Does determinism mean a god-like entity?

Free will - naturalization of freedom


Free will and freedom of action
Objective and approach

1 determinism
1.1 Universal determinism
1.2 Neural determinism
1.2.1 The neural basis of mental phenomena
1.2.2 The brain as a deterministic system
1.2.3 The illusion of freedom
1.2.4 Conclusion

2 Problem identification
2.1 The principle of alternative courses of action
2.2 The problem of mental causation

3 Compatibilistic Solutions
3.1 Lifeworld experience of free will
3.2 The conditional analysis of ability
3.3 The conditionality of the will
3.3.1 Freedom and conditionality
3.3.2 Freedom as self-determination
3.4 Conclusion and criticism of compatibilism

4 Criticism of determinism
4.1 The essence of the laws of nature
4.1.1 Impermanence of natural laws
4.1.2 Laws of progress vs. laws of coexistence
4.1.3 Disturbances and dynamics
4.2 Universal determinism as a metaphysical thesis
4.3 Determinism as a scientific model of thought
4.3.1 Mathematics and theory building in the natural sciences
4.3.2 Truth and explanatory value of deterministic theories
4.3.3 The inadequacy of deterministic models of thought
4.4 Neurophysiological determinism
4.5 Determination vs. Chance
4.6 Conclusion

5 Emergence in Complex Systems
5.1 Emergence - definition of terms
5.1.1 Aims of emergent theories
5.1.2 General characteristics of emergent theories
5.1.3 Synchronous emergentism
5.1.4 Diachronic emergentism
5.2 Emergence and determinism
5.3 Downward causation
5.3.1 Strong and Weak Macro Determination
5.3.2 Causal relevance of the structure
5.3.3 Causal relevance of the culture
5.4 Conclusion

Closing remarks



The question of whether or not we have free will has preoccupied people for a long time. Philosophers in particular have dealt intensively with this problem. In doing so, they have developed an almost unmanageable variety of solution approaches and thought constructs to get this problem out of the world. If one considers the problem of supposed free will in the history of philosophy, one could claim that all possible solutions and attempted answers have already been given. So why is this problem still preoccupying so many thinkers? An answer can at least be found for the current presence of this topic. It is the natural scientists and especially the neuroscientists who put this problem with their research and the resulting theses on the agenda of academic and social discourse. Many neuroscientists are convinced that they can finally answer the age-old question of human free will. According to this, free will is just an illusion created by the neural system. All acts of will are generated and triggered by unconscious neural processes. Thus all human actions are completely determined by natural law. If we were able to decipher the neural code of the human brain, human behavior could in principle be precisely predicted. Wolfgang Prinz sums it up like this: "We don't do what we want, we want what we do."[1]

Free will and freedom of action

In order to deal with these spectacular theses of the neuroscientists, it is necessary to first determine what is actually possible as an act of free will. Anyone approaching the problem of free will likely has an intuitive idea of ​​what it means to have free will. However, as soon as one begins to delve deeper into it, questions inevitably arise about the subject of the problem. Is free will the freedom to do what you want or is it the freedom to want what you want? What is a will anyway and what should it be free from? In order to answer these questions at least in part, it is first important to understand the difference between freedom of action and freedom of will.

Freedom of action is commonly understood to mean the ability to do or not do what one wants. One therefore has freedom of action "if one is not prevented by external coercion from putting one's intentions into practice."[2] In this sense, a prison inmate lacks freedom of action, as his incarceration means that he is unable to implement his wish for an unattended release into action. However, his freedom of will is not affected by this fact. It would never occur to us to deny him his free will just because he is under lock and key. So what exactly is free will? At first one might get the idea that, analogous to freedom of action, free will includes the ability to want what one wants. However, the question then immediately arises as to what this means in a meaningful way.[3] As a rule, we have little influence on our wishes, inclinations and desires. We cannot freely determine whether we have an appetite for something sweet or something hearty. We find such a desire in us without having freely chosen it. Therefore, the question of free will must be about "what happens to these existing desires and inclinations, especially whether and in what way they become effective."[4] In the run-up to an action, we are exposed to a multitude of incentives, inclinations and wishes. However, not all of these strivings usually come into play in the form of an act. If we see the will as an action-effective desire, then we can understand the path from the perception of a need or desire to the realization of an action as the process of will formation. This process essentially consists of choosing and deciding which of our desires and drives we want to satisfy through an action. Whether this choosing and deciding can be called free and which factors of freedom stand in the way of a will formation understood in this way are the questions that are at stake in the debate about free will.

