The literature on the free will problem is enormous, and there is no
possibility of providing anything like a comprehensive guide to it here. I have
simply picked out a small number of representative works.
A useful collection of articles is Free
Will, edited by Gary Watson (Oxford University Press, 1982; 2nd
edn., 2003) in the Oxford Readings in Philosophy series.
The Oxford Handbook of Free Will,
edited by Robert Kane (Oxford University Press, 2002) contains articles on every
area of the contemporary debate.
For further reading on past theories of action from Plato and
Aristotle onwards see Thomas Pink and Martin Stone (eds.), The Will and Human Action: From Antiquity to the Present
Day (Routledge, 2003).
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
contains a notable ancient discussion of action and moral responsibility. There
are many modern English editions. Interesting modern discussions of Aristotle
include Necessity, Cause and Blame by Richard
Sorabji (Duckworth, 1980) and Ethics with
Aristotle by Sarah Broadie (Oxford University Press,
Much of later Greek thought now survives in somewhat fragmentary
form. A very useful collection with excerpts from ancient texts and some
critical discussion is The Hellenistic
Philosophers, edited by A. A. Long and D.N. Sedley (Cambridge
University Press, 1987—in two volumes, the first containing translations, the
second containing original Greek texts). The collection covers problems to do
with free will as well as many other areas of philosophy.
Along with Aristotle’s Ethics,
Stoic theories of action exercised a profound influence on medieval thought.
They are discussed in Brad Inwood’s Ethics and Human
Action in Early Stoicism (Oxford University Press, 1985). A
challenging but very interesting recent discussion of Stoic views of moral
responsibility and freedom is Determinism and Freedom in
Stoic Philosophy by Suzanne Bobzien (Oxford University Press,
One fundamental figure in late antiquity is St Augustine. His
writings on freedom and the will are extensive, but their precise interpretation
much disputed. A central text is De Libero
Arbitrio (On Free Choice). This can be found in a recent English
translation by Thomas Williams (Hackett, 1993).
فلسفة القرون الوسطى وعصر النهضة
A central figure in the 13th century is Thomas Aquinas. One very
important discussion by him of action and freedom is to be found in the
Summa Theologiae, his overview of
theology and of related areas in philosophy. This extensive work is divided into
three parts, and the second part deals with humans as rational beings. This
second part is further subdivided into two. The first of these, the Prima Secundae, contains in questions 6–17 an
immensely interesting and detailed discussion of human action—a discussion that
has been the object of much study and commentary ever since. This discussion
be read in a useful multivolume dual Latin and English text edition prepared
the 1960s by the Dominican Fathers (Aquinas’s own teaching order). The relevant
volume is 17, The Psychology of Human Acts
edited by Thomas Gilby (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1964).
Modern discussions of Aquinas on action include Ralph McInerny’s
Aquinas on Action (Catholic University of
America Press, 1992), and Right Practical
Reason by Daniel Westberg (Oxford University Press,
A key thinker of the 14th century is John Duns Scotus. A useful
collection of his writings on the will and action, with critical discussion,
Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality by
Allan Wolter (Catholic University of America Press, 1986).
For a detailed discussion of medieval theories and a comparison of
them with Hobbes see my ‘Suarez, Hobbes, and the Scholastic Tradition in Action
Theory’, in Pink and Stone (eds.), The Will and Human
For Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian
Religion I have used the edition by McNeill and Battles in the
Library of Christian Classics (Westminster Press, 1960). Those interested in
Reformation disputes should also read the controversy between Luther and
Erasmus, available under the title Luther and Erasmus:
Free Will and Salvation edited by E. Gordon Rupp and P. S. Watson
(SCM Press, 1969).
هوبز، وهيوم، وكانط
Central to understanding Hobbes on free will is his debate with
Bishop Bramhall, published in London in 1656 as The
Questions Concerning Liberty, Necessity and Chance. Bramhall was
the Anglican bishop of Derry, and shared an exile with Hobbes in Paris during
the Civil Wars. In this debate Bramhall represented the will-based medieval
scholastic tradition, and gave an account of human action and its freedom that
owed much to thinkers such as Aquinas and Scotus. Hobbes’s criticism was acerbic
and deeply influential. I am working on a modern edition of The Questions for the new Clarendon edition of the
works of Hobbes. Part of Hobbes’s contribution to the debate exists separately
under the title Of Liberty and Necessity.
Excerpts from this work and from other of Hobbes’s writings are to be found in
British Moralists 1650–1800, edited by D.
D. Raphael (Hackett, 1991). Worth reading is the discussion of action and the
passions at the beginning of Hobbes’s great political work Leviathan (see the beginning chapters, and
especially chapter 6), edited by R. Tuck (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
also my paper on Hobbes and the medieval tradition mentioned
An account of action and freedom that is more complex than Hobbes’s,
but which clearly owes more than it admits to him, is to be found in book 2,
chapter 21, ‘Of power’ in John Locke’s Essay concerning
Human Understanding—see the edition by P. H. Nidditch (Oxford
University Press, 1975).
Modern English-language Compatibilism owes much to David Hume. An
important statement of his views is to be found in An
Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section 8, ‘Of Liberty
and Necessity’—see the edition by L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford University Press,
1975). Hume’s scepticism regarding our knowledge and experience of causation
stated in the preceding section 7 of the Enquiry entitled ‘Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion’. The
interpretation of Hume on causation is disputed—see The
Sceptical Realism of David Hume by John P. Wright (Manchester
University Press, 1983) and Galen Strawson’s The Secret
Connexion (Oxford University Press, 1989).
Central to understanding Kant on action and freedom, and on morality
generally, is his Groundwork of a Metaphysics of
Morals (see, for example, the translation by H. J. Paton, Harper
& Row, 1964). But Kant’s views are complex and changed over time, even
within his mature system. One useful discussion is Henry E. Allison’s Kant’s Theory of Freedom (Cambridge University
There have been countless statements of Compatibilism within the
modern English-language tradition. For a short paper, see A. J. Ayer’s ‘Freedom
and Necessity’, in the first edition of the Gary Watson collection on Free Will and in Ayer’s Philosophical Essays (New York, 1954); and for a book, Daniel
Dennett’s Elbow Room (MIT Press,
A subtle argument around the place of blame and resentment in human
life is Peter Strawson’s ‘Freedom and Resentment’, in the Gary Watson
Susan Wolf explores the rationalist view that free will and
responsibility are to be identified with the capacity to act rationally in her
Freedom within Reason (Oxford University
For the sceptical position see Galen Strawson’s ‘The Impossibility of
Moral Responsibility’, in the Gary Watson collection, and also his Freedom and Belief (Oxford University Press,
Harry Frankfurt argues for basing moral responsibility on
voluntariness rather than freedom in his ‘Alternate Possibilities and Moral
Responsibility’, to be found in a collection of his papers The Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge
University Press, 1988).
A prominent recent defence of Libertarianism is Robert Kane’s
The Significance of Free Will (Oxford
University Press, 1998). There is a good overview of recent libertarian theories
in Randolph Clarke’s Libertarian Accounts of Free
Will (Oxford University Press, 2003). Both these books argue for
positions rather different from my own.
My own views on freedom and action are developed further in my
The Ethics of Action: Action and
Self-Determination (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
A companion volume The Ethics of Action: Action and Normativity, will
discuss the place of action within morality, and in particular the nature of