Freedom from what? Separating lay concepts of freedom.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Debates about freedom of will and action and their connections with moral responsibility have raged for centuries, but the opposing sides might disagree because they use different concepts of freedom. Based on previous work, we hypothesized that people who assert freedom in a determined (D) or counterfactual-intervener (CI) scenario assert this because they are thinking about freedom from constraint and not about freedom from determination (in D) or from inevitability (in CI). We also hypothesized that people who deny that freedom in D or in CI deny this because they are thinking about freedom from determination or from inevitability, respectively, and not about freedom from constraint. To test our hypotheses, we conducted two main online studies. Study I supported our hypotheses that people who deny freedom in D and CI are thinking about freedom from determinism and from inevitability, respectively, but these participants seemed to think about freedom from constraint when they were later considering modified scenarios where acts were not determined or inevitable. Study II investigated a contrary bypassing hypothesis that those who deny freedom in D denied this because they took determinism to exclude mental causation and hence to exclude freedom from constraint. We found that participants who took determinism to exclude freedom generally did not deny causation by mental states, here represented by desires and decisions. Their responses regarding causation by desires and decisions at most weakly mediated the relation between determinism and freedom or responsibility among this subgroup of our participants. These results speak against the bypassing hypothesis and in favor of our hypothesis that these participants were not thinking about freedom from constraint.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Simmons, C; Rehren, P; Haynes, J-D; Sinnott-Armstrong, W

Published Date

  • May 2022

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 101 /

Start / End Page

  • 103318 -

PubMed ID

  • 35397429

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1090-2376

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1053-8100

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.concog.2022.103318


  • eng