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Concepts of Determinism, Compatibilism, and Libertarianism Essay

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Updated: Nov 21st, 2019


On several occasions, philosophers have pointed out that libertarianism is fading away and the preferred account of free will has features which turn into proportionate amounts of considerable favor. According to Gomes, suspicion exists in libertarian accounts that explore “unaffected movers and agent causations” (Gomes 40-41).

As such, the philosophers have even propounded that the opposite of determinism is indeterminism and not freedom. Amidst such controversy, there is need to highlight the libertarian position and defend its concepts adequately, which is the gist of this paper. This paper also explores the concepts of determinism and combatibilism, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Concepts of Determinism and Combatibilism

Although research has shown that hard determinism is scarcely popular compared to libertarianism, several philosophers have pointed out the exact opposite (Gomes 40-41). This is because of aspects like fear of the philosophical consequences which may be implausible, though true (Gomes 40-41).

In this sense, metaphysicians have been unable to give compatibilist accounts satisfactorily, which might be a cause for worry. In addition, such a phenomenon can lead several people to believe that the determinist position is true (Chaffee 254-365; Vallentyne par. 3-11).

In the face of some philosophers, compatibilism and hard determinism concepts depict obvious differences. In this sense, compatibilists and hard determinists have shown considerable agreements. As a result, there has been a turn where the above issue has raised concern among cosmologists, but not for those philosophers of free will. According to Gomes, this is the end of the coincidence between determinism and compatibilism (Gomes 40-41).

The couple of theories above depict disagreement regarding the truthfulness of a crucial thesis, usually a thesis with compatibilist features. For instance, those (compatibilists) who endorse the thesis that determinism depicts compatibility with moral responsibility and free will and the thesis of determinism (compatibilist thesis) have also been shown to endorse the thesis of freedom. However, this endorsement by compatibilists has been rejected by hard determinists.

The hard determinists there by endorse the thesis that “human actions (which are part of every event) have an origin/cause whose chain of causes leading to any given actions by an agent goes back in time to sometime before the agent was born” (Gomes 40-42). This has been regarded as the determinist thesis. Therefore, the hard determinists endorse the determinist theses while on the other hand reject the compatibilist thesis. As a result, they are also forced to reject the freedom thesis that some human actions are true.

In this regard, the hard determinists have depicted the realizations that have flourishing habits of putting labels to acts (such as free and unfree), while granting and withholding moral responsibility ascriptions. However, they think that such ascriptions are unjustified (Chaffee 254-365; Gomes 40-43; Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11).

According to philosophical explorations of hard determinism and compatibilism, hard determinism has been depicted as being a form of compatibilism. This is because the actions of a compatibilist can penalize or remunerate in an attempt to fit a certain criterion.

Similarly, the criterion has been depicted as not being sizable enough to fit into the definition of ‘free action’. Contrary to this, the criterion is instead de-feasible and licenses the de-feasible inference that “if an action falls under this criterion, then, prima facie, the action is free” (Randel 81).

In addition, hard determinists have been shown to punish or reward deeds (and misdeeds). The deeds and misdeeds they punish and reward depict the tendency to fall within this criterion. Therefore, hard determinists have been shown to endorse the thesis that “some human actions are sanctionable” (Sanctionable thesis).

In this regard, the hard determinists propound that ‘sanctionable’ actions and ‘free actions’ depict similarity in terms of extension (Gomes 40). This is to mean that they have the characteristic to pick out similar sets of actions (Vallentyne par. 3-11).

However, certain objections exist regarding the argument depicted above. Philosophers have pointed out that “not only do the same actions regarded as free by the compatibilist point of view and sanctionable by the hard determinist (which puts the two theories at same and practical levels), but also that philosophers ought to have a translation of sanctionable actions as free actions” (Chaffee 254-255).

Therefore according to the hard determinist point of view, some actions of human beings are free and sanctionable (Chaffee 254-365; Gomes 40-43). Such hard determinists therefore end endorsing a thesis with compatibilist features and meanings.

Therefore, the sanctions thesis and the free thesis end as conjoined theses having the same meaning and about same things. In the above argument, “hard determinism is literally and almost a form of compatibilism” (Randel 81-99). In this regard, and basing on the assumption that libertarianism is false, the compatibilist approach (compatibilism) remains the only approach which literally accounts for free will and is the one that most philosophers endorse(Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11).

Whereas the compatibilist approach tends to depict an affirmative answer to the question “are some actions free?” (Gomes 40), the hard determinist approach tends to give an answer (in the affirmative) to the question “are some actions sanctionable?” (Gomes 43). As such the behavioral approaches of the hard determinists and the compatibilists will almost always tend to coincide. In line with the argument above, sanctionable events are perceived to be free acts or events (Randel 81-99).

