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I've recently been struggling with the idea of Fatalism, Determinism,

I've recently been struggling with the idea of Fatalism, Determinism, Compatibilism, Libertarianism, etc., and from what I've been reading, the general consensus is compatibilism among most philosophers. If this is the case, then what sense is there in being proud of myself for anything good I do? Is there such thing as effort in my life, or am I just on an inevitable and programmed path? Truth is, I'm an artist. Online, I prefer images be sourced, so anyone who appreciates it enough can get to it easily, and credit goes to the artist. I like to believe that the drawings I make and images I create have something respectable behind them, effort, hard work, practice, time, determination, patience, fun.. but then this debate of Moral Responsibility comes up, and muddles me a bit. I've been experiencing alot of mental stuff for a while- and through all of this, philosophical questions, existential crises, all of it just comes and never stops. It's like there's always something for me to worry, or think too...

You should not let these thoughts get you in a rut or depress you (and if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, you should definitely get professional support to make sure the problem is not more serious than you think). Fatalism is not true if it's the idea that nothing we do makes a real difference to what happens--that what's fated is going to occur no matter what. Even if determinism is true (or false), what we decide and do makes a crucial difference to what happens in the future--if we had done something different, the future would be different.

I'm a compatibilist, and you can see some of my answers at this website or short articles on my personal website to get more argument for why I think this (majority) view is the right one. But no position in the free will debate suggests that our efforts don't matter, that we are just programmed machines, or that everything is inevitable (in the fatalistic sense I mention above). Or none of them should. You sometimes hear scientific skeptics about free will talk this way, but they are being over-dramatic.

Since you mentioned that you are an artist, I'll present the opening paragraph of a chapter I'm working on where I discuss free will as a psychological accomplishment, one that depends largely on our remarkable capacities for imagination. I hope some of what I've said here helps!

"Imagine writing a philosophy paper (or a short story). You imagine a range of options for presenting the argument (or the plot), the structure,some of the sentences. But first, the opening line. You want to get it right. There are better and worse answers to the question: How should I begin? And regarding the rest of the paper or story: What should I do? To ask these questions requires the capacity to imagine a range of alternatives, and there are better and worse alternatives to imagine. To answer these questions requires the capacities to select among those alternatives, and there are better and worse ways to select them. Some people possess the diverse range of psychological capacities needed to write a philosophy paper (more people have what it takes to write some sort of story). Among these people, some possess these capacities to a greater degree than others: capacities to imagine a wider range of relevant options, to shift attention away from less—and towards more—promising options, to select the better options, and to execute these choices—making the imagined future the actual one. Furthermore, different people, at different times, have better and worse opportunities to exercise these capacities—for instance, the free time to let the mind wander and to put words on paper. We don’t know a lot about how these psychological capacities work or what underlying mechanisms explain their functioning (and malfunctioning). But when the sentences flow from your exercising these capacities for imagination,attention, selection, and execution, well, then you are the author of your paper or your story. And you deserve some measure of credit for the good ones, culpability for the bad ones.

So it is with freewill, or so I will argue. For an agent to have free will is for her to possess the psychological capacities to make decisions—to imagine alternatives for action, to select among them, and to control her actions accordingly—such that she can be the author of her actions and be morally responsible for them—that is, deserve credit and blame for them."

You should not let these thoughts get you in a rut or depress you (and if you're feeling depressed or suicidal, you should definitely get professional support to make sure the problem is not more serious than you think). Fatalism is not true if it's the idea that nothing we do makes a real difference to what happens--that what's fated is going to occur no matter what. Even if determinism is true (or false), what we decide and do makes a crucial difference to what happens in the future--if we had done something different, the future would be different. I'm a compatibilist, and you can see some of my answers at this website or short articles on my personal website to get more argument for why I think this (majority) view is the right one. But no position in the free will debate suggests that our efforts don't matter, that we are just programmed machines, or that everything is inevitable (in the fatalistic sense I mention above). Or none of them should. You sometimes hear scientific skeptics...

why is the free will debate of interest to philosophers? i need to know why

why is the free will debate of interest to philosophers? i need to know why philosophers explore this question in the first place.

I think there are three primary reasons philosophers are interested in questions about free will, at least they are the ones that motivate me to spend most of my time on them.

