I read with interest Richard Oerton’s article on the ideology behind retributive punishment.

‘If I were you,’ he says, ‘I should behave exactly as you do’, by which I assume he means that a person’s actions are a direct and unavoidable result of all the events, biological and environmental, leading up to them.

To say then that free will does not exist is easy, because we have just defined it out of existence.

The trouble with using language to express ideas is that deciding on an alternative definition of free will magically returns it to our universe.

In any moment, there may be more than one discrete action which a person is aware of and physically capable of undertaking as their next immediate action. ‘Do I go left or right?’ By definition, one of those actions will be taken and the others will not.

If we choose to define free will as ‘the factor which causes the selection by the individual of one course of action over all the others’, then free will exists again, and we can all go home happy that we can be held accountable for our actions. We might talk about free will being compromised or influenced in a given situation, but our starting point is that it exists, so it does.

I will reflect on this further tonight while trying to resist a pudding after dinner.

David Rhodes, Swan Solicitors, Melton, East Yorkshire