Response to Compatibilist

Below is a paragraph from one of the comments I received.

“First, though, I want to make it clear that free will is us making choices on our own, without being coerced by someone else to do something against our will. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is a mental process located within a biological organism within a physical and deterministic universe. It is, in fact, present in any animal with sufficient neurological evolution to imagine more than one option, imagine the outcome of choosing one over another, and to act upon the choice that seems to produce the best result. It is totally consistent with a deterministic view.” – Marvin Edwards site: http://marvinedwards.me/

I think I understand what you mean by this. Because there is no physical person outside of me moving my fingers on this keyboard, this is done of my will. However I do not call it a free will. Remember, these definitions are what I use:

free will: “The power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies” – Wordweb

free will: “freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention” – Merriam Webster

Because you are an external agency who commented on my post, and because you are the prior cause of me writing this reply, I say with complete truth that ANYTHING that I say would not have happened had you not commented. Furthermore, my intellectual and emotional responses do happen within my brain but that in no way suggests that my reply will be the choice that produces the best possible result. That being said, I hope that my reply effectively communicates what I am thinking.

However, the key phrase in what you said is “act upon the choice that seems to produce the best result”. The difficult with this is: Where do I get my ideas of what is the “best” result. This comes from my current knowledge, preferences, and the way I was raised.

So in short, I do not choose my responses simply because I did not choose to exist nor to be the person I am today. I like who I am but I take no credit for it. Because I am thinking about all the prior causes that our out of my control that led to me thinking and feeling what I do, I say that I am not “making choices on my own”.

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10 Comments

  1. Here are several dictionary definitions. Note that simple free will is the first (most common or preferred) definition in each case.

    Mirriam-Webster on-line: free will
    : the ability to choose how to act
    : the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God
    1: voluntary choice or decision ‘I do this of my own free will’
    2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

    Short Oxford English Dictionary: free will
    1 Spontaneous will, inclination to act without suggestion from others.
    2 The power of directing one’s own actions unconstrained by necessity or fate.

    Wiktionary: free will
    1. A person’s natural inclination; unforced choice.
    2. (philosophy) The ability to choose one’s actions, or determine what reasons are acceptable motivation for actions, without predestination, fate etc.

    So, first, you are the one using a special definition of free will.

    Second, as one determinist to another, we both know that defining free will as being free from causality is creating a straw man argument, because we both agree that there is nothing in the real world that is free from causality.

    Without causality, the real world would be unpredictable from moment to moment. Things would happen, uncaused, with no rhyme or reason. An apple may fall from the tree, and then a moment later an apple may float up from the tree. Or the tree may be a tree one moment and a pair of shoes the next. This may be a nice place to visit (everyone loves a magic show) but no one could live in such an insane world.

    Therefore, to say that ‘free will’ means freedom from causality is irrational. Therefore your definition is meaningless.

    And that leaves us with the preferred meaning. Simple free will is nothing more or less than someone deciding for themselves what they will do (free), without being coerced by someone else to to what is against their will (not free).

    And that definition, the only rational definition that is consistent with the real world and real people, is the only one that is meaningful or useful.

    And since that is the one that most people, and most dictionaries, prefer, your statements about free will are attributed to this simple free will. And when you continually tell people that they have no free will, you deceive yourself as well as them.

    And as Dr. Eddy Nahmias pointed out in his article on ‘Willusionism’, telling people that ‘scientists have proved that free will is an illusion’ causes them to “cheat more, help less, and behave more aggressively”.

    (Please see Dr. Nahmias’s article at:
    http://eddynahmias.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Neuroethics-Response-to-Baumeister.pdf
    )

    So your definition is not only false, but when you tell people the lie that ‘free will is only an illusion’ you do moral harm in the real world.

    By now you should know better.

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    1. “2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention”

      That definition that you just quoted is one I use in my book. It IS a definition that implies a choice free from causality. Compatibilists like you are ignoring the obvious.

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      1. I suppose you can call me a “compatibilist” if you like. But once we discard the two irrational positions of anti-causal libertarian free will and anti-choice determinism, we no longer need the compatibilist label either.

        And yes, I did say that anti-choice determinism is irrational. It is based upon the false belief that we are somehow at the mercy of prior events, as if we did not exist at all and had no role in the causality going on all around us. That is not an accurate description of the real, deterministic, physical universe.

        We are as real as anything else in that universe. And our mental processes are totally grounded in that universe. We are not illusions. Nor is our will an illusion. Nor are the effects of our chosen actions an illusion.

        And our will, unless coerced by the will of another, is FREE to act upon the real world within its own real constraints and our own real imagination and abilities.

        All of the prior causes of our actions must first become our will and our action before they can be said to cause anything in this real, physical, deterministic universe.

        It is YOU alone that is the final responsible cause of what you choose to do. That is how things work in the real world.

        And THAT is the correct use of the language. Your confused statements about having no active role in what happens is pretty damn silly. Don’t you agree?

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      2. Of course we have an active role in what happens. We just don’t choose our role. I also don’t know if I would go so far as to say our will is an illusion. It is not a self chosen will because we did not create ourself and pick our desires from a buffet.

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      3. But you do choose what you do about your desires. We pretty much have to. The nature of the environment is no longer automatic fulfillment of our needs as it was in the womb. And we are at an age where other adults no longer tolerate our crying out for them to satisfy all our needs for us. So we are now choosing more carefully what we do to satisfy our unchosen needs.

        Our choices are limited to the environment we find ourselves in and the skills we’ve developed so far to cope. But there are always choices at this point.

        Therefore it is irrational to claim you have no choices when you are repeatedly making them every day. And it is rather silly to label yourself an “anti-choice determinist” when here you are in front of everyone making choices right before our eyes.

        Giving us a list of all the things you did not choose cannot convince anyone, because we observes you now making choices that ARE up to you to make.

        Nor can you claim that your choices are made unconsciously when you choose the very words you will use to convey your thoughts in your posts.

        And, if no one is forcing you to write down your thoughts in this post, then you are doing so of your own free will.

        Is it necessary for determinism to be false for any of the above to be true? I don’t think so. You have your reasons for what you write. And reasons are causes. But it is only you expressing yourself. Your reasons are yours. They are a part of you. And as your reasoning changes, so do you.

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      4. “So we are now choosing more carefully what we do to satisfy our unchosen needs.”

        Basically we are programmed to satisfy our unchosen needs. That is the point. We will never be free from these needs and that is why saying that a choice is up to a person is to say it is up to their unchosen needs or desires.

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      5. Needs and desires do not choose. You do. You choose which desires and needs you will address first. You choose the means and methods by which you will satisfy a given need or desire.

        The only times you don’t make those choices consciously is when you have previously made them and are now behaving on that decision by habit.

        The reasons you choose this means rather than that means may include your beliefs, your imagined results of using this versus that method, the values you wish to maintain, your previous experiences, and so forth. All of these things combined make you the unique you that you are. So that when you choose, it is truly YOU and you alone that is choosing.

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      6. Your definition of free will only means that another human is not literally pulling my strings like a puppet where they physically control me. By this definition, a basketball can have Free Will. It may roll down a hill after the wind blew it and you would say it is acting of its free will because you don’t see a person kicking it.

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  2. My definition of free will applies to any life form with sufficient neurological development to image alternative actions, estimate their outcomes, and choose which one it thinks is best. I don’t think a basketball meets those qualifications.

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