Determinism and freewill
In the August 7, 2018 archive on this blog, I made the case that belief in free will is reasonable. Here, I am dealing with questions that have come up in recent discussion. I contend that free will is the result of the fact that consciousness precedes matter, and free will constitutes the best reason to believe that this is the case.
Do we really have free will?
Or is free will an illusion while the molecules of our brain act according to fixed laws?
This is an old but I think most important philosophical question.
In this blog, I have been trying to make the case that consciousness presides matter, while the materialist hold that consciousness totally depends on matter.
Materialism implies reductionism, the belief that consciousness is nothing but the result of a particular arrangement of molecules. And materialism implies determinism, meaning that the molecules follow laws of probability and that free will is an illusion.
I have called the belief that consciousness precedes matter a teleological view meaning that it involves purpose, and that the mind can determine to some extent, what our brain does.
I follow William James’s definition of free will as attention with effort. This means that if we can with effort turn our attention to a chosen idea, instead of whatever idea would grasp our attention without the effort, then we can make our future different from what it would have been, and to that extent are free.
When I was teaching I would tell the students that within a year they could make their lives noticeably better by their own standards. This might mean making the dean’s list or at least clearing probation, developing better study habits, stopping smoking or binge drinking, shaving time from their 5k road races or strokes from their golf scores, reaching a healthier weight, or whatever they though a better life might be. In the longer run they could prepare to work in a career that enhanced whatever was their most cherished value. All of these meant deliberately turning their attention to that which required effort. It takes no effort to eat a cheeseburger; a lot of effort to turn down a cheeseburger for healthier arteries in the future.
The above paragraph describes a good way to live, but it implies free will. If there is no free will you can only watch and see what the molecules are going to do. Maybe, because you have been taught a good work ethic, you can postpone immediate pleasure for a greater good. But you can only hope that this is what happens. Actually you cannot hope, or if you do, the hope itself was determined by something material. One person’s molecules might determine her to prepare for a career creating cleaner energy; another may plan to get rich scamming elderly people out of their life savings. There is no praise or blame in either case. Molecules do not act for a purpose and there is no real basis for good or evil.
Of course, you may decide, or watch your molecules decide, that since the question cannot be answered conclusively, you can be an agnostic – not knowing the will is free. Then you can straddle both sides. When writing philosophy you can take the deterministic view; when living your life take the free will view. Then you can live a good life having what you, or your molecules, consider the best of both worlds.
I have not posted here in a while because I did not receive any response to my previous question.
I do not give up easily.
Do you wish to read more? Please answer yes, no, or or say " I don't care."
Another question: Does matter precede consciousness or consciousness precede matter.
Is this a question you are interested in?
Are there other questions that you are interested in?