Freedom of Will, Human as Freedom or is it just "up to us"?

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Jane Østergaard
4. term, Applied Philosophy, Master (Master Programme)
What are the crucial issues in the ever ongoing free will-debate? Why is it important for humans to experience freedom, and is freedom a metaphysical or a scientifical problem? This master thesis explores these questions and others, especially in Harry G. Frankfurt, Helen Stewards, and Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophical understandings of freedom. Based on an ordinary everyday dilemma, the thesis analyzes how different philosophical understandings in conjunction with principal issues in the free will debate, can help to explain a person’s individual freedom and the possibilities it implies for the actual person.
It is nearly impossible to give a proper explanation of what freedom is and it must be considered as a metaphysical problem. The thesis explores significant factors of crucial importance in the question of free will, such as morality, alternative possibilities and the concepts of determinism and indeterminism. In this context Peter van Inwagens Consequence argument and Galen Strawsons Basic Argument among other classical arguments are reviewed. The thesis argues that the concepts of determinism and indeterminism can also be classified as partly metaphysical. The three philosophical understandings of freedom in this thesis use three different designations for the entity that can be punished, blamed, or praised, an entity that something is up to, who chooses, acts, and is responsible; the entity may be a person, an agent, or simply a human being.
Harry G. Frankfurt is a compatibilist, as he believes that freedom of will is neutral in relation to determinism. Freedom of will is different from agency and does not require alternative possibilities. Freedom of will is reserved for persons and involves being free to want what the person wants, not necessarily to act how the person would like to. Freedom of will, therefore, has to do with an internal structure in man. Frankfurt argues that we are morally responsible for our actions, but he also concludes that persons can be morally responsible for their actions, even though there were no alternative options.
The essential elements of Helen Steward's understanding of freedom as Animal Agency are that something is up-to-us as agents, that we can settle hitherto unsettled matters, and the understanding of the procedural and close connection between an agent's movements and actions. Steward believes that freedom exists as an entity, that Animal Agency is the prerequisite for more sophisticated forms of freedom and that freedom exists as a completely natural part of the natural and biological world. Steward is an indeterminist and argues against the existence of causal determinism and argues that freedom is localized in all agents that can be defined as self-moving animals.
Jean-Paul Sartre argues that humans are radically free, are doomed to freedom, and thus free to choose in a factual situation – the only freedom humans does not have is the freedom not to choose. Humans are responsible for their choices and actions, both to himself and to all other humans. Sartre believes that a human's actions are closely related to freedom, since it is in the action that freedom appears, and freedom turns itself into actions. It is the total sum of actions that shows who the human is, not what he says he would like to be. Thus, a human creates himself continuously through the actions he takes and must create his own meaning. Sartre is an incompatibilist, as he argues that believing in determinism is an expression of bad faith.
The thesis concludes that freedom in an ordinary everyday dilemma can seem quite different in a variety of ways, when analyzed in three very different philosophical understandings.
Publication date1 Jun 2022
Number of pages72
ID: 471901814