I came across a post the other day by an atheist who seems to be a public speaker, and who runs a blog on ChicagoNow. This post was about the “free will” topic and how he holds a belief in free will. To be fair I suspect that the blogger is unfamiliar with much of the nuance of the free will debate from our little chat we had in the comment section, and he seems like a swell guy. I thought it might be good to respond to his post as some of the things in it are those rudimentary mistakes that those new to the debate quite often make, such as the idea that if hard determinism is shown false, that opens the door for free will.
If you frequent this blog you know that I pick on compatibilism a lot, and I do so as a point of contention about definitions, focus, and problems inherent when one uses a term in a way that causes a bypass of some serious issues of concern. And though I’m very critical of compatibilism, especially when the compatibilist is not blatantly clear to the reader about what their position is in regards to “just desert moral responsibility” or what I’ll refer to as “strong responsibility” (and does a sort of “bypass” over that issue), I do sometimes like to bring things back to where agreements can be had between the compatibilist and hard incompatibilist.
Some compatibilists (people who define free will so that it is compatible with determinism), when asked the question of whether people “could have done otherwise” given a causally deterministic scenario (note that this discussion does not address indeterminism such as acausal or “probabilistic” events, etc. – which are equally incompatible with the free will of importance), say that “could have” or “could have done otherwise” can be used in different ways. They often address a few different contexts in order to push the important context off of the table of discourse. This post is going to address those contexts/usages and explain why there is only one context/usage that applies to the important points for the free will debate that the free will skeptic wants to make sure isn’t neglected.
In the post titled “Extending a Hand to Philosophical Compatibilists (by a Free Will Skeptic)” I addressed the point that free will compatibilists and free will skeptics often talk past each other and actually quite often agree with each other in some fundamental ways. I point out that the debate between them is, much of the time, mostly if not entirely semantic, that they each define free will differently.
Today I want to address the philosophical traditional view of free will and why the free will skeptic such as myself thinks that many compatibilist definitions of free will, though those definitions are indeed “compatible with determinism” (and that definition of “free will” exists), more often than not neglect the traditional view. I also want to address why that traditional view is important today and why it should not be neglected.
I’ve had lots and lots of online debates on the free will topic. I can often tell how new someone is to the topic when I see their initial defense of free will. If they take a compatibilist view with a nuanced semantic, I know that these people are not new to the topic and that we will probably just be debating semantics.
There are a few give-aways, however, of someone being a newbie. I’d like to point them out because it is helpful if you are a free will skeptic who is talking or debating with people who still believe in free will to know where you might need to start.
There are some people who understand that free will is an illusion, but at the same time say that we should keep the general population within that illusion – or rather, not educate them out of it. This stems from a concern over people learning that they do not have free will, but at the same time taking it to wrongheaded conclusions about fatalism, defeatism, futility, and so on. Ideas that can often have bad consequences.
They might cite studies that were done which create a temporary confusion were the person will display signs of “less free will” leanings after being “primed” by a passage.
The term “free will” is an umbrella term that has a whole lot of added abilities under it that cannot be easily partitioned away from the minds of the majority. It is a term that is simply too baggage laden. This means that it can be used in a narrow way, but those narrow ways do not remove the excess metaphysical abilities that are often inherent in the term.
Warning: This “free will” post is for those interested in quantum mechanics, and who have a general understanding of the field and terms used within it.
If there was one theorem that has driven physicists to accept an indeterministic model of quantum mechanics the most, Bell’s theorem would be on the top pedestal. With the acceptance of such a theorem, certain quantum events simply cannot have a local “hidden variable”. This means that if one is to suggest a cause that we cannot “observe” for the event (a “hidden” variable), the cause has to be “non-local”. This idea of a non-local cause means that there is instantaneous action at a distance, something Einstein labeled as “spooky action at a distance”. And though quantum entanglement has been “demonstrated” (but with the loophole I’ll be discussing below), many physicists prefer different quantum interpretations that do not rely on non-local hidden variables, and tend to lean toward indeterministic models which says that there actually is nothing that determines the event. A less common leaning is toward a deterministic model that postulates an almost infinity of invisible worlds. The least common, though still accepted by many, are non-local hidden variable “deterministic” models such as pilot-wave theory (Bohmian Mechanics) – a model I have great appreciation for.
I am going to start a “Bad Free Will Logic” series of articles, this first starting with a sort of “responsibility therefore free will” argument.
For each article I am going to point to either part of an argument that has been made by some free will proponents, or an entire argument. A single “Bad Free Will Logic” post may only address one part and why it is illogical, or if the argument is condensed enough I may be able to complete the entire criticism in one post. There also may be different versions of a similar argument that will be addressed in individual posts.