The problem with free-will

We’ve had plenty of posts regarding free-will on this blog, but this is a topic which is very detail/word oriented, which takes time to explore. This post is primarily addressed to the compatibilist position (that free-will and determinism can coexist).

I want to clarify what I mean when I say that we do not have free-will. This appears as a non-sensical statement to many. This may happen because it is a non-sensical statement depending on which view of free-will you choose to adopt at a given time.

A major confusion is whether being free to do as we “will” is the only necessary factor for free-will to emerge. Compatibilist point out that we are free to do as we will, because we only wish to do what is in fact willed.

Schopenhauer expressed this conundrum as such: We are free to do as we will, but not to will what we will.

So yes, we are free to do as we will, in a sense. The only issue is that this kind of “freedom of will” is not the kind of freedom that is most commonly debated or dare I say, cared about. As Sam Harris put it, we as individuals think of ourselves as the thinkers of our own thoughts. We think ourselves as the authors of our decisions.

We are puppets, and nature and environment make up our strings. A puppet is free to do as it’s strings command, but the real question people are asking, is if there is anything more to this puppet than it’s strings. As of now, we have no reason to suspect so.



  4 comments for “The problem with free-will

  1. August 1, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Once again, I have to disagree. You are personifying nature in a way that gives it control over human beings. Ultimately, short of believing that nature is at least in some sense similar to God, this really does not make a whole lot of sense. I get Shopenhauers claim that we cannot “will what we will,” but I must ask, why? Perhaps for determinists the answer is simply that humans are born with innate biological urges that cannot be denied. But if this is the case, why are there some people who fantasize about committing mass murder but never actually do it, while at other times there are people, like Jeffery Dahmer, who knew all along what he was doing was wrong, but did it anyways. It sounds to me like the person who has evil thoughts but doesn’t act on them CAN indeed will what he/she wills.

    • August 1, 2014 at 1:37 am

      It should be made clear that when I use the broad term “laws of nature,” I am referring to ANY laws (known OR unknown). You say that by saying nature controls us I’m personifying nature. I disagree. Gravity is considered a law of nature (it could be disproved, but another theory would take it’s place). Just because I say that the law of gravity controls a ball when I drop it, there is absolutely nothing that insinuates that I am personifying nature.

      Recognizing that all things follow SOMETHING, whether we know about it’s properties or not, is the first step. This suggestion is logical because we can only infer based off of our current knowledge. Current knowledge says that events have a cause.

      Determinists do not say that actions are only based on our biology. We recognize that environment obviously plays a role, BUT the environment does not escape “nature” (once again, referring to the material world following laws of any kind). Environment and biology are both within the confines of the materialistic world.

  2. August 1, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    A leaf may decide that it wants to fall to the ground, but it’s at the mercy of the wind until it gets there, if in fact it gets there at all.

  3. Ignostic Atheist
    August 2, 2014 at 2:08 am

    In my experience, the difference between determinists and compatibilists is that the former believe the acknowledgement of our lack of free will is better for society, while the latter believe that the concept is still useful. But aside from that, they seem to be the same, acknowledging that we are the result of our environment.

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