1. Free will is often used (by philosophers and non-philosophers) to pick out the sort of control over decisions and actions that agents need in order to be morally responsible for what they do--that is, to deserve praise for the good things they do and blame, and certain kinds of punishment, for the bad things they do. If we lack free will--defined in this way--then we would not really deserve praise and blame, reward and punishment, and perhaps even gratitude, indignation, and forgiveness. Figuring out how to define 'free will' as relevant to these questions is one of the most significant debates in the current discussions. And figuring out whether we have such free will, in the face of the possibility of determinism or physicalism or certain scientific discoveries, is another.

2. Furthermore, some people think (and some evidence suggests) that our beliefs about free will influence some of our other beliefs and behaviors. For instance, if we came to think we lacked free will, maybe we would be less retributive in our punishment and more forgiving of our friends and family when they screw us over, but maybe we would be less likely to control some of our bad impulses and we would screw each other over more. Some people also think that aour lives and relationships would lack certain kinds of meaning or importance if we lacked free will. Others think that lacking free will--understood as a kind of ultimate self-creation which is clearly impossible--is not very important for most of what we care about, including our relationships and the meaning of our lives.

3. We experience ourselves as having a certain type of control over our actions, including being able to imagine various options for future action and selecting among them. We might call these experiences of free will. It seems important to know whether such experiences are illusory, as some argue, or whether they are accurate in the sense that we actually have the sort of control and decision-making abilities that our experiences seem to represent. If nothing else, it's good to know the truth about things, so it'd be good to know the truth about how our agency works.

If readers want to think more about this stuff, they might go to Flickers of Freedom, a blog on these topics, including a recent discussion about point 1 above: http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/flickers_of_freedom/

I think there are three primary reasons philosophers are interested in questions about free will, at least they are the ones that motivate me to spend most of my time on them. 1. Free will is often used (by philosophers and non-philosophers) to pick out the sort of control over decisions and actions that agents need in order to be morally responsible for what they do--that is, to deserve praise for the good things they do and blame, and certain kinds of punishment, for the bad things they do. If we lack free will--defined in this way--then we would not really deserve praise and blame, reward and punishment, and perhaps even gratitude, indignation, and forgiveness. Figuring out how to define 'free will' as relevant to these questions is one of the most significant debates in the current discussions. And figuring out whether we have such free will, in the face of the possibility of determinism or physicalism or certain scientific discoveries, is another. 2. Furthermore, some people think ...

It has been said that if there is human freedom, then we are responsible for our

It has been said that if there is human freedom, then we are responsible for our actions. By this, it seems natural to suppose that "given that there is no human freedom (let's just suppose for the sake of argument) then it would follow that we are not responsible for our actions." But this seems an instance of what is called the "fallacy of denying the antecedent". Is this really an instance of the fallacy or is it an exemption to the case because personally I don't see any error in the form of the argument.

In the form you've presented the claims, there would be a fallacy of denying the antecedent. If free, then responsible. Not free. So, not responsible.

But I don't think philosophers typically agree with the conditional claim, which says that having free will (or doing A freely) is sufficient for moral responsibility (or being responsible for A). And we should not agree with it. After all, I might freely decide to back my car out of the driveway and in doing so run over the sleeping cat I could not be expected to have seen. If so, I do not seem to be responsible (blameworthy) for killing the cat. There might be ways to fix up the terms, but there is likely an epistemic condition (a justified belief requirement) for responsibility that goes beyond the free will (or control) condition.

However, it is more plausible to say that moral responsibility (being responsible for A) requires free will (that one did A freely, or did some earlier action freely that one should have known would lead to A). So, if I am responsible for killing the cat, I must have free will and must have exercised it in such a way that led to my cat killing.

Suppose we accept: If one is responsible, then one has free will.

Then, by modus tollens (or denying the consequent--i.e., saying we lack free will), we validly conclude that one in not responsible.

Some people suggest that it is so implausible (and/or costly) to assert that humans are never ever responsible for anything at all (e.g., that no one deserves blame for anything) that we have good reason to question any argument (or premises) that concludes that no one has free will.

In the form you've presented the claims, there would be a fallacy of denying the antecedent. If free, then responsible. Not free. So, not responsible. But I don't think philosophers typically agree with the conditional claim, which says that having free will (or doing A freely) is sufficient for moral responsibility (or being responsible for A). And we should not agree with it. After all, I might freely decide to back my car out of the driveway and in doing so run over the sleeping cat I could not be expected to have seen. If so, I do not seem to be responsible (blameworthy) for killing the cat. There might be ways to fix up the terms, but there is likely an epistemic condition (a justified belief requirement) for responsibility that goes beyond the free will (or control) condition. However, it is more plausible to say that moral responsibility (being responsible for A) requires free will (that one did A freely, or did some earlier action freely that one should have known would lead to...

