Straw-man fallacies are interesting because they are almost always intentional, though sometimes they can be unintentional. I tend to think, when a compatibilist (a person who thinks free will is compatible with determinism) uses a straw-man fallacy, that most of the time they don’t do them intentionally – or at least I give the compatibilist the benefit of the doubt. Rather, I think it often comes from a profound misunderstanding or assumption of the free will skeptics position.
There is no evidence for free will (as defined here), just as there is no evidence for leprechauns. Indeed, there is just as much burden of proof required for the claim that such free will exists as there is for the claim that leprechauns exist. We could technically just default to this burden and say that the onus is on the free will believer to prove the existence of free will, just as the onus would be on the person who claims leprechauns, fairies, or unicorns exists, Elvis faked his death, teapots are orbiting planets in distant galaxies, or any other claim that requires more evidence than “I say so”.
Some compatibilists think that so long as we can make decisions to “do what we want” that such decisions are sufficient to label as “free will”. They don’t, however, understand the implications of such thinking. Take a look at this excerpt from my book Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind:
Some compatibilists have a different idea of what’s meant by the word “freedom.” They may say that if a person’s thoughts dictate the event (are the antecedent causes of the event), it’s free, but if the person’s thought does not control the event, it’s not free.
For example, they may say that if a person is stuck in a rainstorm and there’s no shelter available, they are not free to decide to stay dry. But if someone is under shelter during a rainstorm, they are free to step out from the shelter and get wet (or not) because they can make the conscious decision to do so.
The free will debate is almost always classified/labeled as a debate between “free will vs. determinism”. This confuses many into thinking that if determinism is incompatible with free will (which it is), people just need to show that determinism isn’t necessarily the case and automatically the possibility for free will opens up. In other words, when someone argues against free will, so many people will revert to the idea that perhaps the universe isn’t deterministic, the negation of such becoming their free will savior. The idea that indeterminism can help grant free will is, in philosophical circles, called libertarian free will (not to be confused with the economic/politic position).
Some compatibilists think we should redefine the term “free will” to be something that is consistent with reality, rather than accept a more common definition that is incoherent or outside of the facts. Today I want to address this little snippet from Daniel Dennett’s response to Sam Harris. Dennett is a compatibilist who wants to redefine free will, Harris is an incompatibilist who does not. In one part Dennett says:
I’ve heard time and time again from people who claim that “even if there is no free will, we still need to act like it exists”. This is a way to bypass the mounds of behavioral adjustments and changes in beliefs that truly do need to take place with the understanding that free will doesn’t exist.
Things just aren’t as simple as asserting we need to act like it exists. There is a whole lot of nuance to the understanding that we don’t have free will. To behave like it exists is to behave in a way that is not in accord with reality, and such has great consequences.
This week I’d like to focus on 10 reasons why people find it difficult to let go of their belief in free will (as defined here), even when given the evidence against it. There are many factors involved, so as always, this is just a brief list from the many possibilities. Some may apply to some people, others may apply to other people, but there is usually a good mix of these that make it hard for people to give up their free will belief.
So what’s one to do about this? It depends, but persistence seems to be one key in combating these reasons. And with that, on to the 10 reasons why people can’t let go of their free will belief:
In this article I want to focus, in the general sense, on 10 of the many benefits of not believing in free will as defined here, if one understands the reasons behind why it doesn’t exist and what such implies. You’ll notice that many of the below benefits interconnect with each other.
So here we go…