I Can’t Help Thinking . . .

Just catching up here…

To the best of my knowledge — which isn’t saying much: I’m not well-read in philosophy — I am in a minority of one on the subject of free will.

The discussion is always: do we have it, or don’t we?

My considered view is that some of us have it while the rest don’t.  Like perfect pitch.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have free will; but I’ve encountered people who I’m pretty sure do have it.

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19 Responses to I Can’t Help Thinking . . .

  1. wm tanksley says:

    I don’t see any problems with that theory; I think most philosophers have held some kind of distinction like that, whether they believed in free will or not. Plato’s Philosopher-King, for example.

    Now, I don’t buy the whole idea of free will (as in, the will itself can change itself or choose contrary to the person’s desires), but I do believe in free agency (that a person can choose whatever he wants to, his choices truly reflect his desires, and he is responsible for his choices).

  2. Moshe says:

    John, I wish you’d explain yourself. If people are nothing but material objects obeying some very detailed laws of physics than what “I” is there to have free will at all? Whatever I do could be predicted by anyone who knew all the variables and how the sum of their causes must lead to certain effects, nay?

    I’m open to the possibility that I’m missing something here (some religious folks would say quantum mechanics) but I’d like to understand your view of what that is. Or are we just defining our terms differently?

  3. I think free will is a red herring like phlogiston or the ether that obscures the thing we should really be looking for.

    If the question is “free will or determinism?”, the question is wrong.

  4. Chuck says:

    No it’s not: do we have it or not? As Razib pointed out. It’s: a) is the world deterministic or not: b) do we have free will, or not; c) are we morally free agents or not. How does a) relate to b) to c)

  5. Le Mur says:

    …the subject of [link]free will.

    The guy on the right on that video keeps talking about ‘will power’ and ‘self control’: are those things related to free will in some way?

    The discussion is always: do we have it, or don’t we?

    How about “how much” and “everybody’s different” since everybody is different?

    Below, free will seems to be defined as “spontaneous non-random behavior”:


    “We found that there must be an evolved function in the fly brain which leads to spontaneous variations in fly behavior” Sugihara said. “The results of our analysis indicate a mechanism which might be common to many other animals and could form the biological foundation for what we experience as free will”.

    “The question of whether or not we have free will appears to be posed the wrong way,” says Brembs. “Instead, if we ask ‘how close to free will are we”‘ one finds that this is precisely where humans and animals differ”.

  6. Le Mur says:

    are we morally free agents or not

    I can’t see any special connection between morality and free will because I think “moral” behavior is essentially the same as any other conscious behavior (not digestion and such), like when to get a drink of water or what to write on a blog.

    “What is it that makes a complete stranger dive into an icy river to save a solid gold baby? Maybe we’ll never know.” — J. Handy

  7. Chuck says:

    “I can’t see any special connection between morality and free will”

    You don’t believe in mitigated culpability?

  8. Chuck says:

    Anyways, the idea is that if I actually have the ability to do otherwise, I would be more responsible for what I did. You know, manslaughter versus first degree murder. There are a number of philosophers who would agree with you.

    Generally you have:

    Consequentialism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism
    Deontological ethics
    Virtue ethics

    Free-will is relevant to some virtue and deontological ethics.

  9. Chuck says:

    “I think “moral” behavior is essentially the same as any other conscious behavior”

    Just as long as you’re not on the jury when I plead mentally insane. 🙂

  10. John says:

    Interesting. I think that modern people have free will (which I define as consciously making decisions–not necessarily incompatible with determinism), but the line has to stop somewhere. Did Homo Ergaster have it? Do dogs? Flies?

    As philosopher David Chamblers would put it, Is there something it is like to be a fruit fly? Excuse me while I ponder this over a beer.

  11. Sheldon says:

    My favorite comment on free will was attributed to Isaac Bashevis Singer: “Of course I believe in free will. What choice do I have?”

  12. Caledonian says:

    ‘Perfect pitch’ is a coherently-definable concept; as a consequence, we can measure the degree to which a person can accurately sense and reproduce musical pitches.

    ‘Free will’ is nebulous and ill-defined; as a consequence, we can say nothing coherent about it beyond its incoherence.

  13. Le Mur says:

    ‘Free will’ is nebulous and ill-defined; as a consequence, we can say nothing coherent about it beyond its incoherence.

    That depends on who’s doing the defining. Moral philosophers don’t seem to be coherent on the question (surprise!) so we might as well just ignore them. What’s hard to understand about “spontaneous non-random behavior”? The Definition of “spontaneous” and whether or not it implies “not predictable”? Who’s doing the predicting?

    You don’t believe in mitigated culpability?

    As far as I’m concerned questions about the existence or extent of “free will” are questions of physics and biology, and modern legalistic notions like “mitigated culpability” don’t have anything to do with it. The inverse isn’t necessarily true, though, since legal ideas are completely dependent on physics, biology and psychology, but not vice-versa.

  14. Panglos says:

    Of course there is free will…and it is even “freer” given the nuances in decision making exhibited by any given individual ala id, ego, superego…and out-of-the-wrong-side-of-bed-day.

  15. Beanoh says:

    Everything happens because it has to. Understanding why and how is so complex as to be impossible, you might as well believe in free will. Its a distiction without a differance.

  16. Rich Rostrom says:

    What is more important here is the idea that some people have and some don’t.

    The poster says he doesn’t think he does. Presumably that means he believes his future actions are controlled by his past history and intrinsic nature.

    Why does he think that other people are different?

    What controls the actions of such people?

  17. Panglos says:

    “Did Homo Ergaster have it? Do dogs? Flies?”

    I would think not and what animals do should be considered reacting rather than the decision making of free will.

  18. John M says:

    Seems to me that debates about free will are really debates about responsibility and accountability. Are we truly accountable for our actions, or not? If yes, it is proper to expect reward and punishment. If we are not, then I cannot see how civil society could be maintained.

    Schopenhauer wrote eloquently and perhaps definitively on this (“Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will”). I think a summary of what he concluded is that we ARE accountable, even if determinism is correct, even if it is true that we have no choice in what we Will, and have no exemption from the laws of causality, whether we are conscious of them or not. This is because we , and no other, are the unique person whose Will is what it is. We are accountable for being the Being we are. How could it be otherwise?

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