I have begun reading Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. He admits that system 1

I have begun reading Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. He admits that system 1 can react before system becomes conscious of a particular behavior. Once system 2 becomes aware, however, it can modify system 1's response based on reasoning, additional evidence, past experience, etc. Is there any value in thinking of system 2 as the seat of free will (I choose not to accept system 1's acceptance of a "trick question" fallacy)? If so, and we agree that systems 1 & 2 are aspects of one mind, does it follow that we have addressed Harris's claim that free will is an illusion?

The brief answer is yes, I think it makes a lot of sense to think of something like system 2 as the seat of free, autonomous, and responsible action. And if we do--that is, if we think that our capacities for conscious reasoning and self-control are ultimately capacities instantiated in our brains--then the arguments by Harris and others lose a lot of force, since those arguments often play on the misguided idea that if our brains do it, then somehow we don't. I would not want to say that system 1 (or our non-conscious, more automatic processing) is in conflict with our free will, since often its functioning is crucial to our acting freely and we can also shape its functioning to some degree with system 2 processes. However, if we find that some of our actions are produced by system 1 processes (and situational influences) of which we are unaware and that we would not want to influence us, were we aware of them, then I do think our freedom and responsibility are diminished. And I think that the evidence suggests this is the case more than we tend to think. That is, we have free will, but less than we think.

For a less brief answer, you might want to look at some of my articles (or short pieces) on my website. There is a review of Harris' book here.

The brief answer is yes, I think it makes a lot of sense to think of something like system 2 as the seat of free, autonomous, and responsible action. And if we do--that is, if we think that our capacities for conscious reasoning and self-control are ultimately capacities instantiated in our brains--then the arguments by Harris and others lose a lot of force, since those arguments often play on the misguided idea that if our brains do it, then somehow we don't. I would not want to say that system 1 (or our non-conscious, more automatic processing) is in conflict with our free will, since often its functioning is crucial to our acting freely and we can also shape its functioning to some degree with system 2 processes. However, if we find that some of our actions are produced by system 1 processes (and situational influences) of which we are unaware and that we would not want to influence us, were we aware of them, then I do think our freedom and responsibility are diminished. And I think that...

If someone makes a statement, and I not only disagree with that statement, but

If someone makes a statement, and I not only disagree with that statement, but criticize or condemn her for having made it, do I infringe on her freedom of speech?

I don't see how. I think you have exercised your own freedom of speech. Speech acts can conflict with people's freedoms, including freedom of speech--for instance, if I threaten that I will harm you if you express certain opinions. But the beauty of freedom of speech is the idea that it will expose ideas to opposition with the hope that well-informed people will support the better ideas and reject, or if need be, condemn the others.

I don't see how. I think you have exercised your own freedom of speech. Speech acts can conflict with people's freedoms, including freedom of speech--for instance, if I threaten that I will harm you if you express certain opinions. But the beauty of freedom of speech is the idea that it will expose ideas to opposition with the hope that well-informed people will support the better ideas and reject, or if need be, condemn the others.

Has the idea of responsibility for NOT having a certain thought been addressed

Has the idea of responsibility for NOT having a certain thought been addressed in the free will literature? Certain forms of compatibilism seem to hinge on denying that we are 'bypassed', a term described very well by Professor Nahmias as referring to "the idea that our conscious deliberations, our desires, or our reasons play no role in what happens" (quoted from his response to question 3236 on 6/1/10). But what about thoughts and ideas that simply don't occur to us? There is no grand buffet of potential thoughts that I (whatever "I" means) get to choose from, I can't prevent myself from having something occur to me and I can't force something to occur to me. So how could I be responsible for the absence of a certain thought. Clearly there are uncountably many situations in which someone's failure to act or someone's decision to act lead to consequences that may not have happened had a different thought occurred to the person. But, in a certain sense, they were definitely bypassed in the ...

Great question. Here's a question for you:

Suppose a friend asks you to pick her up at the airport (or water her plants while she's gone). Suppose you promise to do so. Suppose (scenario A) that you fail to put down your obligation in your calendar. Or suppose (scenario B) that you put it in your calendar but fail to check your calendar on the day of your obligation. Question: are you responsible for failing to honor your obligation?

It seems to me that, unless there are some mitigating circumstances (e.g., you had a migraine that incapacitated you), you are responsible. But you might retort: "I simply never had the thought (A) to write it in my calendar or (B) to check my calendar that day. How can I be responsible for not doing what I promised when I didn't have a particular thought that [we can assume] is necessary for my doing it?"

