David Hume once described the question of free will as "the most contentious question of metaphysics, the most contentious science" (Hume 1748: 95). One of the most debated questions in metaphysics and philosophy is the one this essay will investigate. At first glance, the idea of whether we are all free seems to have an obvious yes answer; however, further examination often delivers unexpected and controversial conclusions. The question stems around the laws of causation and whether the explanation of this conflicts with the notion we are all free to make choices in life. The question has given rise to three main positions: determinist, compatibilist and libertarianism. Each has tried to clarify the notion of free will and this essay will scrutinise the answers put forward and give its conclusion of the most persuasive of the arguments. These positions also give rise to a precarious concept of whether one can be held accountable for moral actions if agents do not, in fact, have free will.
Determinism is the view that because of the natural law of causation all agents are predetermined to act in a certain way given a cause because of the chemical composition of the brain and body. In another sense, everything that happens after a given time is fixed to happen because of the law of cause and effect. Determinists argue that because of the laws of nature, everything happens according to these laws. By applying this to agents, we know that the construction of the agent is chemically based, so would have to comply with the laws of nature. If a certain cause produces an effect, and as a result this effect causes another event to happen and so on; determinists would argue agents in fact don't make 'choices', they just act in a way they are 'programmed' to act and are the consequences of past events which are out of the agents control. These events cause an agent's choice through hereditary and environmental influences.