The free will paradox

The following set of propositions is described by McKenna (2009:1.5)[1] as the classical formulation of the problem of free will:

1)      ‘Some person, at some time, could have acted otherwise than she did.

2)      Actions are events.

3)      Every event has a cause.

4)      If an event is caused, then it is causally determined.

5)      If an event is an act that is causally determined, then the agent of the act could not have acted otherwise than in the way that she did’.

This formulation involves a mutually inconsistent set of propositions, and yet each is consistent with in our contemporary conception of the world, producing an apparent paradox. It is related to another apparent paradox known as Buridan’s Ass.


[1] McKenna, Michael, ‘Compatibilism’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy(Winter 2009 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>

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Filed under Paradoxes

5 responses to “The free will paradox

  1. Cooper Metzgus

    This is assuming that we could effect the past right? If we could effect the past and change that persons decision in the moment, then perhaps we would never experience the future caused by said change of events. It doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have acted differently, it just means that they didn’t.


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