Do You Believe in Free Will?

22 03 2011

The Matrix, Minority Report, Equilibrium, Back To The Future, and The Adjustment Bureau. What do these movies have in common? Yes, you guessed it. In one way or another, they touch on the subject of free will. It is interesting to find such great interest people have in this topic, but not with too much surprise, as free will and determinism is closely linked to the issue of theodicy. John Tierney writes in the NY Times (which is sadly soon going towards paid online subscriptions) an interesting article, “Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It’s the Only Choice.” In it, he explains experimental data that supports the psychological finding that “in our abstract brains we’re incompatibilists, but in our hearts we’re compatibilists.” That is, most people are willing to say that someone who cheats on taxes may not be responsible if determinism were true, and most people are unwilling to excuse the responsibility of a murderer even if they believe in determinism. (Incompatibilists are those who believe free will is incompatible with determinism, and compatibilists are those who do believe that free will is compatible with determinism.) Dr Nichols who collected this data states the benefit of this study as the following:

“This would help explain the persistence of the philosophical dispute over free will and moral responsibility,” Dr. Nichols writes in Science. “Part of the reason that the problem of free will is so resilient is that each philosophical position has a set of psychological mechanisms rooting for it.”

Now this is a weird conclusion to a study. Weird but in some ways helpful. Though it is actually not very helpful to explicate the ‘persistence’ of a philosophical issue in resolving the issue, the assumption that there is a psychological mechanism that is involved with the philosophical position of free will can be helpful, if of course, the person has the correct framework. That is, a better bigger picture.

The issue is the necessity of a framework that puts into account both the heart (guilt, conscience) and the rational mind (or the laws of physics).  Another way to put it is to find a perspective that takes into account the laws of morality and the laws of physics. The problem that philosophers have in constructing such a paradigm is that they forget the embedded assumption of those two concepts. Maybe it’s the Darwinian influence of functionalism, but most think of laws in terms of a pragmatic existence, that is, laws exists because they work. But the correct assumption, and perspective, is that laws of morality or laws of physics exist because they are true, first, and they work secondly because they are true. But then when that is accepted, the more important question arises, over which there is much dispute. Where do these true laws originate from? Now, that, is a more important question than the question of free will vs determinism, it is a question of life or death.


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6 responses

22 03 2011
Young Choe

dude, lol. you use words/concepts that a few understand like “functionalism” or “psychological mechanism” and so forth. do you want us to follow your thoughts or lose us in the process.🙂

22 03 2011
Paul Park

haha, hopefully follow. I try to explain functionalism (pragmatism) but ‘psychological mechanism’ is from the quote =P

22 03 2011
Young Choe

haha, you did? I think I miss it. try to write where a 3rd grader can understand unless you only want ph.D students or scholars to follow you🙂

22 03 2011
Abe

interesting discussion – though i would probably add that my criminal law professor would disagree. he would argue regardless of moral desert, it only makes sense that society place culpability upon all criminal actions. he would argue that the debate between those who believe in determinism and those who don’t doesn’t matter. all you have to is attach culpability to action.

22 03 2011
Paul Park

Yes, I agree that that is what society does (attach culpability to action), but the question that is begged underneath is ‘why do they do that?’ Is it because society makes laws according to function (what works)? Or according to what is true (roughly, moral law)? I think your criminal law professor ignores the question where culpability comes from (standard of attachment), but maybe lawyers do not need to concern themselves with such issues?

22 03 2011
Abe

hmm, actually legal academics debate that question ALL the time. my prof lies on the camp that says it doesn’t matter where culpability comes from. society just makes law according to function.

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