Sample Philosophy Paper on soft determinism

Soft determinism

Soft-determinism is the philosophical argument that states that our choices are based on free will when they are solely caused by desires. Under this approach, our choices are not free if external forces or constraints cause them. Free will is considered doing whatever you want to do in the absence of constraints. Hence, proponents of soft-determinism argue that free will is compatible with determinism. This paper argues that most of our actions are based on free will contrary to some arguments that biology and the environment are the key determinants of our actions.

Proponents of determinism have always claimed that it is incompatible with the concept of free will, and a chain of events that go back in time determines people’s actions. One of the proponents of determinism is John Hospers; although he does not openly deny the existence of free will, he argues that we have very little control over our actions. Hospers believes that our actions are strongly influenced by desires and we never make a rational choice that is outside these desires. Even in cases where we say we could have done otherwise, we just mean that our desires were different at that point and time. Our desires emanate from our character, which comes from conditions that are beyond our control.

Hospers argues that we have no control over our actions because they emanate from our character that is shaped by heredity and the environment, especially in early childhood. Hospers gives an example of a serial killer who is facing execution for his crimes. Most people including the jury would say that the serial killer is responsible for his murders because he had planned them and he even confessed in the court revealing the exact plan he had used. However, a thorough analysis can show the reasons  for the behavior of the serial killer. The serial killer was rejected by his parents as a child and grew up in foster homes, which taught him that nobody cared about him, and he tried to deal with his negative feelings through defensive aggression. The serial killer is, therefore, a poor victim who is not aware of inner forces that pushed him to commit the grave crimes.

According to Hospers, the type of environment we were exposed to in early childhood mostly determines our behavior. It is true that not all people exposed to a poor environment turn out maladaptive. Those who turn out fine have a natural ability to overcome the effects of the negative environment, and those who do not should not be blamed for their ill behavior. Hence, those of us who are able to overcome the influence of a negative environment with little effort should consider themselves lucky and should not boast about it[1].

Hospers’s argument undermines the existence of free will, as acknowledged by the proponents of soft-determinism. He purports that people cannot exercise free will even if their actions are purely driven by desires. In the absence of constraints or coercive forces, one can choose to act differently even if having a strong desire to engage in a certain act. Stace is one of the proponents of soft-determinism, and he argues that those who oppose the concept of free will hold an erroneous definition of the concept. According to Stace, to determine whether individual actions were based on free will or not, one should examine whether the individual was coerced or whether constraints were present[2].

For example, a man fasting in a desert for a week due to lack of food is not acting on free will. On the contrary, an activist who fasts in order to achieve a certain social goal is acting on a free will. In the first example, the man was not acting freely because there was a constraint, that is, lack of food. Similarly, a man who steals bread because he is hungry is fulfilling a desire and therefore acting on a free will as he could have chosen to act otherwise.

A philosopher who denies the existence of a free will may explain the man’s action by claiming that his decision to steal the bread was influenced by heredity and his early childhood. They might have given explanations such as morally depraved parents who also committed crimes raised the man. However, this is not true because the man was hungry and stole bread to fulfill his desire. Hence, his action was based on free will and not learned behavior or heredity. Actions that are not based on free will have causes that we have no control over. For instance, the man fasting in a desert because there is no food has no control over the cause of his fasting. On the contrary, an activist who fasts for a certain goal, for example, freedom, has control over the cause of his action.

When we do things we have control over, we are acting on a free will, and when we engage in actions the cause of which we have no control over, we are acting on coercion and not free will. In most cases, free acts are caused by our desires, motives, or the state of our mind. Unfree acts are mostly caused by physical conditions of physical forces that are beyond our control. This means that most of the behaviors we engage in are free acts because most of the time, we do not act under coercion; for example, signing a confession because we were beaten by a police officer.

Determinism, as an explanation for human behavior, undermines human freedom and dignity and devalues behavior. In addition, by attributing behavior to external influences, determinism undermines the fact that every human being is unique and has the freedom to make his/her own choice. Deterministic explanations of human actions also eliminate personal responsibility. For instance, an individual who is being charged with a violent crime may say that he/she was not responsible for the behavior. The person may cite his/her upbringing, relationship challenges, and mental disorders as the main cause of the behavior.

It is true that we do not have control over some of our behaviors, but denying the existence of free will like the proponents of determinism is problematic. Most human behavior is not determined; an individual’s free will influences most of the choices we make in life. Free will is what makes us functional human beings, and in its absence, we become like robots that are controlled externally.

Soft-determinism offers the best explanation for human behavior and choices because it acknowledges that free will and causation are compatible. On the other hand, hard determinism argues that no act is free; it must occur, and this suggests that all acts are caused and not free. For example, a man who chooses to steal bread is not acting on free will, according to the proponents of hard determinism, because his behavior was caused by hunger. However, proponents of soft-determinism acknowledge that having a cause does not necessary make an act unfree. An act is only unfree if the cause is beyond our control and does not emanate from personal desires, motivates, or mental states.

Proponents of determinism equate causation with coercion and do not consider the nature of the cause like proponents of soft-determinism. Under hard determinism, an act that is considered free is performed without causation, and in reality, it is very difficult or impossible to encounter such an act.


            From the argument, it is evident that the proponents of hard determinism make an error in denying the existence of free will. One of the errors is in the way they define free will. Proponents of determinism consider free will to exist if the action has no cause. It is almost impossible to find an act that has no cause, and this means that the proponents of determinism reject the existence of free will. The second error made by the proponents of determinism is undermining personal responsibility by claiming that people have no control over their behavior and actions. The best explanation of human actions, choices, and behavior is soft-determinism because it acknowledges that even acts with a cause can be free. This means that causation and free will are compatible under soft-determinism. An act is free if it is caused by desires, motives, or a state of mind. On the contrary, an act is considered unfree if it is caused by coercion or if we have no control over the cause.



Hospers, J. “The range of human freedom.N.p.

Stace, W. T. “Chapter 20: Compatibilism defended.” N.p.


[1] John Hospers. The range of human freedom. N.p pp. 1 – 4.

[2] Walter T. Stace.“Chapter 20: Compatibilism defended.”