Objective and approach

The problem of free will actually involves two different aspects. The idea of ​​freedom of will can be divided into a positive and a negative part.[5] The positive part describes an asset (e.g. the ability to make sensible considerations or to inhibit existing desires and drives). Most philosophical conceptions of free will deal with this aspect. They try to explain what can be meaningfully understood by free will. The negative part of an idea of ​​free will, on the other hand, must be able to explain that the ability to act freely and to decide does not stand in the way and that this ability fits into our world at all. The physical world must not be such that the exercise of this faculty is impossible. If the neuroscientists were to be right with their theses, then there would seem to be a lot against the ability to form free will.

Since the most sublime and attractive conception of free will is worthless if it contradicts the physical conditions of our world, I do not want to deal primarily with philosophical conceptions of free will in this work. I am more interested in the question of how a naturalization of free will is possible or whether something is fundamentally in its way. Should it be possible to naturalize free will, it would be ensured that this human ability does not contradict scientific knowledge.

But what can it mean to naturalize freedom? The most perfect form of naturalization would be achieved if it were possible to integrate the freedom of decisions and acts of will into a scientific description system. But isn't such a company doomed to fail? Can there really be a place for a term like “freedom” on the level of investigation in the natural sciences, or is freedom perhaps only localizable on a social or cultural level and therefore only accessible to the humanities and cultural studies? Neuroscientists, at least, are highly skeptical about this question. For Wolf Singer it is clear "that these highest productions of our brains, those that give us the experience of being autonomous, self-determined agents, are probably cultural constructs and therefore not directly accessible to neurobiological explanation."[6] There are other reasons to be skeptical. If one understands the ability to exercise one's will freely as a property of a biological system, then it seems at least highly doubtful whether this property can also be found on a neuronal level. The following example could serve as an analogy: It is a seemingly nonsensical undertaking to look for the property “strength” of an object on a molecular level. All the attributes that we associate with a solid object - impenetrability, the ability to support other solid objects, etc. - are not found at the molecular level. Here we only see a certain lattice structure in which the molecules are grouped. Although this structure is responsible for the fact that the object has the property “firmness” on the macro level, nothing can be found on the micro level of the molecules that could be described with the adjective “solid”.[7] It is similar with the temperature of an object. This can only be experienced at the macro level. On the other hand, if you look at the molecular level of this object, terms such as “warm” and “cold” lose their meaning. All that can be talked about at this micro level is the kinetic energy of the atoms and molecules.

In the attempt to gain a naturalistic understanding of free will, it cannot be a question of localizing this human characteristic on a neurophysiological or even molecular level. Rather, naturalization would already be successful if the freedom of will could be traced back entirely to physical properties and processes.[8] We are looking for a theory that makes understandable and can explain how an act of will can arise from the interplay of the material components of our cognitive system. The theories of neuroscientists do (to some extent) meet this requirement, unfortunately freedom falls by the wayside. The question now is whether the result of the naturalization of the will is fundamentally its lack of freedom or whether naturalistic theories are conceivable that can bring the freedom of our will to bear. One could well argue that a decision or an action is always unfree as soon as it can be fully scientifically explained: “It was then not the agent who controlled this behavior, but scientific events determined this behavior. And if the behavior was determined without remainder by scientific or scientifically describable events that were beyond the control of the agent, then it is obvious that the decision of the agent played no role. "[9] If my neural network prepares and triggers my actions, why should I claim that it was me who acted willingly?

