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Human beings live in a world that is laden with many possibilities. As a being with the capacity to choose between alternatives, he has been able to surmount the numerous problems he has so far encountered.  Not only this, he has been able to develop this world by merely and freely choosing almost the best out of his many alternatives.  However, it has also come to the knowledge of this same man that some external forces influence most of his actions. This has led some men to the conclusion that man is, in fact, not free.  This is now a big problem in the field of philosophy.

This problem of freedom of the will and determinism has continued to perturb philosophers from the ancient period till date.  As a matter of fact, this problem has seen philosophers and some scientists divided into two opposing camps; those who hold tenaciously to the freedom of the will and those who deny the reality of the freedom of the will.  The former are known as the libertarians while the latter group is known as determinists.

It is in the midst of this controversy that I have set out to defend the reality of the freedom of the will in the light of Immanuel Kant, a philosopher of great repute, despite the fact that the juice seem to have, ages ago, been pressed out of this free will controversy.

Immanuel Kant lived all his eighty years in the small provincial town of konisberg in East Prussia.  He was born in April 22, 1724.  His family was among the pietists, a protestant sect somewhat like the Quakers and early Methodists. This tremendously impacted on his philosophical works. Kant authored many philosophical works some of which include Critique of Pure Reason {1781}, Critique of Practical Reason {1788}, Critique Of Judgment {1790}, Metaphysics of Morals{1797} and a host of others. His other woks, which he was unable to complete before his demise on February 12, 1804, were gathered together under the title “opus postunum”.

This work is divided into four chapters. Chapter one which I have already started deals with the general introduction and the clarification of terms.  Chapter two exposes the thoughts of some philosophers on this problem of freewill and determinism from the ancient period to the contemporary era.  In chapter three, we shall look into the thoughts of Immanuel Kant on the freedom of the will.  Chapter four is a critical evaluation and conclusion.

This problem of freedom and determinism from every indication is a metaphysical issue. At the same time, it is a moral issue because to deny the freedom of man is to deny responsibility and morality is built on freedom and responsibility. As a result of this, I shall limit my work to the defense of the freedom of man and its relation to morality.

At this juncture, it is pertinent to clarify certain terms for a better comprehension of the topic and the problem we are about to handle.

1.1 FREEDOM                                                                                                                     

For the man in the street, ‘Freedom’ is the ability to do whatever one desires to do at any point in time.  Philosophically, freedom can be seen as the absence of constriction. Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary defines freedom as “the state of being able to do what you want without anything stopping you”1.  Freedom is the absence of coercion or constraint.  Freedom can also signify that capacity or faculty whereby individuals are left to form their lives through their choices.  This is called self-determination and is often regarded as positive freedom or freedom from… Freedom, however, has so many meanings.

Generally, the idea of freedom connotes the following; absence of constraint, restraint, impediment, coercion, compulsion or obstacles to the realization of certain willed goal; it connotes also the ability or power to do what a person wills or to avoid what he does not want.  Battista Mondin in his book Philosophical Anthropology defines freedom as:

That capacity which man has of choosing to do or not do a thing when all the conditions for action are already present. It is the sovereign control over the situation by which the will holds in its hand the power to make the choice fall in favor of one of various alternative possibilities.2

This is really the sense of freedom I am set to defend in this work.  Freedom is another title of man’s excellence and nobility.  It distinguishes him from every other created thing.  It is this freedom that enables man to swim through the ocean of possibilities in life.  This freedom is also at the center of moral practices. We praise or reproach persons for their actions because of our awareness of the freedom in man.  This is what makes one a moral being.  It is on this ground that Immanuel Kant held tenaciously to the reality of freedom of the human person.  He located it in the noumenal world (the sphere of the thing- in- itself).

I shall elaborate more on the views of some philosophers concerning this issue as we move along.  Suffice it to say here that freedom is in the nature of man.  Without freedom, the moral law is useless.  What then is determinism?


