Living a lie

In “How To Live a Lie,” William Irwin considers whether you can live as if there are moral truths, as if God exists, and as if you have free will even if you believe none of these things is true.  His conclusion? Morality and God, no … but free will, yes. “Well, I cannot believe in free will, but I can accept it. In fact, if free will fictionalism is involuntary, I have no choice but to accept free will. That makes accepting free will easy and undeniably sincere. Accepting the reality of God or morality, on the other hand, are tougher tasks, and potentially disingenuous.”

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. “

Free to be ourselves

As Terry Eagleton notes in his review of Julian Baggini’s Freedom Regained, “Rarely has the idea of freedom been so popular in practice and so disdained in theory.” But we are neither completely autonomous nor completely determined. “What … if our beliefs and desires lead us to act in a way that feels inevitable? Can we still be free if we could not have acted otherwise? Baggini is surely right to claim that we can. In fact, most of the things that matter – being in love, composing a superb sonata, detesting Piers Morgan, feeling horrified by the slave trade – have a smack of inner necessity about them … . What define the self most deeply are the sort of commitments from which we could not walk away even if we tried. The point, however, is that we don’t want to. Freedom from such engagements would be no freedom at all. True liberty lies in being able to realise such a self, not shuck it off.”

Do you have free will? You’d better believe it

Do you have free will? It’s the only choice.  Nice review by John Tierney of ideas about free will.

How do philosophers’ and scientists’ theories about free will line up with what people actually think about it? “Intellectual concepts of free will can vary enormously, but there seems to be a fairly universal gut belief in the concept starting at a young age.  … Whatever their cultural differences, people tend to reject the notion that they live in a deterministic world without free will.”

Does it make any practical difference whether you believe you have free will?  We “pragmatically intuit that regardless of whether free will exists, our society depends on everyone’s believing it does. The benefits of this belief have been demonstrated in other research showing that when people doubt free will, they do worse at their jobs and are less honest.”

The war on reason

“Scientists and philosophers argue that human beings are little more than puppets of their biochemistry. Here’s why they’re wrong.” This is Paul Bloom’s very good review of neuroscience’s claim that we are biochemical puppets and social psychology’s demonstration that factors we are unaware of influence our thoughts and acts. But Bloom concludes: “Yes, we are physical beings, and yes, we are continually swayed by factors beyond our control. But as Aristotle recognized long ago, what’s so interesting about us is our capacity for reason, which reigns over all. If you miss this, you miss almost everything that matters.”

We are puppets … but are we free or not?

Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are determinists who agree that our thoughts and acts are completely determined by prior states of the universe and the laws of nature. But Harris is a hard determinist who thinks free will is simply an illusion while Dennett is a compatibilist who thinks we do have free will even though we are determined. In a review of Harris’ Free Will, Dennett says the book is veritable museum of mistakes. Harris replies with a lament that Dennett’s review is “a strange document—avuncular in places, but more generally sneering” and is itself a collection of distortions and mistakes. The review and reply are both lengthy, but a fairly quick look will give the student an idea of the differences between hard determinism and compatibilism.