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[Perhaps the argument in [330] could be expanded as follows: Let us assume that it is a fact that we do not have free will. If such is the case, it follows that the assertion of determinism is also determined, since free, autonomous thought is an illusion. But if the assertion of determinism is determined by non-mental factors, then the assertion has no intellectual significance. Thus, if determinism were true, we would have no way of knowing it. Russell and Magee offer their disproofs of determinism below. Though they are somewhat similar, I find Russell's more accessible and persuasive.]

We do not think we were necessarily not free in the past, merely because we can now remember our past volitions. Similarly, we might be free in the future, even if we could now see what our future volitions were going to be. Freedom, in short, in any valuable sense, demands only that our volitions shall be, as they are, the result of our own desires, not of an outside force compelling us to will what we would rather not will. Everything else is confusion of thought, due to the feeling that knowledge compels the happening of what it knows when this is future, though it is at once obvious that knowledge has no such power in regard to the past. Free will, therefore, is true in the only form which is important; and the desire for other forms is a mere effect of insufficient analysis.

Bertrand Russell (from Our Knowledge of the External World, 1914)


Foreknowledge is not the same as predeterminism (in the sense of determinism). If it is possible for a being, let us say a God, to know what is going to happen in the future there is no more of a problem about his knowing that at some particular time in the future I am going to decide, entirely of my own free will, to do a particular thing than there is about his knowing any other kind of future event. Future free decisions, future free choices, are neither more nor less future than other future events: if there can be knowledge of future events at all then no special problem is raised about knowledge of future choices.

Bryan Magee (from Confessions of a Philosopher, 1997)

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