These fundamental questions and problems indicate the difficulties that a naturalization of free will has to overcome. Unfortunately, I cannot present a naturalistic theory that gives an appropriate place to freedom of will. Therefore, in this work I would like to deal primarily with two problems that stand in the way of naturalization. On the one hand, I will deal in detail with the problem that natural law determinism poses to our conception of free will. I will go into both universal and neural determinism. The aim is to show that determinism is not a threat to our freedom. I will attempt this in Chapter 4. Before doing this, however, I will describe in detail in Chapter 1 what is meant by determinism and what implications are connected with it. After a detailed description (Chapter 2) of the threat that determinism poses to our free will, I will briefly discuss compatibilistic approaches in Chapter 3. These try to gain a concept of freedom by portraying free will and deter-minism as compatible with one another. The second problem I will deal with is the problem of mental causation. It is about the question of how mental states and thus also our acts of will can have a causal effect in a physical world. Although there is a multitude of approaches and theories to solve this problem that is difficult to keep track of, I will limit myself to theories of emergence. Since emergence theories try to develop a naturalistic understanding of genuinely novel phenomena, they may also make it possible to understand how acts of will can work in a physical world. The central question of this work is therefore: Is something in the way of a demanding understanding of human free will on the part of scientific research? In other words: Are there insurmountable obstacles to gaining an understanding of freedom within the framework of scientific descriptions and thus to naturalizing freedom?

1 determinism

The term “determinism” has its origin and its real meaning in a scientific context. In a very general sense, one can call an event to be explained or a natural process determined by natural laws, if "its description can be deduced from these laws and the complete initial conditions."[10] In particular, the extremely fruitful combination of physics and mathematics by Galileo and Newton helped deterministic descriptions of natural processes to break through in the sciences. The success of deterministic theories for describing and explaining natural processes in physics has made determinism popular as a model of thought far beyond physics. In the sense relevant to the debate about freedom of will, determinism basically also means that a state in a system is completely determined by the temporal previous state and the forces or laws acting within the system. The resulting consequences are illustrated by the following quote from a philosophical dictionary:

"Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that ever happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen."[11]

These basic provisions give a first impression of the meaning of the term determinism. However, the most diverse gradations and areas of application are associated with this term. For example, there are strong and weak determinism, physical and historical determinism, physiological and psychological as well as logical and metaphysical determinism. My goal in this work is not to present determinism in all its facets and theoretical ramifications, but to give a rough overview of the core elements and central statements - especially of universal determinism - in order to then essentially give me this by many brain researchers to turn to the neurophysiological deter-minism represented, which seems to be of the greatest importance for the question of freedom of will.

1.1 Universal determinism

Since the rise of the natural sciences and especially Newtonian mechanics, deterministic ideas have shaped our view of natural processes.[12] Natural scientists see in nature a temporally well-ordered structure of cause and effect relationships that reveal strict regularities and from which regularities can be derived. These laws "have the logical form of all-quantified conditional clauses, which do not simply describe what happens, but say what always, i.e. without exception, happens under certain conditions."[13] The universal deter-minism is not only a thesis about individual natural processes, but one about the entire world. It says that the world as a whole represents a system determined by natural laws and that thus “the entire course of the world is fixed once and for all. Any initial state and the laws of nature determine all further world states, so that there is exactly one possible future at any point in time. "[14]

Universal determinism essentially contains two basic statements. First: Every event has its cause (s). The causal principle is therefore unrestricted, i.e. there is no causal indeterminacy or no causal gaps in world events.Second: The cause-effect relationships run according to strict laws, i.e. all natural processes have strict regularities and are not subject to random fluctuations. If one now imagines the course of the world as a sequence of individual world states, which on the one hand are determined by the location of their smallest parts and on the other hand are causally linked to one another by the laws of nature, it follows that "the course of the world for all times and in fixed in all details "[15] is. Or to put it in the mathematical language of modern natural sciences: the future is, in principle, a function of the past that can be clearly defined.

One of the most famous formulations of a deterministic world view comes from the early 19th century by the French astronomer and mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace. Impressed by Newton's theories and their deterministic nature, he devised a superhuman intelligence, the so-called "Laplace demon", which would be cognitively capable of grasping the position of all elementary particles at a certain moment and of knowing all the forces that rule nature. Such a comprehensively informed intelligence could deduce every future as well as past from the present state of the world, "nothing would be uncertain to her and her future and past would be open to her."[16] With his thought experiment, Laplace wanted to make it clear that in a world dominated by deterministic laws without exception, every state of the world necessarily follows from an earlier one. Laplace imagined the world happening merely as a succession of world states, all of which are causally linked to one another by the laws of nature. If an intelligence were able to acquire complete knowledge of the state of the world and of the laws governing the world, any earlier or later state of the universe could be calculated. Consequently there can only be one possible course in a world determined by natural laws.

