Hi, I had a question about the nature of free will. Is it a fair interpretation to say that we actually do not have free will because we are limited in the choices that we can make? For example, say that I really want a blue book, and given complete freedom, I would buy myself one, but for whatever reason today there are only red and black books available in my price range. I can only choose from two options that I did not want, and so my selection of book is limited by my external choices. Is this a silly interpretation? Thanks, Hayley

Good question, Hayley. What the case you describe brings to light is that free will is best understood with respect to a set of alternatives and not with respect to an unlimited range of possibilities. Being free with respect to purchasing a red or black book (or make no purchase at all) is still a bona fide case of freedom, even though "you can't always get what you want" (the Rolling Stones were right on that point). Philosophers have sought to address such cases. Consider a case from Aristotle: imagine a sea captain in the midst of a storm throwing her cargo into the sea. Is she doing so freely? In a sense, she is, but in a sense she is not. She would prefer not to, but unless she does, she, her crew, and ship will sink. This is a case when we would hedge an easy reply to questioning whether the sea captain acted with (to use your term) "complete freedom."

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