Apologetics to the Glory of God

Are choices arbitrary?

Those who wish to defend libertarian free will over against a position like Calvinism often attempt to do so upon the basis of a strictly philosophical rather than exegetical basis. It is often asserted that determinism of any kind (which for the sake of argument includes Calvinism) precludes free will such that if we possess free will then indeterminism must be the case. Since there is libertarian free will indeterminism is true (and Calvinism is false).

Note that the inconsistency between libertarian free will and determinism is assumed. The assumption may be granted as definitional. Note also that libertarian free will is merely assumed rather than proven. One might just as easily assert that if Calvinism is true then libertarian free will is false. To be fair there are often arguments presented to try and support the premise that there is libertarian free will which usually take the form of a reductio ad absurdum. These arguments will not be discussed right now. Rather the concept of libertarian free will itself will be briefly examined.

Apparently libertarian free will by its very definition would have it that indeterminism obtains. However, if indeterminism is the case then the choices people make are not determined in any sense by the people who make them. Choices are therefore arbitrary. It may be objected that while choices are not determined they are still influenced by factors like the character or emotions of the agent making the choices and therefore they are not arbitrary.

However if the aforementioned factors (e.g. character, emotions) do not determine choices but only influence them then people might still make choices against their inclinations. If people can make choices against their inclinations then the objection is obsolete since the actual choices people make are still not necessarily affected in any sense by the people who make them. The same problem of arbitrariness mentioned before is still a problem.

Perhaps what the objector means to say is that our choices are delineated by the aforementioned influences. In this case a choice is made between options not excluded by the factors which “influence” the people making decisions. However again there is no relevant way in which the factors influence actual choices between the remaining options. Choices are apparently still separate from the people ‘making’ the choices and we are back to the same problem of arbitrariness.





3 responses to “Are choices arbitrary?”

  1. Don Avatar

    “if indeterminism is the case then the choices people make are not determined in any sense by the people who make them. Choices are therefore arbitrary.”

    Conflation of the term “determine” which in one case means ‘choice’ (determined {limited} by people – incorrectly used) and ‘(in)determinism’ {not limited by anything – in an existential sense} – [fallacy of composition].

    The term “determine” means ‘to limit’ so “indeterminism” means ‘without limit’. If the Universe in general is “without limit” (indeterminate) then human choice could not be ‘limited’ either, by definition. Nonsequitur.

    The same old “all things are relative” absolutist fallacy.

    If you say that indeterminism makes the concept of ‘choice’ an illusion then the same must apply to all other concepts as well since no concept can be ‘determined’, including the concept of indeterminism.

    All things are subject to indeterminism, this has been absolutely determined!

    All things are arbitrary.

    The same old “all things are relative” absolutist fallacy.

    Besides, stripped of the excess, irrelevant nonsense:

    “if indeterminism (not limited) is the case then the choices people make are not determined (limited)”

    Therefore people are not limited from imposing limits (making choices.)

    A is A.

  2. C.L. Bolt Avatar


    Thanks for the comment. I am not sure I follow your comment completely, but might it be the case that you are substituting “determine” as it is used in logic with “determine” as it is used in terms of causation?

  3. ZaoThanatoo Avatar

    “Conflation of the term “determine”… and ‘(in)determinism’… – [fallacy of composition].”

    So is it a fallacy of conflation (the treatment of two different concepts as one) or composition (the parts of a whole are incorrectly used to describe the whole)?

    You seem to have conflated the two… 🙂

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