If you’ve ever seen the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting you’ll probably remember the powerful scene where the psychologist Maguire, played by Robin Williams, tells Will, a mathematical genius played by Matt Damon, that “It’s not your fault”. At first Will shrugs it off with an “I know” but Maguire ignores the attempts to shrug it of and re-enforces the idea that Will is not to blame. He knows the weight of such a burden on Will even if Will claims to already know that it isn’t his fault.
For this ‘just after’ Halloween post I’ll be moving outside of reality and talk about how souls, spirits, and ghosts cannot be free will mechanisms. I bring this up because someone who had read my book liked it very much, but felt that the section on “supernaturalism” was a little thin. They felt that the book made a strong case for the materialistic account of a lack of free will, but that someone’s “soul” could support some sort of “free will” mechanism.
The question that often comes up in the free will debate is whether the universe is deterministic or indeterministic. Regardless of which one, I argue, free will is entirely incompatible. In a deterministic universe we couldn’t have done otherwise, and in an indeterministic universe that would allow for a change in variables that lead to an otherwise, those indeterministic variables wouldn’t have been “of our own accord” or “up to us”. In other words, we couldn’t have, of our own accord, done otherwise.
But this isn’t enough for some people. Some want to insist that the universe is causally deterministic… period… no questions asked. Others insist on the opposite, that the universe is indeterministic (suggesting that determinism has been “disproven”). It seems being agnostic on these just isn’t good enough for a whole lot of people.
So which is it? Is the universe deterministic or is it indeterministic? And if we don’t know, are one of these options more likely than the other? Rather than give you a direct answer (as I am agnostic here), for this post I want to get into some key talking points that I feel are often missed.
This post is going to be about some of the problems with free will compatibilist (re)definitions that certain philosophers (which is different than layperson compatibilist intuitions) have. So what is “free will compatibilism”? It’s basically the idea that free will is compatible with a causally deterministic universe (and that indeterminism doesn’t account for free will). For compatibilist philosophers this is accomplished through a redefinition of free will. It’s basically a way to say that, even if our decisions are caused, the fact that we have certain causal processes which can include such things as wanting, desiring, thinking, and rational deliberation, and the fact that sometimes those processes are not prevented in some way by (“free” from) a force such as a person with a gun, a drug addiction, or something similar – that in such a context we can label that “free will”.
Some people believe that there is a separation between the causal events of the world, and the consciousness that happens or that arises from such. In other words, even if the mental may be caused by the physical or is in ways correlated to it, they’d suggest that the mental has no causation back to the physical. This rejection of mental causation most often stems from either:
The floomps are a creature not too unlike us (but much furrier). They live in their little floomp village and work together in a civilized fashion. The floomps believe in free will. They believe that any other floomp has multiple options to choose from, and more importantly that all of those options are real possibilities. In other words, whenever a floomp does something that another floomp doesn’t like, that one thinks that not only should the other floomp not have done that, but that it actually could have, through it’s own volition, not done it.