DOI: 10.14704/nq.2016.14.3.900

Keeping Determinism, Ditching Materialism: A Bohmian Account of Compatibilist Free Will and its Relationship to Criminal Responsibility

Andrew J. Marlow


The contribution of quantum mechanics to the debate on whether free will exists is usually limited to considerations of how the indeterminism implied by certain interpretations of quantum mechanics might allow room for free will where the classical determinism of Newtonian mechanics seemingly would not. However, this Paper advances the idea that such arguments are flawed, as they cannot account for how an agent would exercise control over an indeterministic choice, which could just as easily be resolved by chance or randomness. This Paper will put forward an alternative account of how quantum mechanics could account for free will, based on the deterministic and non-materialistic interpretation of David Bohm. In this interpretation, the human mind, seen objectively as “active information” and perceived subjectively as “meaning”, can have an “informational” causal influence on the behaviour of the human body. This is shown to complement a compatibilist account of free will, where free will is taken to mean simply that an agent can act according to his/her will without impediment and is thus compatible with determinism, and to augment it, by giving mind a fundamental place in reality and thus explaining the mental causation necessary for any account of free will. This analysis is then taken to legal philosophy, to show that a Bohmian account of compatibilist free will can similarly augment the ‘Act Requirement’ of criminal jurisprudence and the ‘formal agency’ element of Brudner’s liberal theory of penal justice, such that it can better ground our philosophical justification of holding individuals responsible for criminal acts.


Free will; determinism; indeterminism; Bohm; compatibilism

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Supporting Agencies

The author is grateful for the continued support of Paavo Pylkkänen, particularly for the constant supply of research materials and guidance he has provided in relation to the ideas of David Bohm.

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