5 Books on Free Will

The philosophical literature on free will and moral responsibility was revolutionized in the 1960s and has grown enormously since. There are many great resources connecting the philosophical literature with issues in Christian theology (e.g., recent monographs by Guillaume Bignon and Michael Preciado), but here are five books I would recommend for anyone who wants to explore the philosophical literature on free will and determinism for themselves.

  1. Meghan Griffith, Free Will: The Basics(Routledge, 2013)

This is the most accessible but complete introduction to the free will debate that I have read. Griffith introduces all of the important terminology clearly, yet the book does not read like a glossary. If you want to read only one book on free will, I recommend this one. But if you want a primer that will make it easier for you to understand more difficult books in this literature, I also recommend this book.

  1. Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will(Oxford Clarendon Press, 1983)

Perhaps the single most important book in the philosophical literature on free will is van Inwagen’s Essay. It would be an anomaly for a new article or book on free will not to cite this book. The book lays out the famous “consequence argument” for incompatibilism about free will and determinism, but it also provides a helpful and influential discussion on what determinism is, whether free will is compatible with indeterminism, and whether there is any connection between free will and moral responsibility.

  1. Carolina Sartorio, Causation and Free Will (Oxford, 2016)

While this is a bit of an oversimplification, positions in the free will debate can be divided into three categories: compatibilists, libertarians, and skeptics. Compatibilists take free will to be compatible with determinism. My favorite recent development of a compatibilist position is Sartorio’s Causation and Free Will. Sartorio is a “source-” or “actual-sequence” compatibilist, and she differs from classical compatibilists who construe free will as involving alternative possibilities. Her book includes a wonderful discussion of what it is for an agent to be reasons-responsive—a feature of many compatibilist (as well as incompatibilist) accounts of freedom. Sartorio’s book also includes a cutting-edge discussion of Frankfurt-style cases, which are thought experiments that aim to show that an agent can be morally responsible despite lacking alternative possibilities.

  1. Christopher Evan Franklin, A Minimal Libertarianism: Free Will and the Promise of Reduction(Oxford, 2018)

This book develops my favorite libertarian account of free will. Libertarianism is a two-part view that we (or most of us, usually) have free will and that free will is incompatible with determinism. Franklin takes insights from earlier libertarian proposals and offers an account that strikes me as more attractive and often much simpler. While I am not a libertarian myself, my view would be close to Franklin’s if I were.

  1. Derk Pereboom, Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life(Oxford, 2014)

Pereboom is a skeptic about free will, so he differs from both Sartorio and Franklin in that respect. This book features influential arguments against compatibilism (most notably the recently popular “manipulation argument”) as well as against libertarianism. But this book is not only a negative project; it also aims to show what is leftover if we give up our ordinary view of ourselves as free and responsible agents, and Pereboom’s defense of his form of skepticism compelling (even if ultimately unsatisfactory to a compatibilist like me).

Taylor Cyr is assistant professor of Philosophy at Samford University. This post first appeared on the website of London Lyceum, a weekly podcast conversation and online center for analytic, Baptist, and confessional theology.