If this is the case, then the hard determinist approach appears to be like the compatibilist approach. As such, the typical hard determinist approach depicts a denial of this phenomenon. Philosophers have therefore pointed out that such a blatant denial depicts insufficiency, and the hard determinist approach should be able to elucidate the salient features which differentiate their position with that of the combatibilists (Gomes 40).

Some philosophers have pointed out the possibility that the hard determinist approach may end as an atypical compatibilist, while giving in to the perception that less compatibilists would hold (Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11; Chaffee 254-365; Gomes 40-43). However, in line with the above argument, the particular views and perceptions which are held by determinists are not sufficient to push hard determinist approaches out of the cap of compatibilist approaches (Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11).

An Argument for Libertarianism

While determinist approaches rely on the cause and effect of the cycle of events, the libertarian approach relies on somewhat random and non causal situation in which a person has the final choice over his/her actions.

Through certain aspects such as those of choice, it has been pointed out by the libertarian philosophers that they show value and responsibility in what they do (Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11). Based on its ability to choose, the libertarian approach has been regarded as that which is morally responsible, unlike the determinist and compatibilist viewpoints which depict moral irresponsibility.

Vallentyne exemplifies the importance of aspects such as those of choice in libertarian approaches by strictly emphasizing on the aspect of choice (Vallentyne par. 3-10). According to Vallentyne, persons who focus on making their own choices depict higher and proper achievement of their potential.

Thus the making of a proper choice is the responsibility of a person who is adequately developed. According to libertarianism and its approaches, such people have a good life pattern because the choices that they make in life are their own choices (Vallentyne par. 3-11).

Other theistic libertarian philosophers have pointed out that if a person lacks free will, “then God would be responsible for our sins” (Vallentyne par 4). Contrary to the determinist point of view, libertarian persons have free will through the fact that will “can in a sense turn in the direction that pleases it, …the will is naturally good; we love the good voluntarily and without constraint” (Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11).

Such a libertarian perception analyses the will and the concept of sin by pointing out that a person’s will depicts a shift towards goodness but can at times be misled by those things which are apparent, those types that cause a person to err or sin. In this regard, a person’s will is able to give or withhold consent. This argument is in line with the libertarian point of view, and it ultimately supports libertarianism (Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11).

Libertarian philosophers have expressed dissatisfaction for cause and effect. In this regard, their points of view support the notion and perception of libertarianism that reality is present in uncaused events that are random.

This argument has been depicted as being strong for the libertarian approach as it explicitly gives an account of accidents which take place in life, in the natural sciences e.g. genetics, in novelty and in creativity (Chaffee 254-365; Gomes 40-43). This argument strengthens the libertarian approach unlike the determinist approach which gives a minimal and improper account of happenings and events which depict non predictability (Gomes 40-43).

On the other hand, some philosophers have pointed out that libertarianism’s ideology and system of thought is imperfect, considering the many gaps which it leaves unfilled. Such gaps include inability to give vivid accounts of scientific patterns and sequences. In addition, the libertarian point of view rarely admits that experiences and events of the past can increase the probability of future events, than any other events (Gomes 40-43).

For instance, a person may either have a choice to stand by the side-walk or continue to walk on the path of a vehicle. In the libertarian perspective, such a pedestrian has a choice to choose one thing from the other while the determinist and the compatibilist views would be that past events would determine a person’s choice of walking in the path of a moving vehicle (Chaffee 254-365; Gomes 40-43).


Though the libertarian approach may have gaps in terms of the logic of events, its ideological system has features which are unique, compelling, interesting and logically sound, unlike determinism and compatibilism. Within the bounds of the libertarian approach, persons depict willingness to make personal choices, independent of controls by a foreign entity.

In this regard, the concepts of free will not only support responsibility (morally and socially) but the libertarian point of view and its confines exist in coherence with human creativity, accidents and religion (Randel 81-99; Vallentyne par. 3-11; Chaffee 254-365; Gomes 40-43).

Works Cited

Chaffee, John. The Philosopher’s Way: Thinking Critically about Profound Ideas, Pearson Publishers: Prentice Hall, 2005. Print.

Gomes, George. “What should we Retain from a Plain Person’s Concept of Free Will?” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12.1(2005): 40-43. Print.

Randel, Koons. “Is Hard Determinism A Form Of Compatibilism?” The Philosophical Forum, 33.1(2007): 81-99. Print.

Vallentyne, Peter. “Libertarianism” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 20 July 2010. Web. <>.

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