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.
Philosophical (p) compatibilists believe that free will and causal determinism are “compatible” with each other. They do this by defining the term “free will” in a way that is indeed compatible with determinism. If you have read my blog you will see that I have criticized compatibilism, but that it is always a semantic criticism about the problems with defining “free will” in the way that (p) compatibilists do. I’ve even vehemently opposed certain compatibilist thoughts and attitudes.
With that said, it is extremely important to point out that outside of the semantic disagreement (the words we use to explain things) there is quite often a whole lot of agreement over what is and is not the case between the (p) compatibilist and the hard incompatibilist.
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.
Online debates happen both intentionally and unintentionally. I’ve had my fair share of ’em, in fact I’ve had too many debates to keep track of. Many are on the free will topic, and many are on other topics. I still have them but only when I can find the time, something limited. They are a great tool to get feedback and to provoke other thoughts or ways to go about addressing a topic of concern. They can also be a great tool for spreading information to others.
It is interesting the hoops compatibilists will jump through in order to qualify their definition of free will in an attempt to make it coherent given any number of counter-points. These qualifiers almost always miss the point entirely.
If you are unfamiliar with the term compatibilist, it’s just someone who thinks “free will” is compatible with determinism. In other words, regardless if the universe is entirely deterministic, or has some indeterminism, free will is something that is entirely compatible with causal processes. Compatibilists build this compatibility by a semantic shift, meaning they change the definition of free will to something that is actually compatible with determinism. Some compatibilists might argue that they have the “true” version of free will, but when they do this, it is done ignoring the abilities the common layperson actually thinks they and others have.