Evolved to be free?

In “Evolution Explains It All for You,” Galen Strawson considers Daniel Dennett’s arguments for compatibilism, the idea that “freedom is wholly compatible with determinism, although determinism is the view that everything that happens in the universe is necessitated by what has already happened, so that nothing can ever occur otherwise than it actually does.” Yet, Strawson says, “This compatibilist freedom … seems intensely unsatisfactory. “


One thought on “Evolved to be free?

  1. The conflict between inevitability and freedom is imaginary. It is based in a dualist notion that we are somehow separate from causation, such that it is possible to be its slave. But all biological organisms, from the tree sending its roots into the ground to the man walking on the moon, comes with a built-in need to survive and to attain the means of its survival from its environment. With or without conscious will, a living organism comes with a purpose, to survive and thrive and reproduce. And that purpose separates it from the inanimate world.

    Freedom relates to unfettered purpose. If a rock substrate prevents a tree from sending its root further into the ground, then the height of the tree may be limited. The roots are free to grow horizontally but not free to grow deeper.

    There are three freedoms which the tree can never have. (1) It cannot be free of causation. It requires things to work in a reliable way if it is to exist at all. (2) It cannot be free from itself. It is, after all, a tree. It cannot change itself into a rabbit. It cannot pack up it’s things and move to a place with better soil (but it may disperse its seeds to new locations). (3) It cannot be free from the reality of the world as it is. Its roots may displace the soil and even crack its way through some sandstone in its way, but it cannot change the fact of the soil and the fact of the rocks in its environment.

    But, even without a conscious mind, the tree is a causal agent in the world. It changes its environment by blocking sunlight from other plants and providing shade and shelter for animals. These changes that it unconsciously makes happen for a reason. The reason they happen is the purpose of the tree: to survive, thrive, and reproduce in its environment.

    And if the purpose of the tree conflicts with the purpose of a person, say, to build a house, then the person may consciously choose which trees will remain and which trees will come down. Because the person also comes with both an innate biological will and a conscious mind by which it freely makes these choices.

    Like the tree, the person can never be free from causation, or from being a human, or from the real world where he or she finds themselves.

    But the human does have a brain sufficiently evolved to learn, to plan, to evaluate, and to choose the means to satisfy a person’s basic survival needs. When the human is an infant, it may have little control over what it may do. Its will is subordinate to the will of the parent. When older, the person becomes an autonomous being, free to choose for himself or herself the means for satisfying basic needs.

    When the chosen means are harmful to others, the cooperative society will take steps to correct the problem.

    Because persons have minds that can learn to make better choices, they are less likely to be arbitrarily chopped down and used for firewood.

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