“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.”
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.
The New York Times has a philosophy blog called “The Stone.” A number of posts in the blog have been tagged with “free will.” All of them are well worth your time. To start with, you might find particularly interesting and helpful Galen Strawson’s “Your Move: The Maze of Free Will” and Eddy Nahmias’s “Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?”
Beware toxic fatalism, in its atheistic and theistic forms. Jules Evans thinks: “I don’t think the main battle line in our culture is between theists and atheists. The main dividing line, for me, is between those who believe in free will, and those who don’t. It’s between those who think we can use our conscious reason – however weak it is – to choose new beliefs and new directions in our life; and those who think we are entirely automatic machines, without the capacity to choose.”