Regardless if you hold a hard or a soft (i.e. compatibalist) determinist stance on free will, or regardless if we presuppose that the universe is/isn’t deterministic at all, something exists that we, for simplicity’s sake, can call “X”.
“X” is an action performed by an agent in accordance with the agents thoughts, beliefs and intentions. For example: Jen desires a glass of water, so she gets herself a glass, fills it with water and drinks it. She acted according to her desires, thoughts, beliefs and intentions, and she did so regardless if you believe her thoughts were themselves causally determined or not (and, by extension, that her action was as well).
My point with this is that I feel* as though the debate between soft and hard determinism lies in whether or not “X” is the same thing as free will (or “liberty”). And I honestly don’t know what stance to hold. On the one hand, the compatibalist account of free will doesn’t seem to be what normal people think of when they imagine free will. But on the other hand it seems like the Humean account of liberty is the only coherent one (compared to a libertarian account) – or rather that in a deterministic universe, this is the only type of free will that it makes sense to talk about (and that it indeed makes sense to talk about it).
Perhaps it’s as the late Christopher Hitchens said, “…yes, I think we have free will. When asked why I think so, I’d have to take refuge in philosophical irony and say, because I don’t think we have any choice but to have free will.”
*yes, this is what I feel the debate is about. I haven’t studied the literature on hard vs. soft determinism especially extensively, so perhaps (probably) it’s far more difficult (and ontologically different) than that.
On free will