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July 14, 2012

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Great article; I've listed it on my site's page of blogs refuting free will - http://causalconsciousness.com/free%20will%20refuted%20in%20blogs.htm

I hope you'll write more, and cover my Exploring the Illusion of Free Will initiative

You're absolutely right - free will doesn't exist. It is religiously motivated crap that is used by conservatives to support the moral justification for inequality. Unfortunately for conservatives, free will doesn't exist, which means the moral justification for inequality falls apart. The idea of free will is best understood as a product of human psychology, like the idea of God. People have a psychology need for autonomy, from which springs the idea of free will.

Here's a brief summary of some arguments against free will:

arguments against free will:

1. definition

Free will must be defined in a way that distinguishes it from other concepts. In order for free will to avoid being a synonym for another concept, it must be defined as "the ability to have chosen otherwise in accordance with one's actions."

2. impossible

The universe must be either deterministic or indeterministic. If the universe is deterministic, then only one possible state of affairs can obtain at any given time. Therefore, free will cannot exist in a deterministic universe. However, if the universe is indeterministic, then my actions cannot be determined by my choices; all of my actions would be like dice rolls. If I choose to raise my right arm in an indeterministic universe, I might or might not raise my arm. My choice to raise my right arm might cause me to start laughing hysterically or to spontaneously combust in an indeterministic universe. In an indeterministic universe, effects are random. Even if there is a certain probability that I will raise my right arm, this is not sufficient control to say that free will exists. Since free will cannot exist in either a deterministic or an indeterministic universe, and since the universe must be either deterministic or indeterministic, then free will cannot exist.

3. infinite regress

Shoppenhauer wrote "Man is free to do what he wills but not to will what he wills." Suppose instead that a person is free to "will what they will." In this case, an infinite regress results: if I will to will something, then I must ask if I am free to will this. If I answer affirmatively, then I must say that I will to will to will something, and I must ask the same question again, ad infinitum. The only way to end the infinite regress is to say that something I will is determined. If the first thing that I will in the chain is determined, then the entire chain is determined. Since this is the only way to avoid the infinite regress, the will is determined. Therefore, free will does not exist.

4. psychological explanation

Free will is a product of human psychology just as God is a product of human psychology. The idea of free will stems from the human desire to see oneself as autonomous and as being better than other people. These are "immature desires" which depend on the notion of free will. When the notion of free will is rejected, people can begin to understand that everything is connected and that no one is better than anyone else.

5. practical reasons for rejecting the idea of free will

The idea of free will is the foundation of all conservative philosophy. Without the idea of free will, inequality in the distribution of resources cannot be justified on moral grounds. Central to conservative thought is the moral justification of inequality; it isn't enough for conservatives to establish a wealthy elite, they want the rest of society to recognize this elite as deserving their position (i.e., conservatives want to establish an aristocracy). Aid to the poor is typically rejected by conservatives since they see people's circumstances as being the result of the own free will. Taxes on the rich are rejected as "punishing success." Talk of "earning" one's riches makes no sense if we are not in control of our actions.

The idea of free will can be tied to what is called the "fundamental attribution error" in social psychology. ...Which basically says that we are hippocrites when it comes to explaining people's behavior.

Negative emotions such as jealousy and hatred require the notion of free will (Spinoza). These dissappear when we realize that there is no free will and that everything that happens happens necessarily.

From my perspective the definition is a straw man in and of it's self. I think I happen to fall into the view of a compatibilist.

You are effectively defining freedom only to exist in a state where you could be not your self.

My view is that if my internal state determines the decision free of external influence then I determined my choice freely.

To me my inner compulsions are my free will.
To take away my inner compulsions is to take me away.


Patrick, if free will doesn't exist, how can you condemn conservatives for their actions?

@Colin

" This, of course, requires that a mysterious "will" be something supernatural, since if "will" is an altered brain state, determinism still rules: "

......if it ever ruled. Physical determinism is something of an open question. To argue against free will, you need to argue against compatibilism , which you have done, and in favour if determinism, which you ha've not.

(Alternatively, you could argue that both determinism and indeterminism, are incompatible with free will, as Patrick did)

@Patrick

"However, if the universe is indeterministic, then my actions cannot be determined by my choices; all of my actions would be like dice rolls"

And why is that a problem? Are you saying the choice would not be yours? But why shouldn't an indetetministic event in your brain count as yours? Or is the problem that you might end up doing something you don't want? But if the mechanism consists of making a choice between N actions, each of which you want, then you won't. Or is the problem that you can't have control over a random choice? But there is nothing to stop one part of the brain filtering the output of another, random, one.

". If I choose to raise my right arm in an indeterministic universe, I might or might not raise my arm. My choice to raise my right arm might cause me to start laughing hysterically or to spontaneously combust in an indeterministic universe."

No, indeterminism doesn't mean anything is possible, it means more than one thing is possible.

"Infinite regress"

By that argument, evolution is also impossible.

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