Ep. 15 - Prof. Bernard Berofsky: Having Free-Will in a Somewhat Determined World, A Compatibilist's View

The Bigger Picture

Sep 30 2021 • 2 hrs 3 mins


In today’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Prof. Bernard Berofsky, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy from Columbia University, who in his career has explored topics such as free-will, determinism, liberation, autonomy, and creativity. Bernard is an exceptional philosophical thinker, and his devotion to the pursuit of knowledge and truth is an inspiring one.

This conversation was a deep dive into the mind of an analytical philosopher. In some parts, we explored the deeper philosophical arguments around these ideas, and in others we spoke about how they can be related and applied to our everyday lives.

First of all, you might be asking yourself, what is this idea of free-will and determinism? What is the big dilemma here? Well this is a huge question that has been occupying philosophers for ages - and it asks - do we, as humans, have free-will over our choices? Or is the universe we live in already predetermined, which would mean that everything that ever was and ever will be is like a play with a clear script that’s just waiting to play out. And in this predetermined world, the choices we feel we have full control over are just an illusion and are actually a result of all of these different forces unfolding.

There are different schools of thought around this matter - some philosophers are incompatibilists, meaning they believe that we can’t have both free-will and determinism, it must be either or. Of these, we have the determinists, who are adamant about there being no free-will whatsoever, and that if we do have any feeling of being able to freely make decisions in our lives - this is simply an illusion. Other philosophers believe that nothing is determined and that everything is up for grabs so to speak, that we are free, autonomous agents able to freely make decisions and to control our own fates.

Prof. Berofsky, on the other hand, is a compatibilist. He believes that free-will and determinism can coexist. Certain things about our world and our existence are indeed determined, however, we still have quite a bit of free-will that allows us to actively participate in the shaping of our destinies.