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When I read most discussions about free will, it seems that there is an implicit unspoken assumption that might not be accurate once it is brought forward and addressed explicitly. We know from research (and for me, from some personal experiences) that we make decisions before we are consciously aware that we have made that decision. The discussions about free will all seem to assume that one of the necessary conditions of free will is that we be aware that we are exercising it, in order to have it. (sorry if I did not phrase that very well). In other words, if we are not consciously aware that we are exercising free will in the moment that we are making a decision, then it is assumed that we do not have free will, merely because of that absence of conscious awareness. Suppose we do have free will, and we exercise it without being consciously aware that we are doing so at that particular moment. That might merely be an artifact that either we are using our awareness to do something that requires...

Part of the problem with this debate is that it's not always clear what's really at issue. Take the experiments in which subjects are asked to "freely" choose when to push a button and we discover that the movement began before the subject was aware of any urge to act. The conclusion is supposed to be that the movement was not in response to a conscious act of willing and so wasn't an act of free will. But the proper response seems to be "Who cares?" What's behind our worries about free will has more or less nothing to do with the situation of the subjects in Libet's experiment. Think about someone who's trying to make up their mind about something serious—maybe whether to take a job or go to grad school. Suppose it's clear that the person is appropriately sensitive to reasons, able to reconsider in the light of relevant evidence and so on. There may not even be any clear moment we can point to and say that's when the decision was actually made. I'd guess that if most of us thought about it, we'd...

Speaking philosophically rather than legally, should there be limitations on freedom of speech in the case of president-elects, or public officials in general, making unsubstantiated or even false claims? Saying, for instance, that millions of illegals voted. I think many people think that there's a public interest in false claims -- if made openly, they can be openly discredited. But in this particular case, while there is no evidence for the claim, there is also no evidence against it, so it can't, for the time being, be definitively refuted. Meanwhile, there are potentially big negative consequences -- eroding confidence in the electoral system, inflaming racial tensions, etc.

A couple of thoughts. First, lying is bad, and it's not any less bad when it's done by a politician trying to whip up his supporters. No need for philosophy here. That's not the same as saying that it should be against the law for politicians to tell bald-faced lies, but there are moral limits on what people should say. Donald Trump hasn't given evidence that he cares much about those limits. Second, you write that there's no evidence against the claim that millions of ineligible aliens voted. If you mean that no one has done an extensive view of the voting records, then perhaps that's true. But that doesn't mean it's reasonable to suspend judgment until someone decides to do a review. The evidence in general is that voter fraud is rare. Even when zealous politicians go looking for it, the pattern is that they don't find it. ( Of course there are isolated cases, but that's not what's at issue here.) So we have a general reason to be very suspicious of what Donald Trump has said, and no...

I read a fascinating article about free will the other day. The first premise seems unremarkable to me: we initially make our decisions based on emotion, and then rationalize those decisions after the fact by reason. That premise seems well-correlated to me with empirical evidence in many cases; though there might be a small subset of cases in which people actually reason something out first before acting. However, the author then asserted that, because our decisions are primarily driven by emotion, that we only have the illusion of free will. I am not quite sure I completely followed the logical chain from the premise (emotions drive most decisions) to the conclusion (we feel like we have free will even though we actually do not). My questions to the panel are, (a) is the initial premise as reasonable to you as it seems to be to me, and (b) how does the conclusion follow logically from this premise? Thanks very much!

I have to admit: I'm as puzzled as you are. Let's suppose I'm trying to decide which flavor of ice cream I want. My choices are chocolate and rum raisin. I like them both, and there's nothing unreasonable about eating either. What would make the author of the article treat my ending up with rum raisin amount to a free choice? That I did an exhaustive utility calculation? In the circumstances, how is this better than picking rum raisin because at that moment I'm feeling nostalgic and I'm struck by a warm memory of the big scoops of rum raisin I used to get from the ice cream shop in my home town when I was a boy? More generally, what's the issue? Did my momentary emotion compel me to pick the rum-raisin? That doesn't seem plausible. What reason was there for not giving in to my emotion? I'd go a bit further. In a case like this, wouldn't it be a bit unreasonable to second-guess my urge? What's the issue? If it's supposed to be that there's an explanation for how I came to pick what I picked,...

