Date of Defense


Date of Graduation




First Advisor

Cynthia Pietras

Second Advisor

David Charlton

Third Advisor

Allen Webb


The following paper is a broad analysis of the concept of free-will. Free-will can be defined as having the ability to act outside of necessity, such that one can be the ultimate author and initiator of their actions and decisions. Stated differently, possessing free-will allows an individual to be held accountable for their behaviors, because those behaviors are the result of something controllable within the individual, rather than something external to the individual and beyond their control.

A belief in free-will is widely assumed, for we hold individuals both legally and morally accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, it remains a controversial subject in philosophy and science. All sciences embrace the position of determinism, which states that all causes have exact effects and all effects are the necessary result of some prior cause. This position is often at odds with free-will because it places the ultimate causes of a person’s behavior outside of that individual, and therefore outside of their control.

This paper examines the determined nature of human behavior in physiology, neuroscience, and behavior analysis. In the physiology and neuroscience section, emphasis is placed on the mechanistic causality of the human neuromuscular system. Both reflexive and voluntary behavior are examined. In the behavior analysis section, emphasis is placed on the environmental control of behavior. Respondent and operant behaviors are examined, as well as more complex examples of operant behaviors that seem to be indicative of our free-will. The conclusion reached in these disciplines is that free-will is a scientifically untenable position, and that it is an unreasonable explanation for behavior.

This paper also examines the concept of free-will in philosophy by surveying a conglomeration of historically famous as well as more contemporary arguments. The positions of determinism and indeterminism are assessed, as is their compatibility with free-will. The conclusion reached in this section is that free-will is incompatible with a worldview that espouses determinism, indeterminism, or a mixture of the two, even though those appear to be the only options we have. Thus, the concept of free-will is paradoxical, unless a mistake in reasoning has gone unnoticed by philosophers.

Given the paradoxical and scientifically unjustifiable nature of free-will, the paper concludes with an overview of the implications of living in a society in which one’s actions are not of their ultimate control. Morality and law become problematic institutions because of their reliance on responsibility. If free-will is an illusion and true responsibility is not possible, society ought to focus on engineering environments in which behaviors that are collectively deemed appropriate are reinforced and those that are collectively deemed inappropriate are punished.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Open Access

Matt Campbell's Thesis Powerpoint.pdf (970 kB)
Defense Presentation