Nov 022015


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.

So for this post I’m going to ignore any physicalist inclinations I may hold and imagine that humans possess something such thing as a “soul”, or a “spirit”, or an “astral double”, and even that there are such things as ghosts, an afterlife, or anything that can somehow be seen as separate from the natural world. If you are a die-hard naturalist, physicalist, and/or materialist I ask that you suspend that position and imagine these other positions in light of the “free will” topic.

The reason I want to focus on these things is to point out that the reasoning regarding why we don’t have free will does not hinge on a materialistic framework. No matter what your worldview is, the concept of free will is logically incoherent (and that is what is explained in my book).

If you’ve been following my posts at all, or if you’ve spent some time reading Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind, you will know that I make the case that there are two possibilities for events that “happen”. Either A) the event happens due to something causing it, or B) the event happens without a cause for it. I call B) an “acausal event”. Regardless of if you think acausal events can happen or not, these two things are in opposition: If an event doesn’t have a cause it is acausal, if it does have a cause it is causal – and things could technically happen with any mix of causal or acausal events.

But here is the kicker, and this part is key. This does not only apply to naturalistic, or materialistic, or physical events – but any conception of a supernatural event as well. In other words, someone’s “soul”, “spirit”, “astral double”, “ghost”, or any other “supernatural mechanism” cannot escape this dichotomy. The events that make up any one of those mechanisms must either be caused by something else, or not caused by something else. At least if we are to have any coherent conception about the events.

And if the events that comprise a soul must either be causal or acausal, then the very reason why free will is incompatible with a physicalist worldview applies equally to a non-physicalist worldview. Both of those ways that an “event” can come about means that we could not have, of our own accord, done otherwise. Hitler could not have, of his own accord, had a different “soul” than the one he happened to  be unfortunate enough to possess. Spirits or ghosts would not be any more free to do otherwise than what was dictated by causal events that backtrack to outside of such a spirit or ghost, or to acausal events that cannot be in any way “willed” into existence.

It isn’t that we simply don’t know of a mechanism for a soul to have free will, rather it is that we can know that no matter the mechanism, it must be logically incoherent in order to claim free will.

The mistake is in thinking that “logical reasoning” is only constrained to physical world assessments. Rather, such basics as identity and non-contradiction do not just apply to physics, but anything that a human can conceptualize or propose as an existing (or potentially existing). Colorless pink square circles are not just problematic in our known universe, but in any supernatural space as well.

The only way out of this is to suggest that souls are not bound by logic. That within a soul there can be ontological contradictions. That a soul could contain a square that is not a square but a circle, and at the same time not a circle but a square. But be forewarned, as soon as we move toward the acceptance of logically incoherent existences, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to even talk about such things as “souls” or “spiritual free will” existing, as all identity for such things gets tossed out. The baby (existence claims) truly does get thrown out with the bathwater (identity/logic).

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'Trick Slattery

'Trick Slattery is the author of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind. He's an author, philosopher, artist, content creator, and entrepreneur. He has loved and immersed himself in philosophy since he was teenager. It is his first and strongest passion. Throughout the years he has built a philosophy based on analytic logic and critical thinking. Some of the topics he is most interested in are of a controversial variety, but his passion for the topics and their importance drives him to want to express these ideas to others. His other passions include pen and ink line art and digital artwork.

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  2 Responses to “Souls, Spirits, and Ghosts are Not Free Will Mechanisms”

Comments (2)
  1. I get so tired of people falsely thinking that something spiritual can grant free will. Either causal or acausal events cannot be up to us. We don’t choose our soul anymore than our genes or upbringing.

  2. BINGO brotha’ Chandler! :-)

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