We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded by your direct support for ReKnew and our vision. Please consider supporting this project.

What is the difference between “libertarian” and “compatibilistic” freedom?

Question: I often hear philosophers and theologians talk about “libertarian” and “compatibilistic” freedom. What do these terms mean? 

Answer: A person who holds to “libertarian” freedom believes that an agent (human or angelic) is truly free and morally responsible for their choices only if it resides in an agent’s power to determine his or her own choices.  Their decisions, in other words, can’t be completely determined by causes outside of themselves. Given any choice an agent makes, a libertarian holds that the agent must have had the power to choose differently if their choice is to be truly free and morally responsible. This is sometimes called “the power of contrary choice.” It is also sometimes referred to as “incompatibilistic freedom,” since the belief is that free will is incompatible with determinism.   

By contrast, a person who holds to “compatibilistic” freedom believes that an agent (human or angelic) can be said to be truly free and morally responsible for their choices if there is no obstacle to their choosing what they want, even though what they want is completely determined by causes outside of themselves and even though their choices are completely determined by what they want.  In other words, compatibilists believe that free will is compatible with determinism.

Related Reading

The Open View of Messianic Prophesies

Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr A number of passages speak of particular events being foreknown by God, even events resulting from individuals’ free will. For example, dozens of prophesies in the OT accurately predict details about the coming Messiah (e.g., he would be born in Bethlehem; arise out of the lineage of Abraham; be executed with…

Topics:

What is the significance of Jeremiah 42:9-16?

Through Jeremiah the Lord tells Israel “If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you” (vs. 10). Then, a few verses later, he says, “However, if you say,…

Topics:

What is the significance of 2 Samuel 24:17–25?

“So the Lord answered [David’s] supplication for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.” The passage suggests that the Lord intended the plague to judge Israel further but David’s supplication persuaded him to change his mind and relent from his punishment. If the future is to some degree open and God is genuinely…

Topics:

What is the significance of 1 Chronicles 21:7–13?

The Lord gives David three options of how Israel may be judged. “Three things I offer you; choose one of them, and I will do it to you.” Paralleling 2 Samuel 24:12–16, this passage reveals that the Lord gives people genuine alternatives and then responds to their choices. If the future is unalterably settled in…

Topics:

Non-Violence and Police Protection

 Scott Davidson via Compfight Question:  I am a President of a State University. As a frequent podcaster of your sermons and reader of your books, I’m seeking your advice on a matter. Because our campus is some distance from the police headquarters in our city, many within the State University are arguing that we should…

What is the biblical basis for “free will”?

Question: Much of your theology depends on a supposed ability humans have to thwart God’s will by our free choices. But what is the biblical basis for your conclusion that people have “freedom”—at least “freedom” in the sense that we can decide to go along with or thwart God’s will for our lives? Answer: Scripture…

Tags: ,