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Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it.

Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it. Friend B believes he shouldn't have to try something if he doesn't want to. Who is correct? Are they both correct? Who is more correct? Should Friend C help convince Friend B to try the thing or let him make his own choices?

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives."

First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to" try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X.

Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

Do philosophers really understand the concept of free will and have it formally

Do philosophers really understand the concept of free will and have it formally defined? Dr. Maitzen in response to question 5711 was able to answer the question without asking what free will is yet for question 24592 he seemed not to know what free will is and seemed to treat is an abstract construction so is it just an abstract construction and if it is, why create the concept in the first place?

Thanks for your question and the chance to clarify. In Question 24592, the questioner talked about philosophers "redefining free will" but never defined the term himself/herself. So I cited the definition of "free will" given at I did so in order to indicate just how much neuroscientists would have to show before they could be said to have shown that we (routinely) lack free will as the dictionary defines "free will".

The definition treats free will as an ability. I'm not sure if that means treating free will as an abstract construction, but in any case if it's not a good definition then I suggest that you let them know. I myself see nothing wrong with their definition.

If neuroscience were to prove that one particular person has free will, does

If neuroscience were to prove that one particular person has free will, does that imply that everyone else in the world would have to have free will as well? If neuroscience tests show that not everyone has free will, how would philosophers explain that other than redefining free will?

I notice that your question leaves "free will" undefined, so let me propose the definition found at "the ability to choose how to act; the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God."

I presume that no one imagines that neuroscience will prove that some of our choices are controlled literally by fate or God. So if neuroscience is to show that some or all of us lack free will, neuroscience must show that some or all of us lack the ability to choose how to act or the ability to make choices.

I don't think we need neuroscience experiments to show us that some people lack free will in the sense just defined: for example, people who are in the midst of drug-induced mania or a psychotic episode. To show us something we didn't already know, neuroscience would have to show that people in general typically or routinely lack free will.

Some neuroscientists do claim to have shown that, but their arguments are woefully unpersuasive (in my judgment and in the judgment of philosophers more expert on this topic than I am). For one thing, neuroscience would have to show more than that our choices are causally determined by prior factors, because on one analysis of free will -- the analysis accepted by most philosophers, as it happens -- a free choice can (and perhaps must) be causally determined by prior factors.

For more on this topic, see Question 5733.

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."

I have a question about causality solely when it comes to human behavior.

I have a question about causality solely when it comes to human behavior. Suppose I argue that the presence of oxygen on Earth was the cause of an office building on fire. It is certainly true that if there had been no oxygen on Earth there would have been no fire. It is also true that if there had been no arsonists or negligent persons, nor any flammable material, there would have been no fire. So is it true that when it is assumed that one of several necessary conditions was the sole and exclusive cause of an effect, then the reasoning is fallacious due to the possibility that humans might have free will which somehow shifts responsibility away from nature or scientific processes?

Assuming I understand it, the reasoning you described is fallacious regardless of anything having to do with human free will. True, the presence of something combustible is a necessary (but fortunately not sufficient!) condition for the occurrence of a fire. But if I were to infer from that fact alone that the presence of something combustible was the sole cause of the fire, my inference would be laughably bad: indeed, onlookers would probably construe it as a joke. In any case, it would be evidence that I don't really possess the concept of causation.

I think that a related but different fallacy is often committed by those who say that the physical necessitation of a human action always makes the action unfree. It's the fallacy of assuming that the physical necessitation of an agent's action always bypasses the agent's deliberations. If causal determinism is true, then my decision to respond to your question was physically necessitated by events that predated my birth. But that doesn't imply that my deliberations -- my deciding which questions in this week's batch to consider answering, my deciding which of those to go ahead and answer, etc. -- played no role in my eventually answering your question. (It's not as if someone else decided that I would respond to your question.) On the contrary, according to causal determinism, my deliberations were essential links in the causal chain that led to my decision to respond: there's no reason at all to think that I would have responded to your question even if I had never deliberated about whether to respond to it.

I hope my answer engages with your question enough to be helpful.

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one can be held accountable for anything since no one has control over their own actions?

