Philosophy Professor Presents on John Locke’s View of “Free Will”

Georges Dicker, Philosophy, recently presented a paper on John Locke’s view of human freedom (“free will”), entitled “Locke: Soft Determinist or Libertarian?” at the 168th meeting of the Creighton Club (the New York State Philosophical Association), held at Syracuse University.

Locke advances a Hobbesian definition of a free action as one such that (a) if the agent wills to do it, then she can do it; and (b) if she wills to “forbear” it (to refrain from doing it), then she can forbear it. As it stands, this definition is compatible with a free action’s being causally determined. Furthermore, Locke writes at length about what “determines the will.” Yet, he is also adamant that human actions can be free. This has led several commentators to interpret him as a soft determinist, or a compatibilist (someone who holds that a voluntary action can be both causally determined and yet free), and that appears to be the standard, though not wholly uncontroversial, interpretation of his position.

Dr. Dicker’s paper disputes this interpretation, and argues that Locke is a libertarian (someone who holds that a voluntary action cannot be both causally determined and free, and that it can be-“determined” only in the sense that it can stem from an agent’s reasons for so acting, not in the sense of being causally determined or necessitated.

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Posted: November 13, 2023