My response is that you should have had the relevant thoughts and (in the controversial compatibilist sense of "could") you could have had the relevant thoughts. You are blameworthy for failing to have those thoughts and that is why you are blameworthy for (A) your poor friend being stuck at the airport and having to waste money on a cab or (B) your friend's poor plant dying.

Why could you have had the relevant thoughts? Because you have the capacities to think about what sorts of things you need to do to fulfill obligations like this (you've done it before, nothing obstructed you from doing it, your capacities were in working order, etc.). It is true that you cannot "force" a particular thought to come to mind. But you can do the sorts of things you need to do to have certain types of relevant thoughts. (E.g. "I just promised to pick up my friend at the airport. Now, what should I do to make sure I remember to do that?" And that will likely lead to calendar thoughts coming to mind. Whereas, this is less likely to: "Sure, I'll pick you up." Whatever, now what was I watching on TV.)

Having said all this, you are right to wonder about how much control we have over what particular thoughts we have (and the effects of those thoughts on our choices and actions). There is interesting literature on this question. And I haven't addressed the "deep" incompatibilist worry that, if determinism is true, then (in some sense of "could") we could not think anything other than what we actually think. Other than the fact that I think the incompatibilist worry is mistaken, I have ignored it because in this context it is not any different than the worry as applied to choices or actions.

Hope this helps! (And don't forget to pick up your friend and water the plants.)

Great question. Here's a question for you: Suppose a friend asks you to pick her up at the airport (or water her plants while she's gone). Suppose you promise to do so. Suppose (scenario A) that you fail to put down your obligation in your calendar. Or suppose (scenario B) that you put it in your calendar but fail to check your calendar on the day of your obligation. Question: are you responsible for failing to honor your obligation? It seems to me that, unless there are some mitigating circumstances (e.g., you had a migraine that incapacitated you), you are responsible. But you might retort: "I simply never had the thought (A) to write it in my calendar or (B) to check my calendar that day. How can I be responsible for not doing what I promised when I didn't have a particular thought that [we can assume] is necessary for my doing it?" My response is that you should have had the relevant thoughts and (in the controversial compatibilist sense of "could") you could ...

Recently I read a newly published very short book criticisng the concept of Free

Recently I read a newly published very short book criticisng the concept of Free Will. I thought the book made some good points and some not-so- good points, but what really disturbed me is that the author didn't ever carefully define what he meant by Free Will. Is the definition of Free Will so obvious and clear that there is no need to define it in a book intended for lay readers?

Eddy: Nice article! I'm glad they tapped you to review Harris's book. (I too suspect that it's the book the questioner is referring to.) --Steve

It sounds like you might be talking about Sam Harris' new book, Free Will . If so, you might be interested in my review of it at The Philosopher's Magazine here: http://www.thephilosophersmagazine.com/TPM/article/view/15359/12081 Much of my response focuses on Harris' confused definitions of free will. The answer to your question is a definitive NO: free will does not have a single or obvious definition such that it need not be defined when discussed, especially in a book that claims we lack free will (what exactly do we lack? and do we care about the thing we are being told we lack?)

I would like to be introduced to the theory of Action. Considering that I have a

I would like to be introduced to the theory of Action. Considering that I have a general philosophical knowledge, what should I read first, which concepts should I have in mind when readeing about theory of action? How can I go from the general concerns of theory of action to the specific sides of the discussion? Thank you very much.

In lieu of a detailed response, I'll suggest you start here: http://www.philosophyofaction.com/

Greetings philosophers! I’ve always wondered if free will is a problem for

Greetings philosophers! I’ve always wondered if free will is a problem for atheism. In particular, if there was no designer (God), isn’t it unlikely that something as strange as free will would arise?

As always with questions about free will, the answer to this one depends on how one understands free will. If one defines free will as a God-given power, then yes, atheists who accept that definition would conclude that there is no free will. But that's not a very good definition of free will. If one thinks free will requires a non-physical soul, then atheists who believe there are no such souls, would also think there is no free will. Atheists could believe in such souls, however (just not that they are God-given). Some scientists who say free will is an illusion (I call them 'willusionists') seem to think that the materialist worldview that science seems to provide evidence for rules out free will, because they assume free will, by definition, requires non-physical powers.