This is a theory, which holds that every event is necessitated.  It means that the rigid laws of nature, the laws of cause and effect govern every thing.  This implies that this rigid law of nature is also governing man, being a part of nature.  By implication therefore there is no question of freedom in man since he cannot help doing what he finds himself doing.  According to the determinists, all our mental states and acts, including choices and decisions, and all our actions are effects necessitated by preceding causes.  Determinism, in general, is the philosophical theory, which maintains that for everything that ever happens there are antecedent conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen.  Determinists consider belief in self-determination or human freedom as an unscientific illusion.

These determinists gave their reasons why man is not free.  These then have given rise to different forms of determinism. Let us now consider some of these kinds of determinism.

1.3             KINDS OF DETERMINISM

There are different kinds of determinism depending on the reasons given why man is not free.  Omoregbe Joseph enumerated five kinds of determinism which include; “ethical determinism, theological determinism physical determinism, psychological determinism and historical determinsn”3. We also have logical determinism.  Let us now consider these kinds of determinism one after the other.


Physical determinism holds that all facts in the physical universe and hence also in human history are absolutely dependent upon and conditioned by their causes. This means that all things in nature, men included, behave according to inviolable and unchanging laws of nature, which specify all actions. This hinges on the assumption in physics that there are certain fixed laws that the heavenly bodies and the universe as a whole obey, such as the gravitational law, the law of conservation of energy, the law of relativism, and a host of other natural laws. Human actions and other events are not regarded as guided by moral considerations but rather are determined by the rigid laws of nature.

In his view, Omoregbe opined that physical determinism denies the freedom of man.  According to him;

Physical determinism is the theory that man is not free because he is part of physical law of nature and all his actions are determined by the physical law of nature.4

This type of determinism can be easily deduced from the thoughts of some philosophers.  The atomic theory of Democritus is a good example.  According to this theory; “Things were simply a combination of various kinds of atoms…”5This means that everything in nature, including the human person since he is part of nature is a combination of various kinds of atoms.  This theory goes as far as holding that the human soul is made up of atoms of a smoother and finer nature.

Thomas Hobbes materialism is a good example of a deterministic interpretation of the human nature in the modern period.  He conceived man as completely material and man’s actions as totally controlled [determined] by the physical law of nature.  Unlike Democritus who posited atoms in motion as responsible for all that is, Hobbes posited or held that everything is as a result of matter in motion.  He denied the existence of immaterial substances or spiritual elements in man.  This implies that there is no freedom in man.

Reacting against this, Omoregbe Joseph posed some questions.  According to him, is it possible to explain the human nature and the activities of man in material terms?  This and other such questions seem to have punctured the arguments of materialists of the ilk of Thomas Hobbes.


The advocates of ethical determinism hold that men’s actions are determined by what they see as good.  In other words, ethical determinism is a theory that holds that men’s actions are determined by whatever they perceive as good.  Socrates and Plato are regarded as the foremost founders of ethical determinism.  According to them to know the good is to do the good.  Nobody does evil knowingly.  St. Thomas Aquinas who also held this view argued that just as the intellect is made for the truth, and cannot help embracing it whenever it is found, so is the will made for the good and is not free to reject when confronted with it.

It is important to note here that most of the advocates of ethical determinism did not deny the freedom of man. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas, in holding that man’s will is determined by the ultimate good which for him is God, maintained that man at the same time exercises his freedom when making choices among particular goods which St. Thomas considered as the means to the ultimate end. Descartes, who opined that man is determined by whatever he perceives as the highest good, added that these, that is, knowing the good and being thereby determined by the good, equally constitute human freedom. 


Theological determinism holds that since God is omniscient and omnipotent he has pre-determined all that happen in the universe and the choice man has to make.  This has been a problem to Christian thinkers in the medieval era.  They were unable to reconcile God’s foreknowledge of future events and man’s freedom.  Jonathan Edwards, an American Calvinist and theologian, saw human freedom as a contradiction.  For him, there is no question of human freedom since God is the ultimate cause and has foreknowledge of all that happen in the universe.

