Is There Morality Without Free Will?


Free will is an illusion, so nobody is responsible for their actions.

Q1 Analysis

This may be a Q1 violation if you sometimes hold people responsible for their actions or sometimes want credit for your actions.

Q2 Analysis

This is a Q2 violation if you would criticize the behavior of someone who believes free will is an illusion.


The implication here is that if there is no such thing as free will, you really aren’t choosing whether to do bad or good — you’re just doing what your deterministic body must do, governed by the rules of physics. So if you are not choosing to do bad or good, you cannot be held responsible for your actions any more than a clock can be held responsible for the time of day.

But does it follow from this that all actions are allowed — that there is no meaningful distinction between good and bad behavior? And if there is no responsibility without free will, does this imply that actions should have no consequences?

Imagine that the government builds a completely automated robot sentry that has powerful arms and a machine gun. Imagine also that the sentry is struck by lightning, which scrambles its programming so that it considers anything that moves an enemy which must be destroyed. Which of these statements (if any) would you say is true about the malfunctioning sentry?

Which (if any) of these do you think be an effective counter to the statement, "Free will is an illusion, so nobody is responsible for their actions"?

You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at and See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.

Posted on February 4, 2011 at 9:58 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

2 Responses

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  1. Written by NFQ
    on February 5, 2011 at 11:38 am
    Reply · Permalink

    The answer I usually go with is something like the last one. I don’t know how I would function if I didn’t think I had the ability to make choices. I would probably just sit around like a lump waiting for my body to deterministically do something. If everyone did that, it would be terrible. I don’t know, I’ve just never heard a compelling suggestion for how we ought to change our behavior and thoughts if in fact there’s no such thing as free will. (Actually, “change your behavior accordingly” becomes a pretty silly idea in the first place at that point.)

    Even if we are completely deterministic creatures, part of that determinism is presumably based on inputs. If one learns the rule, “If I steal I will probably go to jail,” or “If I don’t get a job I won’t be able to eat,” etc. then one deterministically learns to do the “right” things (for whatever values of right you’re talking about). Having consequences for people’s actions doesn’t necessarily require free will, I think.

    I don’t know … I always get mixed up and turned around when I try to talk about this stuff. Choosing language that makes sense is so hard!

  2. Written by Anonymous
    on February 8, 2011 at 11:11 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    We all have a choice, we all have free will. So, choice = free will.
    1. I have a choice to believe free will exists and you have the choice to think otherwise. Did you choose or did you not decide to write this post?
    2. If we are all essentially machines, why wouldn’t we all be programmed the same? And what would give us, being machines, the ability to determine what is “bad” programming?
    3. I chose to defend my stance on free will, I didn’t have to make this comment, but I did. Granted, because you posted, I made this comment, but I didn’t have to.
    4. Perhaps we feel like there is free will because there is free will.

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