determinism and libertarianism. The paradox created by determinism and libertarianism of universal causation, free will, and moral responsibility can be solved by applying the theory of compatibilism that provides that despite the human actions and behavior is determined by history and natural laws, the existence of circumstantial freedom enforces moral responsibility. Compatibilism provides that even though our actions are determined, through evolution, the humankind has evolved and can be free in ways that matter. Free will, therefore, involves making decisions without external forces such as coercion. The ability to voluntary make decisions without being influenced by external forces gives people the freedom needed to lead a good life. People can anticipate certain causality forces and act in a manner that avoids unwanted outcomes. The ability to predict external forces is based on the concept of determinism that provides history, and natural laws determine all human actions. Human nature has evolved and created new tactics to handle history and physical laws to create a world that is free from the past. The ability to have freedom and free will to choose our decisions, actions and behaviors should, therefore, enable us to apply the moral responsibility concept to create a sustainable world. Without moral responsibility, there would be no order for the actions committed out of free will. The systems of rewards and punishment also influence the decisions people make regardless of how determined history and causality forces shape their actions. Therefore, the compatibilism theory should be applied to enhance good life in society.


Buckareff, A., Moya, C., & Rosell, S. (Eds.). (2016). Agency, Freedom, and Moral Responsibility. Springer.

Lemos, J. (2018). A Pragmatic Approach to Libertarian Free Will. London: Routledge.

Pereboom, D. (2015). The phenomenology of agency and deterministic agent causation. In Horizons of authenticity in phenomenology, existentialism, and moral psychology (pp. 277-294). Springer, Dordrecht.

Salles, R. (2017). The Stoics on determinism and compatibilism. London: Routledge.

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