Free-will pragmatically means NOVELTIES IN THE WORLD, the right to expect that in it's deepest elements as well as in its surface phenomena, the future may not identically repeat and imitate the past. That imitation en masse is there, who can deny? The general 'uniformity of nature' is presupposed by every lesser law. But nature may be only approximately uniform; and persons in whom knowledge of the world's past has bred pessimism(...) may naturally welcome free-will as a MELIORISTIC doctrine. It holds up improvement as at least possible; whereas determinism assures us that our whole notion of possibility is born of human ignorance, and that necessity and impossibility between them rule the destinies of the world.He goes on to call Free-will a "theory of PROMISE" without "any inner content" or any "pragmatic value in a world whose character was obviously perfect from the start."
Elation at mere existence, pure cosmic emotion and delight, would, it seems to me, quench all interest in those speculations, if the world were nothing but a lubberland of happiness already. Our interest in religious metaphysics arises in the fact that our empirical future feels to us unsafe, and needs some higher guarantee. If the past and present were purely good, who could wish that the future might possibly not resemble them? Who could desire free-will? Who would not say, with Huxley, "let me be wound up every day like a watch, to go right fatally, and I ask no better freedom." 'Freedom' in a world already perfect could only mean freedom to BE WORSE, and who could be so insane as to wish that.He finishes with the summation:
Surely the only POSSIBILITY that one can rationally claim is the possibility that things may be BETTER.Being vaguely religious himself, William James equates this underlying promise at the heart of the issue of free will with other religious terms, like God, as empty manifestations of an urge to safeguard(emotionally) a better future for ourselves.
However, it seems to me that this follows a general religious trend to codification of our desires as realities, wholly bereft of any real foundation in reality. This trend finds ample company in New Age mysticism of all stripes, stemming from the original use of the term 'mind over matter'. So while I can empathize with this project of, for lack of a better term, hope for the future, I am constrained by temperament to echo Cuba Gooding Jr.'s proclamation to a desperate Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, saying, "Show me the money!"
Free-will, for all it's promise, wants for justification in reality; ignorance, however blissful, is unsustainable*.
* Ironically enough, I draw this intuition from Matthew 7:26, proving, yet again, that any view can be justified with reference to a biblical passage of your choice (even atheism). I had to chuckle when I read it, though, because one wonders what a desert tribe would have done with that phrase. Where are they to build in the desert, if not upon the sand? Indeed, having visited the middle east on a few occasions, I can testify that not only do they build upon sand, they actually build with sand.