There are lots of reasons not to believe in free will. Also, there are plenty of reasons to believe in free will.
Which shows why it makes much more sense not to believe in free will. After all, if free will really exists, reasons wouldn't matter. People would just freely will to either believe or not believe in free will.
If that sounds crazy to you, join the No Free Will club.
Reasons... cause and effect... influences... interrelationships... laws of nature. A belief in free will, genuine free will, not the fakey compatibilism variety, does away with most of our knowledge about how the human mind, brain, and body work.
Yet most people cling to this belief because it just feels like it is true. It also appeals to some of our baser emotions, like the desire to punish.
Chris Mooney writes about this in "The Surprising Link Between Homicide Rates and... Belief in Free Will."
Do you have free will? In all likelihood, your late night college bull sessions failed to resolve the matter. Even today, there is not really any definitive evidence as to whether human free will does or doesn't exist, although there are certainly plenty of reasons to doubt it: For instance, the very powerful evidence suggesting that our conscious thoughts are preceded by automatic emotional reactions, of which we are simply unaware.
But it's one thing to gab about whether free will exists, and quite another to question why humans overwhelmingly tend to believe that it does.
If you've read your Friedrich Nietzsche, you know that the consummate anti-philosopher had a pretty cynical take on this question. Nietzsche didn't simply call free will itself "the foulest of all theological fictions." In his work Twilight of the Idols he went further, psychoanalyzing the ubiquitous belief in free will and concluding that deep down, we want to believe that people have control over their own choices so that we can justify and feel good about punishing them. "Whenever responsibility is assigned," wrote Nietzsche, "it is usually so that judgment and punishment may follow."
Modern psychological research suggests that Nietzsche was on to something. In fact, in a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a team of authors from several universities (the University of California-Irvine, Yale University, and two others) have put Nietzsche's thesis to the experimental test. "We propose that the pervasive belief in free will partially flows from a desire for moral responsibility in order to justify punishing others for their anti-social behaviors," state the authors. "Therefore, when there is a desire to punish, people should be motivated to believe in free will."
I wrote about this general subject in "Sitting in the jury box, I deny free will."
Aside from my own brilliant words (I had no choice but to say that), the blog post includes some persuasive quotations from Richard Oerton, a British lawyer who is the author of "The Nonsense of Free Will: Facing Up to a False Belief."
If those involved with our justice system would really take Oerton's arguments to heart, they'd be less inclined to focus on retribution and punishment rather than rehabilitation. Here's the quotes:
The idea of free will is central to the criminal law, and the judges quite clearly believe that the offender might, by exercising his own free will, have refrained from committing the offense of which he has been convicted and any other offences on which their view of him is based.
...So don't we have something of a contradiction here? Why does a judge assume that someone who has proved dangerous in the past will go on being dangerous in the future? If he might, by exercising his free will, have avoided his past crimes, why might he not, by the same means, avoid any future ones, so abstaining from behavior which is not only destructive but self-destructive?
...If free will existed it would mean that, although our personality may be determined, this determined personality does not determine our behaviour because free will allows us always to transcend it.
...But if free will did exist, with anything like the implications just described, then it would invalidate pretty much the whole of psychology, psychiatry, criminology, sociology and any other science or system you can think of which concerns itself with human behaviour.
...Of course, offenders differ from one another in their mental states, doing so to an almost infinite degree, and these differences should be reflected in the way in which they are treated by the penal system, but there are causal explanations for the crimes of all of them, free will affects none of them, and retributive punishment is not something which any of them deserves or from which any would benefit.
Anybody keeping up with the Oscar Pistorius trial is South Africa?
There is no question that he killed his beautiful girlfriend by firing four rounds from a gun through his bathroom door. The only question is whether he did it with foreknowledge of her presence in the bathroom, - or was it an unfortunate accident?
From the sound bites of Pistorius' own testimony during questioning by the prosecutor, he gives the impression that even he does not know why this awful thing happened. It could be a very elaborate ruse on his part.
Ah....the poor jurors who have to make a decision.
Posted by: Willie R | April 12, 2014 at 09:43 AM
It seems Pistorius and his girlfriend were having one hell of an argument. My guess is she was fed up with his behavior and was threatening to leave and/or break up with him. At that point, when he saw he was losing control of her, he snapped and got out the gun and she headed for cover in the bathroom. He followed, and in his enraged, irrational state of mind he fired repeatedly. I'm sure even he can't understand why he behaved as he did. In such a state of mind, where is will, free or otherwise? There is only wild emotion governing the primitive, reptilian aspect of the brain.
Still, "someone" must be held accountable. Pistorius was the embodiment of that madness and that embodiment is going to prison, I think.
Most of us probably have the potential within us to "snap" at some point. Fortunately, the threshold of madness in most people is not as close to the "surface" as with Pistorius and we will never be pushed to that brink.
Whether there is free will or not, or Pastorius is responsible for his actions or not, there is the appearance of a free will gone awry that must be contained.
It is arguable that some embodiments of this so called free will are so unimaginably vile and reprehensible, so utterly cruel, savage and ruthless that they must be eliminated completely so that the possibility of it acting out in such a way will never happen again. Like polio. I am not saying Pistorius is one of those types of embodiments.
Some prisoners are so dangerous that they must be kept isolated and transported in special containment devices at all times not unlike Hannibal Lector. It is even dangerous to serve them food and special precautions must be taken to reduce risk to staff. Such entities may be too dangerous to allow to live.
So, belief in free will may not necessarily be tied to the desire to punish, although obviously at times it is and capital punishment could be viewed as a practical matter like removing a sharp nail sticking out of the floor, and not really in the realm of philosophy, psychology or ideals at all.
Posted by: tucson | April 12, 2014 at 10:01 PM