Free will: even this title makes me yawn

I see free will is getting discussed over on whyevolutionistrue. I’m glad that he provides a definition of what he means. The problem with most discussions of free will is that the answer to whether or not we have it depends on what you mean by the term. And Jerry Coyne defines it as something we clearly can’t have. If we want free will that’s free of deterministic forces, we might as well wish for darkness lit by the sun.

And quantum randomness gives us no way out, by the way. It’s no better if one’s behaviour is the product of random rather than deterministic forces. And it’s worth noting that will (free or not) really depends on determinism: my wanting to do something had damn well better be connected with that something happening, if I want to call it the product of my will. So defining free will as will free from any force whatsoever, including deterministic ones, isn’t going to get us very far (unless all we want to do is ditch the term as incoherent).

So why define it that way? Because that’s what people really mean when they use the term? I’m not sure most people have a very clear idea what they mean when they talk about free will. Far better, surely, if we really don’t want to ditch the term, to try to pin down what we genuinely want our will to be free of to count as free.

Instead, I suspect humanity is doomed to an endless cycle of pointless debates in pubs and blogs that get nowhere and repeat tired ancient arguments, fallacies, and falsehoods because not enough people have been anywhere near an introductory undergraduate philosophy course, where this stuff is basic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Thoughts and rants

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s