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Freewill is a philosophical concept that refers to the ability of human beings to make decisions or perform actions independently of any prior event or state of the universe (Britannica, 2023). In this article, we will discuss it’s meaning and philosophical traditions.

The notion of Freewill has been debated for centuries by philosophers, theologians, and scientists, who have offered various arguments for and against its existence and compatibility with causal determinism, the thesis that every event in the universe is causally inevitable (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.).

Freewill is also closely related to moral responsibility, as it is often assumed that agents are only accountable for their actions if they have Freewill (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). The term “Freewill” was introduced by Christian philosophy in the 4th century CE, and originally meant the lack of necessity in human will, or the ability to choose or not choose a limited good (, 2018).

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However, different philosophical and theological traditions have developed different understandings of what Freewill entails and how it relates to God’s omniscience, benevolence, and grace (Britannica, 2023). Some contemporary accounts of Freewill focus on the psychological aspects of human agency, such as the faculties, hierarchies, or reasons-responsiveness of the will (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.). Freewill is thus a complex and controversial topic that has significant implications for ethics, law, religion, and science.

The importance of freewill

One of the philosophical arguments for the importance of freewill is that it is a necessary condition for moral responsibility. Without freewill, we would not be able to choose our actions and be accountable for them. We would not be able to praise or blame, reward or punish, or incentivize or deter anyone for their actions. This would undermine the systems of morality, law, and justice that we rely on in society. Therefore, freewill is important for maintaining moral order and human dignity (Britannica, 2023).

Another philosophical argument for the importance of freewill is that it is based on our subjective experience of freedom and our sentiments of guilt. We feel that we have the power to act otherwise than what we do, and we feel guilty when we do something wrong. These feelings are incompatible with determinism, which implies that our actions are predetermined by prior causes and that we have no control over them. To deny freewill would be to deny our own experience and emotions, which are essential aspects of our human nature (Psychology Today, n.d.).

A third philosophical argument for the importance of freewill is that it is supported by revealed religion. Many religions teach that God has given humans freewill as a gift and a test. Freewill allows us to choose between good and evil, and to demonstrate our love and obedience to God. Without freewill, we would not be able to have a genuine relationship with God or to fulfil our moral obligations. Freewill is also important for the concept of sin and salvation, which depend on our ability to repent and accept God’s grace. Therefore, freewill is important for religious faith and practice (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d.).

Does freewill actually exist?

One of the most challenging questions in philosophy is whether human beings have Freewill , or whether their actions are determined by factors beyond their control. Some philosophers argue that Freewill is an illusion, and that we are not truly responsible for our choices. They base their arguments on various grounds, such as the causal nature of the physical universe, the unconscious influences on our psychology, or the incompatibility of intentionality with naturalism. Here are some of the main arguments supporting the concept that Freewill is ultimately an illusion:

  • The clockwork argument: This argument claims that the universe is governed by deterministic laws of nature, and that everything that happens is a necessary consequence of what happened before it. Therefore, human decisions are also predetermined by the initial conditions and the laws of nature, and we have no real alternatives to choose from. As Strawson (2021) puts it, “our choices are determined—necessary outcomes of the events that have happened in the past” (para. 6).
  • The psychological argument: This argument claims that human decisions are influenced by unconscious factors, such as genes, hormones, emotions, biases, or social pressures, of which we are unaware and over which we have no conscious control. Therefore, we do not act freely, but rather according to hidden causes that shape our preferences and motivations. As Nichols (2011) explains, “our hunches often track the truth pretty well” (para. 4), but sometimes they can mislead us about our own agency.
  • The naturalistic argument: This argument claims that human intentionality, or the ability to act for reasons and purposes, is incompatible with a naturalistic view of reality, which assumes that everything can be explained by physical processes and mechanisms. Therefore, human agency is an illusion, and we are nothing more than complex biological machines. As Lemoine (2019) states, “intentionality does not fit into the physical universe” (para. 2), and it should be replaced by a more mechanistic understanding of human behaviour.
Freewill in Christianity

The concept of freewill in Christianity has a long and complex history, influenced by various philosophical and theological debates. In the fourth century, Christianity underwent significant changes, from being a persecuted minority to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. This shift also affected the development of Christian doctrine, especially regarding the relationship between human freedom and divine sovereignty.

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One of the major controversies of this period was the Pelagian controversy, which pitted Augustine of Hippo against Pelagius and his followers. The main issue was whether humans can choose good or evil without the aid of divine grace, or whether they are totally dependent on God’s predestination and grace for their salvation. Augustine defended the latter view, arguing that human will was corrupted by original sin and that only God’s grace can enable humans to do good and be saved. Pelagius, on the other hand, maintained that humans have a natural capacity for virtue and that they can cooperate with God’s grace by their own freewill.

The Council of Carthage in 418 condemned Pelagianism as heretical and affirmed Augustine’s doctrine of original sin and predestination (Frede, 2011; McGrath, 2011). However, the debate over freewill and grace continued in subsequent centuries, with different theological schools and traditions offering various interpretations and modifications of Augustine’s views (Visala, 2022).

