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What Is Soft Libertarian Free Will?

Today, I’m going to write a pretty short article explaining what Soft Libertarian Free Will is. Tim Stratton called it “Limited Libertarian Free Will”, but in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, Kenneth Keathley calls it “Soft Libertarian Free Will”. But as William Shakespeare said; “A rose by another name is just as sweet.” Now, in this article, I’m not going to be giving any arguments for libertarian free will, bashing determinism, or anything of that sort. This blog post is more an encyclopedia entry. I’m just going to explain what this term means. It’s the view of free will that I hold to, and I think just knowing what I mean when I say “we have free will” might answer some objections of determinists like “Oh, so you believe we can act contrary to our nature?” et. al

I used to be a hard libertarian, but ever since I read Kenneth Keathley’s Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach a few years ago, I’ve been to a soft libertarian. This view basically says that in many circumstances you’re free to choose between A and Non-A and whichever one you picked, it totally layed within your power to choose otherwise. But, there are limits to what you can choose. Your circumstances can constrain the range of choices you can make (e.g you can’t choose to walk out the door if you’re tied to a chair). Your moral character, who you are, can restrain what you’re able to choose. Moreover, your choices are undetermined by anything except your own volition.

This view, besides being consistent with scripture, seems more consistent with our experience. For example, I can think of many instances in which you can have the ability to act or not to act prior to some action at T, but when making the choice a T, at T-1, you cannot change your mind. So, you’re stuck with repeating action A and not being to choose action Non-A. Many addictions would fall under this category. You have the ability to either snort the cocaine or not, but once you chose to snort it, you’re no longer able to choose not to snort the coke.

Now, granted, you could make a series of free choices to bring yourself to the position not to snort the coke. You would do this by detoxing, going to rehab and doing whatever it is people do at rehab. Eventually, through that series of free choices (what I call a “free will bridge”) bring yourself to choose “not” to snort. But you can’t choose not to snort right away, you need to get there through a series of other choices.

Under Soft Libertarian Free Will, it is the case that our moral character or nature governs the range of choices we can choose or not choose. Some things are simply beyond my ability to choose (e.g torturing animals for fun is too evil for a nice guy like me to do). However, a person can change his range of choices by going across those “free will bridges” I mentioned. Making choice after choice after choice (one a little worse or better) until they’re able to do something they previously were unable to. Christians have experienced this with being kind to people they loved to hate. It was hard at first, but eventually, it became second nature through continuing to make the choice to love their enemies. Sex addicts sometimes become really deviant through doing something a little kinkier, and then a little kinkier, and then a little kinkier, until they’re doing things so perverted that years ago they would never even think of choosing to those things. That’s a free will bridge I highly recommend you don’t go down.

Unlike on compatiblism, on soft LFW, our nature doesn’t determine our choices, it just determines the range of options we can choose from. It doesn’t determine the specific choice I make, it just determines the boundaries of which choices are available to me, and within those boundaries, whichever choice I make, I could have made a different choice. It’s in my nature to choose either to write a blog post on libertarian free will (A) or play The Legend Of Zelda (Non-A). They’re both perfectly consistent with who I am. Yet, obviously, I chose to write a short article on free will than play Zelda. It is not within my nature to torture babies for fun or engage in orgies. I’d submit to you that I could not choose those things, much less would not choose them.

If you want to see another Molinist’s take on this, see Tim Stratton’s article “Limited Libertarian Freedom and Compatiblism: What’s The Difference?” on FreeThinking Ministries’ website.

If you want to read articles giving arguments that we do, in fact, posesse this kind of free will, check out the following blog posts I’ve written.

*5 Arguments For The Existence Of Libertarian Free Will
*The Case For Mere Molinism 
*Responding To Free Will Critics
*Q&A: Objections Against Libertarian Free Will
*Q&A: Follow Up On Objections To Libertarian Free Will

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