Is this a decent argument (i.e. logical, sound)? If God exists, God is an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good being If God is wholly good, God would want humans to posess free will If God is wholly good, God could endow humans with free will But, if any being is omniscient or all knowing, such a being would know human choices and actions before they are chosen Under such conditions, free will would only exist as an illusion or in the mind as the human perception of having free will; true free will would not exist because God or some other power has predecided all human choices Therefore, God, if God exists, cannot be both wholly good and omniscient Therefore, God does not exist

When we look at arguments, we have two broad questions in mind. One is whether the conclusion follows from the premises, whether or not the premises are true. The other is whether the premises are actually true. So with that in mind, let's turn to the argument. It's often possible by restating premises and adding other premises that are assumed but not stated to make an argument valid even if it's not valid as stated. Your argument is more or less this, I think If God exists, then necessarily God is perfectly good, knows all, and is all-powerful, Suppose God exists. Since God is all-powerful, God can give us free will. Since God is perfectly good, God wants us to have free will. God does anything God wants to do. Therefore, we have free will. Since God knows all, God knows what we are going to do before we do it. If God knows what we're going to do before we do it, then we don't have free will. Therefore, we don't have free will. CONTRADICTION. Therefore, God doesn't exist. We could clean things...

Objectively, is a single person more free than one in a romantic relationship?

Suppose I make a promise to you. Then I've taken on a commitment. If I promise to drive you to the airport at 2:00 tomorrow, then I'm not free to do something else at 2:00 tomorrow. That is, I'm not free if I take my promise seriously. Of course, in another sense I'm free as a bird: I could just break my promise. Insofar as I'm not free, it's because I've bound myself, so to speak. But unless you've extracted the promise under duress, I took on the commitment freely, and taking on and keeping commitments is one of the ways we exercise and demonstrate our freedom. There's not just one thing we mean when we say someone is free. If you're locked up, you're not free to leave for external reasons. If you don't have certain capacities, then for internal reasons, you're not free to do things that call for them. (In that sense, I'm not free to sing the high F in the Queen of the Night's aria from the Magic Flute.) And then there's not being free because of restrictions you impose on yourself by choice. But...

I've heard there are people in philosophy called "action theorists" who think that action is always the product of one's own beliefs and desires. This view of action seems to call into question our free will. I know that I don't choose my desires and it really doesn't seem like I choose my beliefs either (e.g. I can't just choose to disbelieve that the earth revolves around the sun). So, if action is just the product of beliefs and desires, and I can't choose those, what room is left for me to choose my actions?

This is a case of dividing questions. Whether our actions are ultimately free or not, we perform actions. I'm performing one right now: I'm responding to your question. You performed an action when you asked your question. There are various issues about just what sorts of things count as actions, how actions are related to intentions, whether a reason for acting also counts as a cause of the action and so on. These questions come up whether or not there's such a thing as free will. Whether I choose my actions in some ultibuck-stopping sense, I do choose them in various proximate senses. Going to the food co-op for lunch is an action; so is going to the sandwich shop instead. I might pick the co-op because I know they're serving vegan tacos today, and I like the way they make those. Most of us make choices like that every day, even if those choices are ultimately determined in a way that means the actions aren't really free. If you'd like to get a better sense of what the philosophical study of...

Free Will vs. (and) Determinism I have been having a tireless debate with a friend about freewill and determinism. We have researched and regurgitated some of other people's arguments but it seems that our arguments never confront one another's. My description of the argument will be biased (I believe in determinism - kind of). I believe there are four possibilities 1. we have a determined future: We have our brain, biology, environment, and they interact in a specific way. What can possible change that? 2. at some level, particles move completely randomly, so our future isn't necessarily set, not because of free will, but because of those pesky little particles. 3. God asserts his will, but with rationality: our future is set, because a rational God is destined to make the same decisions (that argument might be incomplete, but we don't care about this one anyway. 4. God acts randomly, same outcome as 2, but because of a chaotic God. For arguments sake, we stick only to number 1 - we have a...