It was St. Augustine who first made genuine attempt to the solution of the problem. According to him, God's foreknowledge of future human actions does not in any way determine those future human actions.  It does not deny man’s freedom.  Man still retains his freedom to do or not to do.

Another version of theological determinism is the one taught by protestant reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. This version holds that God has predestined some people for salvation while others are destined for eternal damnation.  Those who have been predestined for salvation, God provides with his grace to enable them live a good life.  They are known as the elect.  This version portrays God as being unjust.


Psychological determinism is the view that our actions are determined by some psychological factors such as instincts, motives, one’s environment and other factors that are regarded as psychological.  According to them, nobody performs an action without a motive and these motives are effects of prior causes, which are also effects of preceding causes, and so it continues.

Most philosophers conceive of voluntary action as one that is caused by such inner events as volition, motive, desire, choice or the likes.  John Lock in his view did not suppose that anything within the mind is causally undetermined, nor did he think it necessary to suppose this in order to preserve the belief in human freedom which he thought misleading to label “freedom of the will”. He went further to define liberty or freedom as “a power in any agent to do or forebear any particular action, according to this determination or that of the mind, whereby either of them is preferred to the other.” This means that a human being acts freely provided he is acting according to the preference of his own mind, and this is perfectly consistent with his actions being causally determined.

For David Hume there is no philosophical problem of free will.  The whole dispute, he opined, has been purely verbal in character involving only confusions in the meanings of word.  In his view free action is that which springs from the free motive of the agent.  He defined freedom as; ‘Being able to act according to the determinations of one’s own will.’6

This definition points to the fact that human actions are caused.  He went further to argue that all laws are based on rewards and punishments and thus rest on the assumption that men’s motives can be relied upon to have a regular influence on their behaviour.  Following the fundamental point of his philosophy that causation is essentially constant succession, Hume argued that to ask whether human action is caused is to ask whether there are anything they constantly joined to.


Logical determinism is the theory, which holds that whatever that is going to happen will happen.  It implies that it is not in the power of man to alter anything in nature for men’s wills are fettered.

Diodonus Cronus developed this thesis.  His fundamental principle was that it always follows from the fact that something has happened that it was   going to happen and hence, that it was true that it was going to happen by chance and nothing depends on the deliberation and decision of man.

The stoics thought that the most elementary consideration of logic shows this to be true.  In logic, there is a law known as “the law of the excluded middle”.  This principle holds that either a statement is true or it is false.  There is no middle position, if this is so, then it must hold for statements about the past, the present and the future.  For instance the fact that Nigeria got her political independence in 1960 is true thousands of years ago.  In other words, if somebody had made this assertion that Nigeria will have her independence in 1960 thousands of years ago, the assertion will be true even though it has not yet materialized.

Before I conclude this chapter, it is also important to mention that there are also other forms of determinism; soft and hard determinisms. Soft determinism is the idea which holds that man is determined at the same time it gives room for some freedom in human actions.  J.S Mill, David Hume and Thomas Hobbes belong to this group.  On the other hand, hard determinism gives no room for freedom in human action.  The materialists advocate this type of determinism.

Like I mentioned earlier, this problem of freedom and determinism has been there since the beginning of philosophical speculation. In the next chapter, I shall x-ray the opinions of different philosophers on this problem from the ancient to the contemporary period.

1 S.Wehmeier, (ed), Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, (New York ,2000)

 2 B. Mondin, Philosophical Anthropology, (Bangalore,1983),p.103.

3 J. Omoregbe, Metaphysics Without Tears: A Systematic And Historical Study,(Lagos: Joja Educational Research  And Publishers Limited,1996),p.29.

4 Ibid. p.31

5 S. E. Stumpf, Philosophy History And Problems,(U.S.A: Mc Graw-Hill,Inc.,1994),p.26.

6 P. Edward, (ed), The Encyclopedia Of Philosophy, vol.2 (New York: The Macmillan Company and Free Press, 1967), p.367.

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