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Free will and determinism, Systems theory, Autonomy, Autopoesis, Agent (Philosophy)


This phenomenon of "freedom" in the natural world - and indirectly the question of free will - is explored using systems-theoretic concepts that link the idea of freedom to ideas about autonomy and agency. The focus is on living systems in general, and on living systems that have cognitive subsystems more specifically. After touching on the relevance to freedom of determinism vs. randomness, the paper examines four types of freedom: (i) independence from fixed materiality, (ii) activeness that is unblocked and wholistic, (iii) internal rather than external determination, and (iv) regulation by an informational subsystem. These types of freedom are not all-or-nothing but matters of degree.


Paper presented at the 64th Annual Northwest Philosophy Conference, Oregon State University, Oct. 26-27.

A modified version of this paper was subsequently published in Foundations of Science, vol. 20, no. 3, 2015. DOI

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