Free Will

General philosophy message board for Discussion and debate on other philosophical issues not directly related to veganism. Metaphysics, religion, theist vs. atheist debates, politics, general science discussion, etc.
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Free Will

Post by TheVeganNimbus » Mon Nov 12, 2018 10:50 pm


I am new to this forum, but I have been having a great time connecting with people that have similar ideologies to me, as they are uncommon to come across in everyday life. I like discussing the hard topics (Veganism, Atheism, Morality, etc.), although sometimes I feel I am talking to answering machines who spit back the same questions over and over again. I understand most people are not educated or well versed in these topics, but trying so often to convince people of certain things I believe in gets tiring when we cannot have an educated/sophisticated conversation after I lay out my ideals.

I wanted to start this thread because I did not see anything relating to free will posted here before and I find the topic to be extremely interesting and difficult to make sense of. First off, my opinion on this subject is largely influenced by Sam Harris, who I am sure many of you have heard of before, and YouTubers such as RationalityRules and CosmicSkeptic. These are the people my ideals resonate best with and I find their content so interesting (I highly recommend checking them out if you have not before along with the multitude of other science/philosophy channels out there).

I'm going to try and explain this as best I can, but keep in mind I am new to this sort of discussion.

I am convinced that we, being our conscience, have no control over our physical or mental activities.

Let me give you an example used by many: Chocolate or Vanilla? Which do you prefer and why? You may have a simple answer or you may be undecided. What leads you to the final decision? Let's say that you like both equally. You would think you have complete control over which flavor you want for a host of reasons, but do you have any say in those reasons? How can you explain your craving for chocolate (vegan of course) ice cream at 8 PM?

This pattern works with a host of situations: Let's say you go to the gym to work out, even though you absolutely hate it. Most would say that you have the free will to decide to go to that gym because you are overpowering your already present feeling to stay at home and eat junk all day. There has to be some feeling of WANTing to get fit and healthy that overpowers your WANT to lay in bed all day.

This is what it comes down to: Want.

You cannot decide what you want. You can simply feel that you do want something for reasons you have no control over. Your brain is using logic to decide that going to the gym will benefit you in the long run, even though it sucks now. Even if your brain decided to not go to the gym, it is using whatever "logic" it possesses to make the decision that staying home will be of greater positive impact to your well being, whether or not it is correct is simply up to the neurons firing and the chemistry doing its thing.

This my interpretation of the philosophical reason to justify the lack of free will.

There have been studies done that support the idea of free will not existing. Here is a video from previously mentioned RationalityRules that basically outlines my ideals in greater depth, as he is much more experienced in this sort of thing. I will also include a video from CosmicSkeptic outlining basically what i just spent the past 30 minutes typing.

Rationality Rules - "Free Will - Debunked":

CosmicSkeptic - "Why Free WIll Doesn't Exist":

There are plenty of sources that you should check out from RationalityRules' video. Please leave any questions/comments as a reply as I am so interested to see the reactions of many. Thank you for reading!

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Post by brimstoneSalad » Tue Nov 13, 2018 2:21 am

Sorry you had to wait for this to be approved, the links trigger that until the tenth post (it's an anti-spam measure).

I'm a little familiar with RR, but not CS.

Whether free will exists or not comes down entirely to how you define it. What is a free will? What's it free of, and what are the implications?

I assume you've read Harris and Dennett's exchange on the matter?
It's very much worth reading, but I think Dennett misses the mark in terms of explaining free will the right way.

The sort of magical free will that theists idealize is certainly nonsense, but there are many notions of free will that are meaningful and philosophically interesting, and that can very well be seen to "exist" in terms of the practical effects of these concepts. For example, we can start with consequentialist utility, and use that to assess culpability and punishment in terms of its deterrent qualities rather than in more whimsical terms of justice for its own sake, and then we can derive what is and isn't free will from that.

Did this person have free will? Are they guilty of theft/robbery? Or are they innocent because they were forced and don't have free will?

1. A man who works at a bank giving the robber the money because there's a gun to his head.
2. A man who works at a bank giving a robber money because there's a gun to his daughter's head (it's take your child to work day).
3. A man who robs a bank because somebody has kidnapped his daughter and is threatening her life.
4. A man who robs a bank because his daughter needs a life saving operation that he can only afford by robbing a bank.
5. A man who robs a bank to send his daughter to college so that she doesn't join the army and go to the front lines to be killed in an attempt to get tuition paid for if she returns.
6. A man who robs a bank to provide his daughter with a trust fund so she doesn't have to work, thus saving her the risk of injury or death from a daily commute.
Repeat the same, but it's his niece instead. Repeat the same, but it's a random child he's never even met before.

See what I'm doing there?

None of these people have anything like the magical notion of free will, but all of them are making choices in the regular sense.
By defining free will relative to something concrete and meaningful -- culpability -- we can actually get to a more objective answer.

We can only determine which of these people have "free will" in a morally meaningful sense, and thus should be punished, based on the utility of that punishment at deterring the behavior.

If people in the situations 1 and 2 would still commit the act regardless of the punishment, it's not useful to hold them accountable... then it's just punishment for punishment's sake, and not to prevent the behavior. In effect, thus, they did not have free will.
If people in situations 5 and 6 would think again and NOT commit the crime if they know they'll be imprisoned or executed for it, then the punishment DOES have real deterrent effect and it IS useful to hold them accountable. Thus the people did have free will.

Because there are not only meaningful but arguably actually useful ways to define free will, it's not necessarily correct to categorically say free will doesn't exist. It's just certain notions of free will that conceptualize something that doesn't make any sense.

Hopefully that's some food for thought.

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