Organon F

Volume 26, February 2019, Issue 1, Pages 62–85

ISSN 2585-7150 (online) ISSN 1335-0668 (print)

Research Article | Special issue on Causality, Free Will, and Divine Action

Why Determinism in Physics Has No Implications for Free Will

Michael Esfeld


This paper argues for the following three theses: (1) There is a clear reason to prefer physical theories with deterministic dynamical equations: such theories are maximally rich in information and usually also maximally simple. (2) There is a clear way how to introduce probabilities in a deterministic physical theory, namely as answer to the question of what evolution of a specific system we can reasonably expect under ignorance of its exact initial conditions. This procedure works in the same manner for both classical and quantum physics. (3) There is no cogent reason to take the parameters that enter into the (deterministic) dynamical equations of physics to refer to properties of the physical systems. Granting an ontological status to parameters such as mass, charge, wave functions and the like does not lead to a gain in explanation, but only to artificial problems. Against this background, I argue that there is no conflict between determinism in physics and free will (on whatever conception of free will), and, in general, point out the limits of science when it comes to the central metaphysical issues.


Classical mechanics; determinism; free will; functional reduction; Humeanism; physical laws; quantum mechanics.

Author(s) and affiliation(s)


Michael Esfeld


University of Lausanne


Department of Philosophy, University of Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland


About this article


17 April 2018


7 September 2018

Published online

22 January 2019


Institute of Philosophy of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Cite as


Esfeld, M. (2019). Why Determinism in Physics Has No Implications for Free Will. Organon F, 26(1), 62–85.


Esfeld, Michael. 2019. "Why Determinism in Physics Has No Implications for Free Will." Organon F 26 (1): 62–85.


Esfeld, M. (2019). Why Determinism in Physics Has No Implications for Free Will. Organon F, 26(1), pp. 62–85.

Copyright information

© Michael Esfeld

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