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Distinction Between Freedom of Will and Freedom of Action

William James says that in the event that there is a distinction between freedom of will and freedom of action, then it appears that free will is essentially for the performance of free actions. For example, if the man who is supposed to take the dog out for a walk is brainwashed during is nap to want to walk his dog, then even if there is no external obstacle preventing her from carrying out his decision, it would be concluded that his taking the dog out for a w would not b a free action. This is because in the event of brainwashing, the man’s decision does not arise from his own will. This therefore suggests that free will is a necessary condition for a free action even if they are distinct. This makes the phrase “acting with free will” to mean that an agent engaged in an action as a result of utilizing the free will (Baer, & Kaufman, 2008). This phrase does not impede the distinction between free ill and free action.

William’s other reason of free will is that it seems to be required for moral responsibility. There are various accounts of what moral responsibility is, but there is a wide agreement that moral responsibility is distinct from causal responsibility. For example if we consider a falling branch that lands on a car and breaks a window, the branch would be causally responsible for the broken window. On the other hand, it cannot be morally responsible for the damage because branches are not moral agents. Depending on an individuals understanding of causation, then it is possible to be morally responsible for an event even if an agent is not causally responsible for the same event (Kane, 2002). Thus an agent is morally responsible for an action, state of affairs or an event if he or she is the appropriate recipient of the moral blame for the same event. This agent will be morally responsible even if no one blames his or her actions. In James view of the relationship between free will and moral responsibility, he says that if an agent does not have free will, then the agent is morally responsible his actions. Thus if a person is coerced into doing a morally bad action, such as stealing, they should not be hold morally responsible for this action since it is not an action that they did on their own free will.

William also believes that free will is required for moral responsibility. He says that human agents do not have free will but they are still morally responsible for their choices and actions. He thinks that the kind of needed for free will is stronger than the kind of control required for moral responsibility. Additionally, he points out that the truth of causal determinism would prevent the kind of control that is needed for free will. But it would still prevent the kind of control needed for moral responsibility (Ekstrom, 1999). Other philosophers still think that the significance of free will is not limited to the necessity of free actions and moral responsibility. They suggest that free will is a requirement for rationality, dignity of persons, agency, autonomy, value of friendship, cooperation, love and creativity (Ekstrom, 1999).

William’s Models of Free Will 

According to his models of free will as propounded, he says that free agents have certain powers or capacities. This includes capacity or power for growth and reproduction. The agents are also unique in that they possess the capacity for intellectual decision. The two point out that free agents alone posses the faculties of will and intellect (Baer, & Kaufman, 2008). It is the virtue of possessing these additional faculties and the interaction between them that creates free will. They state that intellect or the rational faculty is the power of recognition. As a result of these cognitions, intellect holds various things to the will as pertains good, under some descriptions (Kane, 2002). Thus in walking the dog, the man might intellectually evaluate that walking the dog is good for its health. Further more, al agents with intellect have free will which is an appetite for good. It is naturally drawn to being good. The will cannot therefore pursue an option that the intellect presents as not good in any way. Free will is therefore able to command other faculties. It can command the body to move or the intellect to consider performing an action. The free will would in this case command the man’s body to pick up the leash and attach it to the dog and then go outside for a walk with the dog. Aquinas who is also one of the proponents of free will says that only an agent who is empowered with an intellect can act with a free judgment which would apprehend the common note of goodness. From this point it can be able to judge anything to be good or bad (Baer, & Kaufman, 2008). Consequently, whenever there is intellect, there is free will and thus the interaction between the will and the intellect would make an agent have the free will to pursue something that is seen to be good.

Apart from the supposition explained above, he developed the concept of interlocking thought of free will. This account of free will is sometimes called the structuralism account of free will because it explains that a will is free only if it has certain internal structures or meshes among different levels of desires and decisions (Harry, 1971). In this theory, agents can have different kinds of desires which involve desires to perform a given action. For example, a man may desire to go for a walk. This would be called first order desires. On the other hand, if the man doesn’t wish to go for a walk, she may nonetheless desire to be the person who would want to go for a walk. She may desire to have certain first order desires. This would then be called second order desires. When an agent will further have desires to have particular second order desires, then this would continue and one can construct a seemingly infinite hierarchy of wishes.

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William informs us that not all agents’ desires would result in actions and therefore if one agent has conflicting desires, then it would be impossible to fulfill all the wishes. Free will is therefore problematic because it seams as if questionable manipulations can be compatible with this account of free will (Harry, 1971). According to this view under consideration, a man has a free will with regards to taking a dog for a walk, if he has a further second order desires to take the dog for a walk, then the first order desire will move him to take the dog for a walk. This account does not however tell us how this man got these desires. Even if he was manipulated or brainwashed into the second order desire for his first order, his first order desire would be his free will.

A third explanation of free will by James, takes a starting point that agency involves a sensitivity to particular actions. A person will act with free will if they are responsive to the appropriate rational considerations. They will not act with free will if there is no responsiveness (Baer, & Kaufman, 2008). For example, if we still take the man’s desire to walk the dog, a reasons-responsive opinion of the free will is that, the man’s volition to walk his dog is free. But if he had certain reasons not to walk the dog, then he would not have decided to walk his dog. Imagine a situation such as switching on a television after the man had woken up from his nap and latter learns of the blizzard before deciding to walk the dog. Had he known of the blizzard, he would have had a reason for deciding not to take her dog for a walk. Even if this reason don’t occur to him, that is, if he does not learn about the blizzard before making his decision, then the disposition to have such reasons would influence his wishes shows his reaction to reasons. Therefore, reasons-responsive view of free will is dispositional. Coercion and manipulation undermines free will on this view and in virtue making agents and not in reasons-responsive. Thus if the man was brainwashed to walk the dog at certain time, then even if he had to turn on the television and sees that it is snowing outside, he would try to walk the dog even if he has reasons not to. Manipulated agents lack the reasons-responsive and in virtue of this, lack free will (Baer, & Kaufman, 2008).


As have been seen from the perspectives of different thinkers including William James opinion on free will, it is right for most people to always think that they have free will even though they are never sure what exactly this amounts to. The question of the nature of free will is not a small task as have been seen since it involves a number of questions. To say that a person has free will means that the individual has the capacity to choose his or her course of action. We should also have in mind that animals too do satisfy this criterion. We should avoid thinking that only people and not animals have free will. They are all agents of free will. The minimal understanding of free will requires an agent to have a particular sense of will, but the term “free will” has a deeper meaning for other unique features of a person. Free will exists but at different degrees of understanding. This concept as been understood from the perspective of different distinct properties with the first containing an idea that what one does is in some sense free and not determined by something else. The other is that a condition where an individual controls what he does, entails free will. Free will to is the capacity unique to people and which allows them to control their actions. Thus James explains that we do not respond passively to outside forces without having power to influence our circumstances and he defines the act of free will to be one characterized by one’s strong focused attention on the object to be attained.

Code: Sample20

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