Consider two otherwise identical worlds, in one of which determinism is true, and in the other of which it is not. In the second world there is freedom of the will. What difference does this make to the legal system and the moral system? Ex hypothesi, none. When I wrote that if hard determinism is true, moral systems cannot be corrupt, I was describing Stephen's view, not my own! Hence I think the apparent contradiction that he detects. Here's another way of putting the point I wanted to make. We can imagine a deterministic world in which people are thinking good thoughts and doing good things, and making good laws. The world of law and morality seems to have survived the loss of freedom! In this world, some philosophers believe in determinism, and some in freewill. But of course the having of those beliefs is part of a deterministically produced system. There could be incidentally be a deterministic world that is morally and legally better than a world with freewill. Consider the worst world imaginable, but having freewill, and the best world imaginable, but lacking freewill. You might prefer to live in the unpleasant world, but that doesn't mean it's better. In it the innocent are tortured, unfairness abounds, and so on.

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:

What is the difference between determinism and the principle of sufficient

What is the difference between determinism and the principle of sufficient reason? Thanks, Mark

Hi Mark,

The principle of sufficient reason, due to Leibniz, states that there is always a reason why some particular thing happens, rather than some other thing. This does not immediately or obviously pose a threat to freedom. Note that "reason" does not mean the same as "cause", although a cause might be a reason.

Determinism states something much stronger, more complicated, and more sinister. It tells us that the laws of nature and the initial state of the universe at some time in the past entail the state of the universe in the present. Entailment is a strong relation, and what determinism means is that if the laws are whatever they are and the initial state of the universe is whatever it is, then the the universe must (nota been, "must") go into the subsequent state. There is a necessary truth. It is that if the universe is in the initial state, and the laws apply, then the universe will go into the second state. Determinism has been held to pose a severe threat to freedom in the metaphysical sense, or freewill, though so-called compatibilists have a view which de-fangs determinism, if it is successful.

The principle of universal causation is different again. It states that every event has a cause. This might well be false of the first event in time, if it really is the first event, because there is no prior event available to cause it, since nothing is prior to the first event.



There has been much made of Hawking and Harris using brain scans to demonstrate

There has been much made of Hawking and Harris using brain scans to demonstrate a deterministic explanation of "free will". My question is, how do they treat a case where I think about moving my arm, but don't? How can the experiment they site test thoughts, subjective experience, etc. which do not lead to any outward physical effects? Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena that the brain scan test constitutes a proof?

Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena ... the brain scan test constitutes a proof?

I think the important philosophical question here is "A proof of what?" Suppose that science did somehow establish that all of our choices are causally determined by our earlier brain states. According to compatibilism, that result wouldn't threaten free will at all, and according to many compatibilists it would be good news indeed for free will. Before we get too hung up on whether brain scans are evidence in favor of determinism about human choices, let's ask the prior philosophical question "What difference would that make for free will?" You'll find this issue discussed many times on this website, including here:

Question 5451
Question 5711

Why should I be convinced by a hard determinist's argument against free will if,

Why should I be convinced by a hard determinist's argument against free will if, assuming his position is true, I am simply determined by causes other than myself to believe in free will? And I also wonder if there are professional philosophers who are hard determinists who try to convince other people of their view if in their view all people are determined (by causes other than their free choice) to believe whatever they presently believe.

Your question seems to presuppose that one chooses whether to be convinced by an argument or whether to believe that one has free will. I don't find that presupposition to be psychologically plausible, and indeed it might be conceptually incoherent. Besides, wouldn't you rather form your belief because of a compelling argument than because of something else? You'll find relevant discussion in this online article.

In any case, determinists -- who say that all events, including all human choices, are causally determined by prior conditions -- can grant that one chooses whether to be convinced by an argument or whether to believe that one has free will. According to determinism, such a choice will be causally determined by prior conditions, including any arguments to which the chooser has been exposed. It could be that the logical virtues of some argument are among the conditions that cause someone to choose to accept its conclusion. So I see nothing paradoxical about a (hard or soft) determinist's trying to cause someone to (choose to) believe a particular proposition by presenting that person with an argument for it. Even if the person currently rejects the proposition, and was causally determined to reject it, exposure to an argument can change his or her mind about it. Determinism doesn't say that what you believe has nothing to do with the arguments you encounter: on the contrary, determinism says that the arguments you encounter can matter crucially to what you end up believing.