Published In

Foundations of Science

Document Type


Publication Date



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


"Freedom" is a phenomenon in the natural world. This phenomenon - and indirectly the question of free will - is explored using a variety of systems-theoretic ideas. It is argued that freedom can emerge only in systems that are partially detennined and partially random, and that freedom is a matter of degree. The paper considers types of freedom and their conditions of possibility in simple living systems and in complex living systems that have modeling (cognitive) subsystems. In simple living systems, types of freedom include independence from fixed materiality, internal rather than external detennination, activeness that is unblocked and holistic, and the capacity to choose or alter environmental constraint. In complex living systems, there is freedom in satisfaction of lower level needs that allows higher potentials to be realized. Several types of freedom also manifest in the modeling subsystems of these complex systems: in the transcending of automatism in subjective experience, in reason as instrument for passion yet also in reason ruling over passion, in independence from infonnational colonization by the environment, and in mobility of attention. Considering the wide range of freedoms in simple and complex living systems allows a panoramic view of this diverse and important natural phenomenon.


This paper is the author's version an updated and expanded 2012 conference presentation with the same title.; the presentation may be found at

The version of record may be found at © 2015 Springer International Publishing AG, Part of Springer Science+Business Media.

Persistent Identifier

Included in

Philosophy Commons