But I don't see any good reason to define free will as God-given or instantiated only in souls (and some of my work studying folk intuitions about free will suggests that most people agree with me). Rather, free will is the capacity to make choices and control actions such that one can be responsible for one's actions. This capacity is extremely complex (and for a naturalist like me, it's no surprise that it requires something as complex as the most complexly structured thing in the universe, the human brain--indeed, it's hard to see how a soul, whatever that might be, has the right sort of complexity). But I don't think "strange" is the right word for it.

How could the capacity for free will arise without a designer God. Like everything else in the biological world--the process of evolution. Some of the capacities involved in free will, such as the ability to consciously envision various possible future situations, each of which depends on what one chooses to do, were likely selected for directly because of their contribution to survival (and reproduction). Others, such as the ability to consider one's own mental states, such as desires, may have been a byproduct of abilities selected for other benefits, such as the ability to represent other individuals' mental states (the better to see, for instance, if they are trying to deceive you in complex cooperative ventures).

The upshot is that, once we hone in on a useful and plausible understanding of what it takes to have free will, it looks like it can be naturalized in such a way that it does not depend on God or souls.

I should add that the existence of God notoriously raises problems for free will that atheists don't face. If God knows everything we will choose before we choose it--or worse, if God is the cause of everything, including what we choose--then it is hard to understand how we can choose freely or be in control of what we choose.

As always with questions about free will, the answer to this one depends on how one understands free will. If one defines free will as a God-given power, then yes, atheists who accept that definition would conclude that there is no free will. But that's not a very good definition of free will. If one thinks free will requires a non-physical soul, then atheists who believe there are no such souls, would also think there is no free will. Atheists could believe in such souls, however (just not that they are God-given). Some scientists who say free will is an illusion (I call them 'willusionists') seem to think that the materialist worldview that science seems to provide evidence for rules out free will, because they assume free will, by definition, requires non-physical powers. But I don't see any good reason to define free will as God-given or instantiated only in souls (and some of my work studying folk intuitions about free will suggests that most people agree with me). Rather, free will is...

Hello.

Hello. Thanks for all the great answers so far. A (seemingly) quick question. If everything is determined, does this mean that everything is necessary and nothing is contingent. Because if determined means 'could not be otherwise' then isn't that the same as saying it is necessary? Thank you, Christina

Determinism is a thesis about the relations between states (or events) in the universe. A deterministic universe is one in which, holding fixed the past states (or events) and the laws of nature, there is only one possible future set of states (or events). So, it might appear that determinism means that nothing is contingent or could happen otherwise. But that appearance is misleading, because the past or the laws were not necessary and they could have been different. If they had been different than they actually are, then the future events would be different than they actually will be.

If determinism meant that everything is necessary, then it would mean that there is only one possible universe. Nothing could be or could have been different than it is. That doesn't fit with the way we think about possibility. There are lots of possible universes--lots of ways things might have been or might be. But if determinism is true, the only way the present or future could be different than they actually are is if the past or laws were different than they actually were. I think this actually accords with the way we think about most (or all) events in our universe. The tree fell in the forest at this time and in this way. Could it have fallen in a slightly different way (or time)? Sure, but only if something had been slightly different leading up to its falling--the speed or direction of the wind, the saturation of the ground, the strength of the roots, etc. But for those things to be different, earlier things would have had to be different. And so on.

Perhaps our decisions are no different (I'm assuming you had the issue of free will in mind when you asked this question). You consider various options about what to order for lunch (or what major to pick or career path to follow or whom to marry!) After deliberation, you decide on X. Could you have chosen Y? Well, if determinism is true, only if something had been slightly different, such as the considerations you thought about or the strength of certain desires you had. And for those to be different, something earlier would have had to be different. And so on. But determinism does not rule out those possibilities. And if determinism is false, then it seems your decisions could be different for no reason at all, which doesn't sound so great either.

Lots more to say, but I hope this gives you something to think about...

Determinism is a thesis about the relations between states (or events) in the universe. A deterministic universe is one in which, holding fixed the past states (or events) and the laws of nature, there is only one possible future set of states (or events). So, it might appear that determinism means that nothing is contingent or could happen otherwise. But that appearance is misleading, because the past or the laws were not necessary and they could have been different. If they had been different than they actually are, then the future events would be different than they actually will be. If determinism meant that everything is necessary, then it would mean that there is only one possible universe. Nothing could be or could have been different than it is. That doesn't fit with the way we think about possibility. There are lots of possible universes--lots of ways things might have been or might be. But if determinism is true, the only way the present or future could be different than they...

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