Dissertation, Durham University (2017)
This thesis investigates the conceptual relationship between laws of nature and
free will. In order to clarify the discussion, I begin by distinguishing several questions
with respect to the nature of a law: i) do the laws of nature cover everything
that happens? ii) are they deterministic? iii) can there be exceptions to universal
and deterministic laws? iv) do the laws of nature govern everything in the world?
In order to answer these questions I look at three widely endorsed accounts of
laws: "Humean" regularity accounts, laws as relations among universals, and the
dispositional essentialist account. I argue that there is nothing in the very nature of
a law - in any of the accounts surveyed - that implies a positive answer to questions
(i) and (ii). I show that this has important consequences for the free will problem.
I then turn to the compatibility of free will and determinism. I focus on the
Humean view and the dispositional essentialist account of laws. And the bulk of this
discussion concerns the consequence argument, especially the question of whether
the laws of nature are "up to us". I show that, on the dispositional conception of
laws, there is no sense in which the laws of nature are up to us, contrary to the
Humean view. However, this does not mean that there is no room for free will on
the dispositional account. I argue that free will requires the laws of nature to be
limited in scope, rather than being indeterministic. I conclude by showing that this
allows one to resist the claim that indeterminism rules out free will.