In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Free Will

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • The Free Will Problem and Moral Theory

Philosophy Free Will
Kevin Timpe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0047


Free will is a perennial issue in philosophy, both in terms of the history of philosophy and in contemporary discussions. Aspects of free will relate to a wide range of philosophical issues, but especially to metaphysics and ethics. For roughly the past three decades, the literatures on free will and moral responsibility have overlapped to such a degree that it is impossible to separate them. This entry focuses on contemporary discussions about the nature and existence of free will, as well as its relationship to work in the sciences and philosophy of religion.

General Overviews

Which introductory overview will best serve one’s needs depends on one’s familiarity with the contemporary discussions. Those not familiar with the subject at all should start with Strawson 2004 and then move on to O’Connor 2008. Levy and McKenna 2009 is the most up-to-date general overview of various central issues in the free will debates, but it will best serve those who already have some general knowledge of the topic. Vargas 2009 addresses methodological issues regarding how the free will debates are structured.

  • Levy, Neil, and Michael McKenna. “Recent Work on Free Will and Moral Responsibility.” Philosophy Compass 4.1 (2009): 96–133.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00197.x

    A thorough and even-handed discussion of six current debates in the free will literature; an excellent source for those already familiar with the basics of the debates and who wish to find information on recent work.

  • O’Connor, Timothy. “Free Will.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

    Focuses primarily on issues of rational deliberation, ownership of actions, and the relationship between causation and control as they relate to free will, though it also addresses some of the theological implications of free will. Less up-to-date than Levy and McKenna 2009.

  • Strawson, Galen. “Free Will.” In Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online. Edited by Edward Craig. 2004.

    Provides a very short introduction to the contemporary free will debates, originally published in 1998. While it leaves out many details and lesser issues, it nevertheless is useful as a very quick overview of the topic.

  • van Inwagen, Peter. “How to Think about the Problem of Free Will.” Journal of Ethics 12.3–4 (2008): 327–341.

    A useful though somewhat anomalous approach to terminological issues in the free will literature.

  • Vargas, Manuel. “The Revisionist Turn: A Brief History of Recent Work on Free Will.” 2009.

    Focuses on methodological issues and how distinct conceptions of the philosophical project generate the peculiar structure of the free will debate. Will be published also in print in the forthcoming New Waves in the Philosophy of Action, edited by Jesús Aguilar, Andrei Buckareff, and Keith Frankish (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan).

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