According to, one of the common current views is that God gave humans freewill as part of his image, and that this freewill allows them to choose between good and evil, but also makes them responsible for the consequences of their choices (, 2023). However, some Christians also believe that humans inherited a tendency to sin from Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, and that this original sin affects their freewill and makes them need God’s forgiveness and intervention (BBC, 2023).

Another view is that God has a predetermined plan for everything that happens, including human actions, and that he elects some people to be saved by his grace, while others are left to their own sinful will (, 2023). These different perspectives have implications for how Christians understand the problem of evil and suffering, the nature of human responsibility and accountability, and the meaning of God’s love and justice.

Some religious viewpoints

Whether human beings have Freewill or not, and whether this is compatible with God’s omniscience, has been debated for centuries by philosophers and theologians. Some argue that Freewill and divine foreknowledge are incompatible because if God knows what we will do in advance, then we cannot do otherwise. This is known as the argument from Freewill , or the paradox of Freewill , or theological fatalism (Wikipedia, n.d.-a). Others argue that Freewill and divine foreknowledge are compatible because God’s knowledge does not cause or constrain our actions, but rather reflects his perfect understanding of our nature and circumstances. This is known as the compatibilist view, or the Boethian solution, named after the sixth-century philosopher Boethius (Wikipedia, n.d.-b).

Some examples of scholars who have defended the incompatibilist view are Moses Maimonides, a 12th-century Jewish philosopher, who wrote that God’s knowledge implies human necessity, and that human responsibility is therefore an illusion (Maimonides, 1963). Another example is Norman Swartz, a contemporary philosopher, who argued that the incompatibilist view does not commit the modal fallacy, as some compatibilists claim, and that the compatibilist view is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s knowledge (Swartz, 1991).

Some examples of scholars who have defended the compatibilist view are John of Damascus, an eighth-century Christian theologian, who emphasized the freedom of the human will and argued that human actions are not part of God’s providence at all (Wikipedia, n.d.-c). Another example is Yuval Noah Harari, a contemporary historian and author, who suggested that human beings have a natural propensity to believe in Freewill , even if it is a myth because it sustains social order and cooperation (Harari, 2018).

Research into freewill

Psychology, as the scientific study of human behaviour and cognition, can offer some insights into the existence and nature of Freewill . However, there is no consensus among psychologists on how to define, measure, or test Freewill . Different approaches and methods may yield different results and interpretations.

One way to approach the question of Freewill is to examine the neural and psychological processes that underlie human decision-making. For example, some studies have used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity before and during voluntary actions. These studies have found that a specific brain signal, called the readiness potential, precedes conscious awareness of the intention to act by several hundred milliseconds (Libet et al., 1983; Soon et al., 2008). This suggests that unconscious processes may initiate and prepare voluntary actions before we become aware of them.

Another way to approach the question of Freewill is to investigate the factors that influence human choices and actions. For example, some studies have explored how situational factors, such as social norms, peer pressure, or environmental cues, can affect people’s behaviour without their awareness or consent (Cialdini & Goldstein, 2004; Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). These studies have indicated that people’s behaviour can be nudged or manipulated by subtle changes in the context or framing of options.

A third way to approach the question of freewill is to examine the psychological consequences of believing or disbelieving in freewill. For example, some studies have examined how manipulating people’s beliefs about freewill can affect their motivation, performance, morality, and happiness (Baumeister et al., 2009; Vohs & Schooler, 2008). These studies have found that reducing people’s belief in freewill can lead to negative outcomes, such as decreased self-control, increased cheating, reduced helping, and lower life satisfaction.

In conclusion, psychology can provide some empirical evidence and theoretical perspectives regarding freewill, but it cannot definitively prove or disprove its existence. Freewill may be a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that depends on how it is conceptualized and operationalized. Moreover, Freewill may not be an all-or-nothing concept, but rather a matter of degree or context. Therefore, psychology can contribute to the ongoing debate on Freewill , but it cannot resolve it.


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Cialdini R. B., & Goldstein N. J. (2004). Social influence: Compliance and conformity. Annual Review of Psychology, 55(1), 591–621.

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Soon C.S., Brass M., Heinze H.J., & Haynes J.D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 11(5), 543–545.

Thaler R.H., & Sunstein C.R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health,
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Vohs K.D., & Schooler J.W. (2008). The value of believing in Freewill : Encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating.
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Frede, M. (2011). A free will: Origins of the notion in ancient thought. University of California Press.

McGrath, A. E. (2011). Christian theology: An introduction (5th ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.

Visala, A. (2022). Free will. In St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology. (2023). What Is Free Will in the Bible, and How Does it Relate to Our Salvation? Retrieved from

BBC. (2023). Origin of evil. Retrieved from (2023). What Does the Bible Say About Free Will? Retrieved from

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