However, the question whether the entire course of the world can actually be predicted at least in principle by means of deterministic laws does not have to be answered in order to confirm the validity of universal determinism. "After all, determinism is a thesis about what is the case, not about what people know or can know."[17] A world would be conceivable, the course of which would be completely determined by the position of its smallest parts and their laws of motion, without an intelligence being able to predict this course with any precision.[18] Nevertheless we could speak of a world determined by the laws of nature, which only allows one possible future.

1.2 Neural determinism

Neuroscientists like Wolf Singer or Gerhard Roth do not make any statements about the course of the world, but about the functioning of our brain and the mental phenomena that are correlated with it[19]. Technical innovations in the field of imaging processes - in particular magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) - have recently made it possible for neuroscientists to watch the human brain perform its functions with unprecedented precision. The knowledge they gain from their observations and experiments is clear:

"In the reference system of neurobiological descriptions there is no room for objective freedom, because the next action, the next state of the brain is always determined [..] [is] by what has immediately preceded it."[20]

While the traditional problem of the compatibility of natural law determinism and free will was more abstract and academic in nature, the neuroscientists with their findings touch our everyday reality much more directly. One thinks, for example, of the elementary importance of free will for our judicial system or in general for the attribution of responsibility and guilt. In addition, the neuroscientists do not want to convince us of the lack of freedom of will solely through argumentation and intellectual acrobatics, but rather that they confront us with research results and thus the authority of science. In the following I would like to give a brief overview of the main theses and statements of neuroscientists and thus show the deterministic and thus, in the opinion of neuroscientists, freedom-endangering character of these theories. The theses of the neuroscientists can essentially be divided into 3 points.

1.2.1 The neural basis of mental phenomena

First: Mental states are based on neural processes without exception. All behavioral performances, "including the highest cognitive functions, with their psychological and mental connotations, [are] based on the neuronal processes in the brain."[21] With this knowledge, neuroscientists clearly reject all dualistic ideas that mental states or mental phenomena could exist independently of a material substrate. The conception of the "I" as a purely spiritual entity that "uses neural processes at best to gain information about the world and to convert decisions into action"[22], turns out to be untenable in the light of neurobiological research. As evidence for the thesis that all mental or spiritual states are based on neural processes, neuroscientists cite numerous pieces of evidence.

On the one hand, brain researchers have known for a long time that the destruction of certain brain regions leads to the loss of specific cognitive abilities. Even elementary character traits of a person can experience serious changes as a result of brain injuries.[23] Every physical intervention in the interconnections or in the structure of our brain inevitably leads to changes in the mental sphere we experience. On the other hand, neuroscientists agree that the development of higher cognitive abilities correlates strictly with the quantitative increase and development of more complex brain structures.[24] High-quality mental phenomena occur in evolutionary history only in organisms that have sufficiently large and complex neuronal structures. The most meaningful and at the same time most controversial evidence for the thesis that all mental phenomena are the result of neural processes is the temporal sequence between neural events and correlated mental phenomena. In a large number of experiments, neuroscientists have shown "that there is by no means >> only << a strict parallelism between neuronal and mental processes, but that conscious experience necessarily and apparently sufficiently preceded by unconscious neuronal events."[25] In this context, Benjamin Libet had already carried out sensational studies in the eighties, in which the chronological sequence between a simple action, the corresponding act of will and the initiation of the development of the readiness potential on the neural level was examined. It turned out that the willingness potential built up on average already 350 milliseconds before the consciousness of the act of will.[26] Thus the act of will apparently could not be the cause of the readiness potential, but rather only the consequence. Despite massive criticism of the experimental setup[27] Many neuroscientists have already concluded from these experiments that all of our decisions are already made on the neuronal level before we become conscious of the will. Recent experiments have confirmed "that there is no causal relationship between the feeling of wanting or wanting something and the action actually performed."[28] At the point in time at which we are aware of a decision, unconscious neural processes have already initiated the execution of the action.

