Capuchin monkey
This is a short article about randomness and free will, not libertarianism as a political ideology. Pictured: A capuchin monkey after deshelling a tough, edible nut. The monkey had (hypothetically) contemplated two options before deshelling the nut: (1) crack the nut for its calories and (2) do nothing and save precious energy. The final decision, (1), was randomly 'selected' by the Universe. So what, then, did the monkey actually do in that decision-making process? What do we do?


Do we have free will? This is one of the biggest questions of philosophy since the assumption of free will underpins many important features of human action: rationality, deliberation, creativity, moral responsibility . . . With free will, we have control over our lives. Without it, we are mere products of the Universe at the behest of its callous rules. Indeed, if fate is determined for us, who the hell are we? (See Macbeth, The Matrix Reloaded (2003), and Oedipus Rex for applications of these questions.)

Many philosophers raise the following concern.

If actions occur in chains of events—many fundamentally random (e.g. quantum events); many determined (e.g. by other causes of nature or some ‘creator’)—how are we responsible for them? Any viable concept of free will must deal with this threat.

Libertarians claim free will is possible outside of determinism. But what do they say about randomness?

One popular approach, devised by Robert Kane, is to bring ‘ultimate responsibility’ into the equation. We are ultimately responsible for our actions, he says, if we have ‘sufficient reasons’ for performing them. So while the Universe takes care of randomly ‘deciding’ the final choice, we source the motivations in the first place.

Consider the following example.

There is a bully at my school who I want to care of. I have (a) a motivation to deliver violent revenge and (b) a motivation to stay cool and keep my reputation. I have cause to follow either action, like the monkey did above. Thus I create a conflict which reduces to me and precedes the Universe’s random ‘choice’.

The question now, however, is: how do we generate motivations?

What do you think?