(0:05) You make that sound like it's an easy question, like this is a starter question. But it’s
actually very hard.
So that's a good question, I think free will is...
Free will is…
Free will, I think is…
What free will is actually a pretty complicated question.
So, what is free will?
(0:31) Santiago Amaya:
Hello, this is Free Will Matters. My name is Santiago Amaya and I'm an associate professor
in Philosophy at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. I am very happy to host this podcast.
The problem of free will has been at the center of many discussions in Western Philosophy
for the last 20 centuries. But in recent years the problem has reappeared in a fresh form.
There are new and exciting developments in the field that make this a fascinating topic of
conversation. For this podcast we have invited various philosophers who work in free will.
Philosophy might be a daunting thing, but with their help we will get to know better the
what, the how, and the why of free will. Welcome.
Our guest for today is Randolph Clarke, who is professor of Philosophy at Florida State
University. Randy's research focuses on problems that have to do with our capacity to act
intentionally and to behave in morally responsible ways. He's the author of many papers
and of a fascinating book on omissions entitled: Omissions, agency, metaphysics, and
Hello, Randy. There are many ways to introduce the problem of free will, but one way the
problem of free will is often introduced is by appeal to the notion of moral responsibility.
Responsibility in turn is sometimes explained in terms of desert. What you and I deserve
given the way you and I have behaved. Randy, can you tell us a little bit about what desert
is, at least in your opinion, and how it connects with the problem of free will?
(2:10) Randolph Clarke:
So here's a truism about responsibility, a platitude, a simple statement that seems to me
truth: to be blameworthy for something is to deserve to be blamed for that thing. So that
connects desert to blameworthiness. Blameworthiness is a mode of responsibility when
you're responsible for doing something that you shouldn't have done or that you did from a
bad motive. Well, quite commonly then you're blameworthy for doing that thing. So that
connects, then, desert to responsibility. The connection to free will, well, the issue there is a
complicated one, since the relation between free will and responsibility is relatively
There are some theorists who say, well, I'm just going to define free will this way. It's the
kind of control that you need in order to be responsible. And then that's what they work on
and they call that the problem of free will. I do believe that there is a tight connection
between free will and responsibility, but I also think that there are some aspects of free will
that aren't so directly related to responsibility, and so they're not perhaps not so directly
related to desert either. For instance, I think it's a thought that we commonly have about
our agency that very often when we do something, it's up to us whether we do it, and
indeed, on many occasions, when we do not do a certain thing, it's up to us whether we do
it. And I think that that thought is part of their conception of the freedom that we have with
respect to agency of the will, and whether that thought must be true in order for us to be
morally responsible for what we do. Well, that's disputed.
Some people have thought that solving the free will problems involves getting clear on
what dispositions or powers are. Randy, do you have thought a lot and written quite a bit
about that view. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Will is arguably a power to act. Freedom of the will is freedom with respect to that power.
Now, will is not the only power that things in the world have. Dispositions are another kind,
or anyway, a kind of power that things have. Some examples of garden variety dispositions
that things have: a vase might be fragile, or a lump of sugar is soluble in water. So solubility
and fragility, are dispositions, they are powers that certain things have.
Now well, will is a power, freedom is freedom with respect to that power. One line of
inquiry that a number of thinkers have pursued is, well, to what extent is freedom the
power that we have when we have free will? To what extent is that like a disposition? And
if it is, to a significant extent, like, say, dispositions such as fragility and solubility, then
perhaps we can acquire an understanding of free will by appeal to what we know about
garden variety dispositions, like fragility and solubility.
There are, as we’ve been talking about, many philosophers working on free will, asking all
sorts of interesting questions. In your opinion Randy, what is the most important and
outstanding question that needs to be answered, or better, what is the question that
nobody’s asking and that people should be asking more?
I mentioned earlier that it seems to me that part of our ordinary conception of our freedom
is that quite commonly it's up to us whether we do this or that. I think in some of the free
will literature, on some of the literature on free will that idea is taken quite seriously. It's
considered a problem to explain or shed some light on what that comes to, but much of the
literature on free will seems to just quite ignore that thought that aspect. I think that that is
an aspect of free will that warrants more attention than it's getting. That's a line of inquiry
that I would like to see more people working on.
Let me now ask one larger question. One’s standard answer to the free will problem goes
something along the following lines: look, we’ll never know if we have free will or not.
Randy, do you think there’s something right to that idea? And if you think there’s
something to it, then why spend time thinking about free will?
The curious thing about Philosophy is that philosophical inquiry can erode knowledge. We
begin to ask questions and then we lose our confidence and it may be that we lose our
confidence in things that we previously knew, and then lacking confidence, we no longer
know them. So it may well be that one can lose knowledge that one has free will by
engaging in philosophical inquiry about it. In that case, it's good to take a break. It's good to
take a break from Philosophy when that happens. And then one might think, well, then if a
philosophical inquiry won't lead me to knowledge about whether I do or I don't have free
will, what's the point?
Well, myself I think that the point of philosophical inquiry is the inquiry itself. It's just a
thoroughly enjoyable activity. In engaging in it one comes to understand oneself, one's life
and the world better and that is a great accomplishment. And now, if sometimes that
understanding is an understanding that one cannot have great certainty about certain
important issues. But nevertheless, understanding that is a significant achievement.
OK, before I let you go, Randy, one more question. Imagine it turns out that our best
philosophical theory suggests or concludes that nobody is ever free. You don't have free
will, I don't have free will, nobody has ever had free will. Do you think that would be a
What if our philosophical inquiries led us to high degree of confidence that we have
absolutely no free will at all. Would that be a disaster? I can't imagine arriving at that
conclusion, so I'm not sure what it would be. So maybe it would be the discovery that we
are, after all controlled remotely by Martians in every respect. Well, that would be really
interesting. It would be disillusioning, it would be disappointing, it would be pretty
disastrous, yeah. But short of discovering things like that, I'm not sure that I can imagine us
coming to any confidence that we have absolutely no free will at all. So I'm not sure what I
can say about what would happen if we did.
Free Will Matters is part of the LATAM Free Will, Agency, and Responsibility Project. It is
produced by Cerosetenta thanks to a generous grant of the John Templeton Foundation and
with the support of Universidad de los Andes and the University of California in San Diego.
For more information, visit us at freewill.uniandes.edu.co