1.2.2 The brain as a deterministic system

Second: The neural events take place in deterministic processes. According to Singer, human decisions and actions are exclusively the result of a competitive process of neuronal excitation patterns in a self-organizing cognitive system. Triggered by a variety of internal and external signals and attractors, countless neurons begin to fire and develop various excitation patterns via the networked areas of the brain, one of which finally asserts itself and establishes a stable neuronal state, which then becomes an action or action of the entire organism. appears. According to Singer, which excitation pattern prevails is determined "by the specific interconnection and the respective immediately preceding dynamic overall state of the brain."[29] It is true that Singer ascribes a special quality to conscious processes compared to unconscious ones,[30] however, neural determinism applies not only to unconscious brain activities, but also to all conscious states. Singer therefore considers the distinction between free and unfree volitional acts to be questionable, because “in both cases the decisions and actions are prepared by neural processes, only in one case the spotlight of attention is on the motives and raises them to consciousness and not in the other. But the weighing process itself is of course based on neural processes in both cases and thus follows deterministic natural laws in both scenarios. "[31]

The determinism postulated by neuroscientists differs in one essential point from the universal Laplace determinism. Since neuroscientists do not make statements about world events as a whole, but only maintain and formulate deterministic laws for a certain subject area - i.e. the human brain - it is an area-specific determinism. "Area-specific determinisms assert the consistent determination of the respective area, but leave open how this area relates to the rest of the world."[32] An area-specific determinism cannot therefore contain sufficient causal conditions from the respective subject area, since the causal interaction with other areas or systems is not taken into account when formulating deterministic laws.

1.2.3 The illusion of freedom

Third, free will is a brain-generated illusion. If the neuroscientists are right with their research results and their interpretation, then the question arises almost automatically, how does it come about that the subjective experience of the freedom of our will seems so natural to us? Or as Singer puts this riddle: "How can it be that the self-disclosure that a cognitive system gives about itself does not match the results that it achieves when it uses scientific methods to investigate its conditions?"[33]

Brain researchers have developed interesting theses for these questions too. Accordingly, the neural system not only determines our actions, but it also creates the feeling of free will. A strong indication for this thesis is the phenomenon of self-attribution of externally induced actions. In experiments, movement impulses are triggered by electrical stimulation of certain areas of the subject's brain. Amazingly, the test subjects experience this process of stimulating certain areas of the brain not as an externally caused, but as a voluntary act.[34] There is "the experience of a free decision, which in this case was demonstrably triggered from the outside."[35] The experiments indicate that our intentions are only adapted to our actions afterwards:

“It seems as if the brain is designed to create congruence between the arguments present in the consciousness and the current actions or decisions. If this does not succeed because the right arguments do not appear in consciousness, then they are invented ad hoc for the sake of coherence. "[36]

Wolf Singer identifies other sources of the illusion of freedom. On the one hand, we have been the addressee of behavioral prompts and associated sanctions since early childhood. This educational practice creates in us the idea that we could have acted differently and are thus free in our actions and decisions.[37] In addition, the learning processes that are largely responsible for the constitution of our ego and that give rise to our elementary views of the world fall victim to early childhood amnesia. This means that the content learned in this phase is very firmly imprinted on the child, but it cannot remember the learning processes as such and the context in which they took place. The consequence of early childhood amnesia is that what is learned in this phase does not appear to have been caused later than it has always been known.[38] For Singer, another cause of our illusory self-image is the fact that neural processes are essentially unconscious and only become conscious at a point in time when the decision to act has already been made. This means that we usually only perceive the result of the unconscious decision-making process, but not the process itself. That is why we feel that what appears in consciousness is not caused. We then ascribe “our will to the role of acting as the trigger for the decision that is finally made conscious. In turn, we inconsistently agree to this willingness that it is final and uncontrolled, that is, free. "[39]

1.2.4 Conclusion

Even if it remains a great mystery how the self-organization of many billions of neurons creates our mental world of experience or how cognitive functions are realized in a material system, the publications of the neuroscientists make the impressive progress in research into the human brain clear -ly. From a philosophical perspective it is particularly interesting that the newly gained knowledge about the functions and processes in the brain clearly shows that we have to say goodbye to the Cartesian heritage and, accordingly, to the dualistic conceptions of the mind. An immaterial mental substance that, detached from our body, is able to initiate new causal chains in the physical world and that is itself exempt from the laws of nature, contradicts everything that neuroscientists have learned about our brain and our cognition . In this respect, the neuroscientists encourage those philosophers who try to gain an understanding of mental phenomena that takes into account the material conditioning of our cognition.

