Free Will

Free Will: More Than One Game in Town

I have spent many an hour in the company of friends who hold to a form of libertarian free will. Most conversations on the matter are gracious and good spirited. Some people are slightly mystified by my Calvinism, but they earnestly seek to know what it is and why anyone would hold to such a thing.

Occasionally, however, I have confronted the more extreme type who claims that there can be only one kind of free will. They represent a necessary-truth type of libertarian free will proponent. Evan Minton is of this stripe. He argues that libertarian free will is the only game in town. We either have the libertarian kind or we have no freedom at all:

“Libertarian Free Will is the only true free will there is. If you deny that, you might as well deny that we have free will altogether. I believe we do have free will, and I have both philosophical reasons as well as scriptural reasons for holding this belief.”

Notice the trick: If you don’t hold to x kind of y, then you don’t got not y at all. This greases the skids of one’s argument. Minton no longer has to argue that LFW is a better account than any other version; he merely has to argue that there is such a thing as free will.

What else could one claim using a similar strategy? Consider an analogous set of statements:

Platonic universals are the only true universals. If you deny that, you might as well deny the existence of universals. I believe there are universals, and I have good reasons for holding this belief. 

One could do the same with kinds of theism, views on time, or nearly any other metaphysical issue one might think of.

What makes Minton think that any other form of free will cannot really be a form of free? Minton seems to think that free will is by definition libertarian. Consider the following claim:

Compatibilism…doesn’t actually let us affirm the two propositions; (A) Man is determined, and (B) Man is free. Why? Because on compatibilism, man still cannot choose between alternatives. 

This is a specious suggestion. The argument should not be over the definition of free will, but over what the necessary conditions are for an action to count as freely performed

Libertarians and Compatibilists about free will should admit that there is more than one kind of philosophically and theologically respectable kind of free will. Compatibilists should argue that compatibilism is the more respectable of the two and likewise for libertarians, but we ought not to argue that the other view is impossible.

Note: Minton does not appear to be quite as committed to his by definition argument as he first appears. His post contains five arguments against compatibilism. I may or may not respond on a later post. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.