Robert Kane gives a talk at the Catholic University of America on the problem of free will. The problem has to do with the fact that free will seems to be incompatible with both determinism AND indeterminism. If free will is ruled out by the truth and the falsity of determinism, it looks like the very concept of free will is incoherent. On the one hand, if determinism is true, then all our actions are uniquely necessitated by past states of the universe in conjunction with the laws of nature. But we do not have control or power over what went on in the past or the laws of nature. As such, we cannot ever do otherwise than what we do given the past conditions of the universe. So it looks like determinism rules out genuine free will. On the other hand, if determinism is false, and our actions are not uniquely determined by past states of the universe, it looks like our actions are then due to mere randomness or chance. But of course, mere randomness or chance isn’t “free”. So it looks like indeterminism rules out genuine free will as well.
“Among the grandest of philosophical puzzles is a riddle about moral responsibility. Almost all of us believe that each one of us is, has been, or will be responsible for at least some of our behavior. But how can this be so if determinism is true and all our thoughts, decisions, choices, and actions are simply droplets in a river of deterministic events that began its flow long, long before we were ever born? The specter of determinism, as it were, devours agents, for if determinism is true, then arguably we never initiate or control our actions; there is no driver in the driver’s seat; we are simply one transitional link in an extended deterministic chain originating long before our time. The puzzle is tantalizingly gripping and ever so perplexing — because even if determinism is false, responsibility seems impossible: how can we be morally accountable for behavior that issues from an “actional pathway” in which there is an indeterministic break? Such a break might free us from domination or regulation by the past, but how can it possibly help to ensure that the reins of control are now in our hands?”