Despite the impressive and informative research results, reading neuroscientific publications leaves a negative aftertaste. The idea that free will and our ego are illusions generated by the brain or, in the best case, social constructs and our conscious experience, our personality and all of our actions can be reduced to deterministic laws of neural networks, our traditional self-image seems to be independent and freely acting Hurting individuals. The difference between us and more primitive organisms or even mechanical automatons would no longer be a categorical one, but only a gradual one, which could only be shown on the basis of the somewhat more complex interconnection of our brains.

2 Problem identification

What exactly is the problem that universal determinism in general and neurophysiological determinism in particular poses to free will? At first glance, the determinacy of world events does not seem to bother us any further, on the contrary, to use it. The regularities of natural processes and the laws of nature derived from them enable us to dominate and control nature to a large extent. It is part of the self-image of our scientific-technical civilization that, thanks to the insights gained into the determinism of natural processes and the resulting technical knowledge, we are able to redesign our environment according to our ideas. The determination of natural processes is also the starting point for our understanding of the world in general. By experiencing the regularities of natural occurrences and generalizing them into regularities, we gain an understanding of the world around us. A world in which the law of causality had no validity and in which the natural processes were not subject to any regularities would appear to us chaotic and thus incomprehensible and incomprehensible.

It is only when we turn our gaze to ourselves that determinism seems to turn from a blessing to a curse. Because man is part of world events and there is nothing to suggest that laws of nature do not apply to him to the same extent, man has to become causal[40] the world to be involved. And this is exactly where the problems start. How is a world that is consistently determined by natural laws conceivable, in which people can act autonomously and decide freely? Since we interact causally with our environment, human actions are events that give rise to changes in the state of the world.However, our decisions and actions cannot be understood as causal primary causes that permanently trigger new causal chains coming from a causal vacuum. The idea that human actions act in the sense of an immobile mover contradicts everything that natural scientists have learned about our ability to act and our material conditions (see Section 1.2). Rather, our actions also seem to be subject to causally effective preconditions and deterministic laws. But if our actions are predetermined by preconditions and deterministic laws of nature, how can we claim that we are free in our decisions? From the perspective of determinism, are humans no longer just a passive transit station for causal chains that began long before they were born and that continue to have an effect long after their death? And can human actions be understood differently than a fixed and unfree link in a universal and rigid cause-effect network?

2.1 The principle of alternative courses of action

So far I have in no way gone into which criteria are decisive for the freedom of the exercise of will. In Chapter 3 I will describe some approaches and ways in which free will can be meaningfully understood. However, I would like to explain what is probably the strongest and most demanding criterion for freedom of will - the principle of alternative options for action - in order to make it clear that it collides with both universal Laplace determinism in general and neural determinism in particular .

As soon as we have to make a decision, we are convinced that we can choose between two or more options for action. We have the undeniable feeling that we have room for maneuver and that it is we who decide in favor of one and thus against other options. In other words: we feel that we can act differently under given circumstances. In order for the freedom of a volitional decision to do justice to the principle of alternative options for action, it is not only necessary to have the feeling of being able to act differently, but also to have objectively existing options. Some philosophers take the view that the ability to act implies being able to do so in one way or another. For them, being able to do otherwise is an analytical component of being able to act. “If you can't do one way or another, you can't at all. The alternative to this is the view that we can only do something predetermined at any given moment. "[41] And that obviously couldn't be reconciled with our sense of freedom.[42]

