What will the will will, and will it will it again.

 The above statement sounds edgy and intuitively true, in addition to the apparent virtue that is seen in "taking responsibility for your choices". However, in a world that is, quite plausibly, causally complete, does it make any sense? To put it another way, in a world without the traditionally conceived human free will, are we any more to "blame" than the weather?

 An incompatabilist who accepts that determinism is true, and in so doing disagrees with the picture at the top, is often given this sort of rebuke: "You're just unhappy with your life-choices and would prefer to believe that the weather in Alaska caused you to do something morally blameworthy." This is a misunderstanding of the position of such a person, but the most obvious response is that the weather in Alaska is no more "responsible" for it's actions, even if it caused yours somehow, than you are for the weather in Alaska, even if you somehow affected it.

 To understand why I think this is so, you have to understand why I don't think we have free will or moral responsibility.

 One of the biggest obstacles to consensus in philosophy is defining what you are talking about in a way that other's can agree with. Free will has had a long, troubled history, and the various definitions debated today testify to the difficulty in really nailing down just what it means. Indeed, a number of you reading this will probably not be satisfied with any definition I might present; yet, tho I despair, I persist.

 My pet definition is one of an incompatibalist bent. I define the term as it appears, as a conjunction of two previously defined words, with their own previously accepted connotations, viz:

Free - Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.[google]also; - not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself [M&W]

Will - The faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action [google]

 At first blush, these definitions appear to justify compatibilism, in that it seems you could retain such freedom even if our minds' operations are explained completely by deterministic physical laws. Many compatibilists view the question along these lines, as decisions which are free from outside coercion. I think they are mistaken, and I think the reason lies in considering the limits of this supposed freedom.

 Let me begin with a story. Sam is minding his own business at home when he finds he wants a snickers bar. Sam, however, is on a diet, and a snickers bar is out of the question if he wants to remain true to his diet. So, despite Sam wanting a snickers bar, he chooses to ignore the urge and stick to the diet. Now, a few questions. Why did Sam want a snickers bar in the first place? Did Sam choose to want a snickers bar? When he declined to get a snickers bar, was he exercising free will by adhering to his dietary regimen? Why did Sam want to go on a diet in the first place?

 Each of these questions has an answer. One can always rationalize post hoc about their reasons for doing or wanting something, but notice that this is precisely like evaluating the reasons for someone else's behavior, or indeed, even an animal's behavior. Why did the dog lie down in that spot, at that moment, rather than another at another moment? Some number of reasons have already occurred to you, but remember, reader, before you jump to respond, that we are talking about a dog. Why would you feel the urge to defend a dog's freedom of will?

 The truth is, our conscious minds are governed by desires we neither author nor control, desires which are indulged only insofar as they do not conflict with other desires, which we likewise neither author nor control. Sam's desire for a snickers bar conflicted with his desire to diet properly, and neither desire was a choice he made consciously. The dog's desire to lie down in the shade conflicted with his desire to remain standing, and neither desire was a choice the dog made consciously. So this freedom, which has such intuitive allure, is only a surface truth; the compatibilists define free will in the context of a surface phenomenon, ignoring the true origin of the will being discussed. I've found several good arguments that run contrary to the definition compatibilists would use. Ask yourself: are you free to do what you do not want to do? and if you do, was it not because you wanted to?

 I define free will as the freedom to will what one wills, rather than the freedom to do as one wills. I am not defining free will out of existence, as might be claimed; I am defining something that doesn't exist. Most compatibilists concur with the traditional notion of free will being an illusion.

 The question of moral responsibility weighs heavily on this topic. If we lack this freedom, how can moral responsibility gain traction? If we are not to blame for our choices, and the weather is equally not to blame, who is to blame for the wrong, and who is to be lauded for the right? Short answer-no one. Moral responsibility, traditionally understood, is an illusion, resting as it is on the illusion of free will. More on this in a future post (otherwise these things would go on forever).


 For more information about how I formed this opinion, see this video, and read this book. Obviously my influences extend beyond one source, but though my endeavors to disagree with this individual have taken me far afield, I have thus far failed to find a compelling argument against his position, or a stronger argument for another. So, inextricably, I hold this view.

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