My first thought is that your four alternatives don't carve the territory up adequately. Let's agree: either our futures are determined or they aren't. The way you've set up the debate, you've assumed that if determinism is true, we don't have free will. But that leaves out an important position: compatibilism . According to compatibilists, we can have free will even if determinism is true. This view has a long line of distinguished defenders, including Hume, A. J. Ayer and Daniel Dennett. Before we go further, let's set aside the possibility that we do what we do because God makes it so. The point isn't to take a stand on a theological issue. It's just that if there's a God who makes us do what we do, it seems natural to say that God is the agent. There's room to argue, but for simpicity's sake, we'll assume that the sort of determinism (or non-determinism) at issue is natural. Compatibilism comes in many varieties, but the basic idea is this: you're free if you can do what you want to do....

Do philosophers who believe in a naturalistic and deterministic world and assert a compatabilist theory of free will believe that people who do very wrong things should be punished as an expression of retribution or to make the person realize how bad they are? (Rather than the use of punishment as discouragement) I find it fascinating and deeply disturbing that philosophers would want to punish people who are perfectly innocent according to a incompatibilist ethical system.

On the substance of your question, it may well be that different philosophers will respond differently, though I'd guess that naturalist/determinist/compatibilist more often goes with a view of punishment as having broadly utilitarian goals rather than retributivist ones. But I was struck by your last sentence: you find it disturbing that compatibilists would be willing to punish people whom incompatibilists see as innocent. Isn't this really just a way of siding with the incompatibilists? Compatibilists argue at length that we can be morally responsible even if determinism is true. Indeed, some compatibilists have argued (Hobart is a famous example from many decades ago) that we can't be responsible unless determinism is true. If compatibilists can make their case, then their point of view is only superficially disturbing. The apparently disturbing character, they would argue, is an illusion borne of misunderstanding what's required for moral responsibility. The compatibilist, in other words, thinks...

Is religion the true enemy of freedom in a democratic society since it teaches us that we have to think a certain way or is science since it teaches us that nobody is truly free but a product of deterministic forces?

How about neither? Let's start with religion, about which only a few words. Some forms of religion are dogmatic and deeply invested in doubtful beliefs, but it's a mistake to think all religion is like that, contrary to the persistent insistence of some apologists for atheism. And "science" writ large hasn't settled whether everything is a product of deterministic forces, let alone about what that would imply if it were true. On the first point: it's open to serious doubt whether quantum processes are deterministic. And it's simply not true that the macro-world would be sealed off from all quantum indeterminism. More important, it's simply not settled that determinism has the dire implications you suppose it has. Most philosophers, I'd guess, accept some version of compatibilism, according to which physical determinism and human freedom can coexist. A bit of searching around this website will find various discussions. Here's one that might be helpful. Of course, it might be that the...

Some people have argued that because people's choices are often influenced by factors that are not relevant to rational decision making, people do not have free will. For instance, people are much more willing to register as an organ donor on their driver's liscenses if this is presented as the default option ("check this box to be an organ donor" vs "check this box to opt out of being an organ donor"). Does a person need to be rational in order to have free will?

I'd like to suggest that it's not an all-or-none affair, but yes: rationality is part of free will. One way to think about it is to ask what kind of "free will" would be worth caring about. A will that's not able to respond to reasons is one I wouldn't want to have, and any sense in which it would be "free" seems to me to be pretty Pickwickian. This point doesn't settle the question of how free will and determinism are related. Robert Kane's version of libertarianism, for instance, doesn't call up any obvious conflict between free will and reason. That's partly because reason doesn't always dictate a single course of action. It would be reasonable of me to work on my administrative duties for the rest of the afternoon, and also reasonable to spend the time on research. But it wouldn't be reasonable to tear off my britches and run naked into the street, and I don't think the fact that this would be beyond me (absent a very good reason) to mean I don't have free will. So yes: little glitches in our...

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