What implications would it have if our acts of will corresponded to the principle of alternative options for action? Primarily, being different means, under given conditions, "that at no point in time before the actual start of the action was it certain whether the action would take place."[43] And this in turn implies that there must be no causally sufficient conditions for the action to take place before the start of the action. In order to hold on to the idea that we can decide and act differently under given conditions, we would have to accept or, better yet, prove that the future is not sufficiently determined by the present, but that the future can rather go on in various possible ways. As I described in the previous chapters, there can obviously only be one possible course of the world in a world that is consistently determined by natural laws. "The future would [in the sense of universal determinism] not be an open space of possibilities, but rather determined by past conditions and natural laws without any alternative."[44] The laws of nature, as they are understood by universal determinism, therefore also close off all action variants except for one. It therefore seems hard to imagine how freedom of will, understood as the ability to act differently under identical conditions, can be reconciled with a deterministic worldview. Freedom of will, which does justice to the principle of alternative options for action, can therefore apparently only exist in a world in which the course of the world is not finally and down to the smallest detail laid down by the laws of nature.

We now have two concepts - the determination of world events by natural laws and the idea of ​​free will as the possibility of being different under given conditions - both of which at first glance have a high level of plausibility and claim enormous importance for our understanding of the world and ourselves, but which are nevertheless apparently incompatible stand next to each other. Or how Jürgen Habermas describes the problem:

"On the one hand we want to do justice to the intuitively indisputable evidence of a performative consciousness of freedom that runs along with all of our actions, on the other hand we also want to satisfy the need for a coherent picture of the universe that includes humans as natural beings."[45]

How can this tension be resolved? The problem obviously allows three different possible solutions. First: Determinism is true and freedom of will, understood as the ability to act differently under given conditions, is at best an illusion. Second, the idea of ​​determinism is actually compatible with the idea of ​​freedom, and we have so far only failed to grasp the unifying components of both ideas.


[1] Prince: Man is not free. A conversation, p. 22.

[2] Wedge: Free Will, p. 2.

[3] The ability to want what you want would have to mean wanting something different from what you actually want. This sounds contradictory or at least unclear at first. Nevertheless, some philosophers have tried to explain free will on the basis of this fact. According to Harry G. Frankfurt, only humans are able to develop so-called second level volitions. These are desires related to first level desires. An addicted smoker can therefore feel the desire for a cigarette (first level desire) and at the same time wish that this desire does not become effective (second level volition), but rather that the desire “not to smoke” becomes his will. “A person makes use of his free will when he ensures that his will and his volitions of the second level match. [...] A person's will is only free if they are free to have the will they want. ”Frankfurt: Free will and the concept of the person, p. 296.

[4] Wedge: Free Will, p. 3.

[5] See Keil: Freedom of Will, p. 106.

[6] Singer: From the brain to consciousness, p. 15.

[7] It is well known that molecules and atoms are in a state of permanent oscillation and there is enough space between them for other particles to easily penetrate. See Searle: Geist. An Introduction, p. 129.

[8] At the center of the naturalistic research program is the assumption “that the central human abilities and properties are in principle based on natural processes and regularities that can also be observed in non-organic nature.” Pauen: What is man? The Discovery of the Nature of Mind, p. 23.

[9] Nida-Rümelin: About human freedom, p. 73.

[10] Wedge: Free Will, p. 28.

[11] Borchert, Donald M. (Ed.): Encyclopedia of philosophy, Second Edition, Volume 3, Farmington Hills (USA) 2006, p. 4.

[12] Deterministic ideas existed in the history of philosophy long before the rise of Newtonian mechanics to become a leading science. The Stoics already associated the concept of the predestination of the course of the world with the term “fatum” (destiny). In the Middle Ages, the pre-destination doctrine as theological determinism shaped the ideas of many philosophers and theologians. According to this doctrine, it is God who at least controls the course of the world or even determines it completely. Cf. Keil: Freedom of Will, p. 25. In the following, however, I will understand determinism exclusively as determination through natural laws.

[13] Wedge: Free Will, p. 28.

[14] Ibid., P. 16.

[15] Ibid., P. 19.

[16] Laplace, Pierre Simon de: Philosophical attempt on probability, 1814, p. 1f, quoted from Keil: Freedom of will, p. 16.

[17] Wedge: Free Will, p. 30.

