Free Will and Action

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


When agents are in circumstances that do not constrain their choices in any way they enjoy freedom of action. They are able to do whatever they want to. However freedom of action, so understood, is neither necessary nor sufficient for moral responsibility. It is not sufficient because, at least when placed in suitably unconstraining circumstances, spiders, mice, infants, and the like, all enjoy freedom of action, but they are not morally responsible for anything that they do. It is not necessary because people who falsely believe that they enjoy freedom of action may be morally responsible. What is both necessary and sufficient for moral responsibility is freedom of the will. Agents enjoy freedom of the will when they possess a dual capacity. On the one hand, they must have the capacity to form well-justified beliefs about what they have reason to do. On the other hand, they must have self-control: the capacity to bring their desires in line with their reflectively formed beliefs about their reasons. Many urge that moral responsibility is impossible in a deterministic world. But whether or not this is so depends on whether rational capacities, quite generally, are possible in a deterministic world. It is a question for further investigation whether this is so.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences: Second Edition
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9780080970875
ISBN (Print)9780080970868
StatePublished - Mar 26 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


  • Belief-desire explanation
  • Compatibilism
  • Could have done otherwise
  • Determinism
  • Free action
  • Free will
  • Freedom
  • Incompatibilism
  • Rational capacity
  • Responsibility
  • Self-control


Dive into the research topics of 'Free Will and Action'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this