Compatibilism and Incompatibilism

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Compatibilism , also known as “soft determinism”, is a theory according to which free will and determinism are compatible. One of the best known exponents of compatibilism is David Hume . According to Hume, “free will” does not mean the ability to make a different decision under exactly the same internal and external conditions. Rather, he understands it to be a hypothetical ability to be able to make a different decision if the person would have been psychologically disposed differently due to different desires or beliefs. According to Hume, all free actions are caused by decisions made on the basis of desires, beliefs, and character traits. While there is a decision-making process in Hume's concept of determinism, it is determined by a causal chain of events. According to an example of the stoic philosopher Chrysippus, a dog tied to a cart, who “freely” decides to follow it, is “determined” by conditions (e.g. the cart) that were already in place when the decision was made .

Some compatibilists even see determinism as a necessary prerequisite for the existence of free will. Since free actions and decisions are only free if they are made for reasons, free will requires determinism, namely determinism through reasons. Paradoxically, according to this argument, it is determinism that sustains free will and not indeterminism . This argument is known as the intelligibility argument and commented by Daniel C. Dennett as follows:

"Determinism is the friend, not the foe, of those who dislike inevitability"

Incompatibilism is the opposite view that free will and determinism are incompatible. The “pessimistic” version says that neither determinism nor indeterminism allow free will. In Hume's view above, there is no free will without determinism. On the other hand, the incompatibilist position assumes that “free will” refers to real (absolute, ultimate) alternative possibilities of wishes, beliefs or actions and that such possibilities do not appear in compatibilist definitions. Only this absolute conception of freedom is compatible with the idea of ​​individual responsibility. Compatibilists counter that such absolute alternative possibilities can only be caused by chance , which reduces the responsibility of the individual.

There are views that are not so easy to categorize. In libertarianism expressed the position that the experience of free will presupposes a non-deterministic world. Some advocates of this view assume a determinism in the "physical" world, but postulate that there are no limits for "spiritual" events.

A concise description of the two terms can be found in the "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy" (see links below):

The conception of determinism says that everything that happens is determined by preceding conditions in connection with the laws of nature. Incompatibilism is the philosophical view that if determinism is truth, then we have no free will. The rejection of incompatibilism is compatibilism: a compatibilist is someone who believes that the truth of determinism does not preclude free will.

William James , the American philosopher and co-founder of philosophical pragmatism , coined the term "soft determinist" in an influential essay entitled The Dilemma of Determinism . He argued that the importance of the question of determinism lay not in personal responsibility but in hope. He assumed that uncompromising determinism either led to sheer pessimism or to degenerate subjectivism in moral judgment . So the way out of this dilemma is to accept the role of chance. According to James, the concept of “free will” can be dispensed with entirely on this background, he prefers to debate factual issues rather than names.


  • Peter Bieri : The craft of freedom. About discovering your own will. 2001, Hanser
  • Daniel Dennett : Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting. 1984, Bradford Books / MIT Press
  • Daniel Dennett: Freedom Evolves. 2003, Allen Lane Publishers.
  • Brigitte Falkenburg : Myth of Determinism. How much does brain research explain to us? 2012, Springer, Heidelberg ISBN 978-3642250972
  • Harry Frankfurt : The Importance of What We Care about. Philosophical essays. 1988, Cambridge University Press
  • Hans Jonas : power or powerlessness of subjectivity? - The mind-body problem in the run-up to the principle of responsibility. 1987, Suhrkamp
  • Michael Pauen : Illusion of Freedom? Possible and impossible consequences of brain research. 2004, S. Fischer
  • Julian Nida-Rümelin : Structural Rationality. A Philosophical Essay on Practical Reason. (= Universal Library, Vol. 18150), 2001, Stuttgart.

Web links

Wiktionary: Compatibilism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Incompatibilism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. According to Max Scheler and Karl Jaspers , this is ultimately due to the fact that when we make a decision, “one side of our existence [comes to light] which in principle eludes 'objectification'” ( Reinhold Zippelius , Legal Philosophy , 6th edition, § 25 III) . Directly experiencing one's own actions, loving, hating and imagining is something fundamentally different from grasping an object (Max Scheler, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die Materiale Wertethik, 4th edition, 1954, p. 385)
  2. ^ Daniel C. Dennett: Freedom evolves. Viking Press, New York 2003, ISBN 0670031860 , p. 60.