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This page discusses a philosophical view on free will. See other uses of the term Compatibility
Compatibility may refer to:* Astrological compatibility* Compatibilism – a philosophical position* Compatibility * Compatibility * Compatibility * Electromagnetic compatibility* Interpersonal compatibility-Computing:...


Compatibilism is the belief that free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

 and determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

 are compatible ideas, and that it is possible to believe both without being logically inconsistent. It may, however, be more accurate to say that compatibilists define 'free will' in a way that allows it to co-exist with determinism (in the same way that libertarians
Libertarianism (metaphysics)
Libertarianism is one of the main philosophical positions related to the problems of free will and determinism, which are part of the larger domain of metaphysics. In particular, libertarianism, which is an incompatibilist position, argues that free will is logically incompatible with a...

 define 'free will' such that it cannot). They may understand free will to refer to something like liberty
Liberty is a moral and political principle, or Right, that identifies the condition in which human beings are able to govern themselves, to behave according to their own free will, and take responsibility for their actions...

 (e.g., a freedom to act according to one's determined motives).
In contrast, the incompatibilist
Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that people have a free will. Strictly speaking, there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other...

 positions are concerned with a sort of "metaphysically free will," which compatibilists claim has never been coherently defined.


Compatibilism was championed by the ancient Greek Stoics and early modern philosophers like David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 and Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...


Defining free will

Compatibilists (aka soft determinists) often define an instance of 'free will' as one in which the agent had freedom to act. That is, the agent was not coerced or restrained. Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal...

 famously said "Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills". In other words, although an agent may often be free to act according to a motive, the nature of that motive is determined. Also note that this definition of free will does not rely on the truth or falsity of Causal Determinism.

Alternatives as imaginary

The Compatibilist will often hold both Causal Determinism (all effects have causes) and Logical Determinism (the future is already determined) to be true. Thus statements about the future (e.g., "it will rain tomorrow") are either true or false when spoken today.

Hume adds that the Compatibilist's free will should not be understood as some kind of ability to have actually chosen differently in an identical situation. The Compatibilist believes that a person always makes the only truly possible decision that they could have. Any talk of alternatives is strictly hypothetical. If the compatibilist says "I may visit tomorrow, or I may not", he is not making a metaphysical claim that there are multiple possible futures. He is saying he does not know what the determined future will be.

Compatibilism in theology

Compatibilists often seek to reconcile free will with predestination
Predestination, in theology is the doctrine that all events have been willed by God. John Calvin interpreted biblical predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some people and salvation for others...

 of all events specifically to allow for a God's omniscience
Omniscience omniscient point-of-view in writing) is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing"...

. This is again accomplished by the typical Compatibilist definition of 'free will' as 'freedom to act'.

Compatibilism in this context holds that the religious concepts of God's sovereignty and the free will of man are not mutually exclusive. The all-knowing God (who sees past, present, and future simultaneously from the perspective of eternity) created human beings (who have the subjective perception of making choices in the present that have consequences for themselves and others in the future) in such a way that both are true: God is ultimately sovereign and therefore must have at least permitted any choice that a human could make, but at the same time God is right to hold humans accountable because from their perspective within the confines of serial time, humans make moral choices between good and evil. This route to reconciliation may not be entirely successful, however. Examples of criticism include the argument from free will
Argument from free will
The argument from free will contends that omniscience and free will are incompatible, and that any conception of God that incorporates both properties is therefore inherently contradictory. The argument may focus on the incoherence of people having free will, or else God himself having free will...

, and perhaps the Problem of Hell
Problem of Hell
The "Problem of Hell" is a possible ethical problem related to religions in which portrayals of Hell are ostensibly cruel, and are thus inconsistent with the concepts of a just, moral and omnibenevolent God...


Implications for morality

The Compatibilist might argue that determinism is not just compatible with any good definition of free will, but actually necessary. If one's actions are not determined by one's beliefs, desires, and character, then how could one possibly be held morally responsible for those actions?

In practice, the moral systems of the compatibilist have much in common with those of Incompatibilist Determinists (though perhaps not Incompatibilist Libertarians). This is because both Hard Determinists and Compatibilists use moral systems that bear in mind that people's motives are determined.

Invalid use of 'free will'

Critics of compatibilism often focus on the definition of free will: Incompatibilists
Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that people have a free will. Strictly speaking, there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other...

 may agree that the compatibilists are showing something to be compatible with determinism, but they think that something ought not to be called 'free will'.
Incompatibilists might accept the 'freedom to act' as a necessary criterion for free will, but doubt that it is sufficient. Basically, they demand more of 'free will'. The Incompatibilists believe free will refers to genuine (e.g., absolute, ultimate) alternate possibilities for beliefs, desires or actions, rather than merely counterfactual
Counterfactual conditional
A counterfactual conditional, subjunctive conditional, or remote conditional, abbreviated , is a conditional statement indicating what would be the case if its antecedent were true...


Faced with the standard argument against free will
Standard argument against free will
The dilemma of determinism is the claim that if determinism is true, our actions are controlled by preceding events and thus we are not free; and that if indeterminism is true, our actions are random and we are likewise not free; and that as determinism and indeterminism exhaust the logical...

, many compatibilists choose determinism so that their actions are adequately determined by their reasons, motives, and desires.
Compatibilists are sometimes accused (by Incompatibilists
Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that people have a free will. Strictly speaking, there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other...

) of actually being Hard Determinists
Hard determinism
Hard determinism, or Metaphysical determinism, defends the strongest version of Determinism: the world is a mechanism, and all events and choices have been determined by earlier conditions. Particularly, they accept Causal Determinism and Logical Determinism. Faced with the Standard argument...

 who are motivated by a lack of a coherent, consonant
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

 moral belief system.

Compatibilists are sometimes called "soft determinists" pejoratively (William James
William James
William James was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism...

's term). James accused them of creating a "quagmire of evasion" by stealing the name of freedom to mask their underlying determinism.
Immanuel Kant called it a "wretched subterfuge" and "word jugglery." Ted Honderich
Ted Honderich
Ted Honderich is a Canadian-born British philosopher, Grote Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic, University College London and Visiting Professor, University of Bath...

 explains that the mistake of Compatibilism is to assert that nothing changes as a consequence of determinism, when clearly we have lost the life-hope of origination.

Moral poverty

Another point of contention is whether the Compatibilist's definition of 'free will' as a sort of 'freedom to act' successfully confers Moral responsibility
Moral responsibility
Moral responsibility usually refers to the idea that a person has moral obligations in certain situations. Disobeying moral obligations, then, becomes grounds for justified punishment. Deciding what justifies punishment, if anything, is a principle concern of ethics.People who have moral...

for one's actions. Compatibilists say that it does, and further argue that some measure of Determinism may be necessary for the dynamism of responsibility (the ability to share, transfer, and mitigate responsibility).