[18] The observer paradox results in considerable difficulties with the possibility of predicting the course of the world in principle. Especially for the area of ​​the smallest particles, every observer who receives information from the world interacts causally with it and thus influences the further course of the world - even if only minimally. Only an ideal observer who could gain information about the state of the world without entering into causal relationships with it would be able to predict the course of the world in any detail. However, the question remains of what value the assumption of such a god-like and omniscient authority would then have for the thesis of determinism. See Keil: Freedom of Will, p. 17.

[19] Mental states are understood here in a comprehensive sense to mean all internal, cognitive processes such as perceptions, sensations, feelings, ideas, intentions, desires, thoughts, etc.

[20] Singer: From the brain to consciousness, p. 55.

[21] Singer: When and why do decisions appear to be free to us? An addendum, p. 708.

[22] Singer: Connections fix us: We should stop talking about freedom, p. 36.

[23] Cf. Roth: What can neuroscientists talk about - and in what way ?, p. 68.

[24] Basically, the structure and processing principles of the brains of more highly organized animals do not differ from those of more primitive animals. However, in higher mammals, and especially in primates and humans, there are more areas of the brain (cerebral cortex) that hardly process any direct sensory stimuli, but are mainly concerned with processing internal brain signal patterns. These areas of the brain are therefore primarily concerned with themselves and in this way make it possible to generate meta-representations of the internal brain processes. Through the repetition of cognitive operations and reflective application to oneself, meta-representations of one's own states arise in the cerebral cortex. Thus, cognition itself becomes the object of cognition. According to neuroscientists, this process gives an idea of ​​how phenomenal consciousness can arise. Cf. Singer: Interconnections fix us: We should stop talking about freedom, p. 40f.

[25] Roth: What are brain researchers allowed to talk about - and in what way ?, p. 72.

[26] Cf. Libet, Benjamin: Mind Time. How the brain produces consciousness, Frankfurt a.M. 2005.

[27] Most of the critics of the Libetexperiments doubted that the act carried out under typical laboratory conditions was actually an act of will. The initiation of a minimal movement does not represent a volitional decision for them. Rather, consent to participate in the experiment is the only relevant act of will. However, this was not the subject of the experiment. The experiments leave it completely open what is actually measured by the readiness potential. See Pauen: Illusion Freedom. Possible and Impossible Consequences of Brain Research, p. 22.

[28] Roth: What can brain researchers talk about - and in what way ?, p. 75.

[29] Singer: Interconnections fix us: We should stop talking about freedom, p. 57.

[30] Singer assumes that conscious decisions, although they are based equally on deterministic neural processes, offer an advantage over unconscious decision-making processes. For him, this advantage consists in the communicability of reasons for action, the communicability of which allows a much more differentiated assessment of behavioral dispositions than would be possible by observing behavior alone. According to Singer, this communicability is crucially responsible for the emergence of social systems, as it enabled the rational evaluation of decisions in a group of people. Another advantage of conscious decision-making, according to Singer, is that the individual decision-making process follows rational rules of discourse and can therefore be designed in a more differentiated manner, as it is based on learned rules of the logic of argumentation. Cf. Singer: Interconnections fix us: We should stop talking about freedom, p. 61.

[31] Ibid., P. 52.

[32] Wedge: Free Will, p. 43.

[33] Singer: When and why do decisions appear to be free to us? An addendum, p. 713.

[34] Compare Cruse: I am my brain. Nothing speaks against materialistic monism, p. 224. and Roth: What can neuroscientists talk about - and in what way ?, p. 75.

[35] Cruse: I am my brain. Nothing speaks against materialistic monism, p. 224.

[36] Singer: Connections fix us: We should stop talking about freedom, p. 61.

[37] See Ibid., P. 49.

[38] Cf. Singer: From the brain to consciousness, p. 53.

[39] Singer: Interconnections fix us: We should stop talking about freedom, p. 50.

[40] The causal closeness of the world is understood to mean the principle that every physical occurrence has purely physical causes and exclusively physical effects. Cf. Tetens: Geist, Brain, Machine, p. 80.

[41] Wedge: Free Will, p. 89.

[42] I will discuss in more detail in Chapter 4.2 that the principle of alternative courses of action is also associated with considerable theoretical difficulties.

[43] Wedge: Free Will, p. 88.

[44] Ibid., P. 10.

[45] Habermas: Freedom and Determinism, p. 102.

End of the reading sample from 83 pages