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Compatibilism and incompatibilism

Compatibilism, also known as "soft determinism" and most famously championed by Hume, is a theory which holds that free will and determinism are compatible. According to Hume, free will should not be understood as an absolute ability to have chosen differently under exactly the same inner and outer circumstances. Rather, it is a hypothetical ability to have chosen differently if one had been differently psychologically disposed by some different beliefs or desires. Alternately, Hume maintains that free acts are not uncaused (or mysteriously self-caused as Kant would have it) but caused in the right way, i.e., by our choices as determined by our our beliefs and desires, by our characters. While a decision making process exists in Hume's determinism, this process is governed by the so-called causal chain of events. For example, a person may make the decision to support Wikipedia, but that decision is determined by the conditions that existed prior to the decision being made.

The opposing view, that free will cannot be consistent with determinism, is sometimes called incompatibilism. The pessimistic version is that neither determinism nor indeterminism permit free will; Hume also considered free will inconsistent with indeterminism. One incompatibilist position holds that "free will" refers to genuine (e.g. absolute, ultimate) alternate possibilities for beliefs, desires or actions, and that such possibilities are absent from the compatibilist definitions. In the absence of such possibilities, the argument that free will confers responsibility is fraudulent.

Some views are less easily categorized. The libertarian position is that our experience of free will implies the universe is not deterministic. Some advocates of this view consider it compatible with determinism in the "physical" universe, but believe "mental" events are different.

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