Hi, what an awesome website! I have another free will related question to add to the heap! I saw an interview with Steven Weinberg, the Nobel Prize winning physicist and, I don't remember the precise phrasing, but he said something like 'I know of no law saying that nature is here to make physicists happy.' He wasn't referring to free will, but it got me thinking about something... From what I've read and heard in papers and talks (which is certainly not nearly exhaustive), it seems that their is a tendency for those who chime in on the free will issue (even professional philosophers) to approach it from the perspective that the challenge is to show that free will does not or cannot exist. What I mean is that there seems to be a tacit presumption that since we "feel" free, the burden of proof is on those who contend we are in reality not free. I understand this perspective (and it is not unique to the free will debate), but it seems to presuppose some kind of rule that says that our feelings constitute evidence in favor of something that feelings, by nature, can't really provide dispassionate evidence for. I was surprised by how many philosophers (I'm not surprised by how many non-philosophers) exhibit this tendency (often without acknowledgement). It's not that we should discount our feelings completely even if it were possible, but to my knowledge they don't offer an initial leg up to any angle of this debate. Thanks so much for any comments!!!

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I don't think we need to invoke feelings in order to assign the burden of proof to those who challenge the existence of free will. In the literal sense, feelings have nothing to do with it: I don't think we have reason to believe, for instance, that causally undetermined actions have a characteristic "feel" to them that causally predetermined actions lack. But neither do we have reason to believe that they don't have a characteristic feel to them. So you're right that it's only fair to leave the phenomenology -- the literal feel of our actions -- out of it.

There's also the metaphorical use of "feel," as in "I just feel that human beings sometimes act freely." Feelings in that sense too are irrelevant, I think. But the reason that those who challenge the existence of free will bear the burden of proof is that pre-philosophically -- i.e., before examining the issue philosophically -- we start with a widespread set of beliefs and practices according to which people do at least sometimes act freely, i.e., act in ways for which they are morally responsible and for which they can properly be praised or blamed. There's no denying that nearly all of us believe that people sometimes act in such ways and no denying that widespread practices reflect that belief.

Given that starting-point, therefore, we need some reason to move from it: we don't change our beliefs just for the sake of changing them (even if that were psychologically possible). So those who challenge our beliefs and practices concerning free will bear the burden of giving reasons why our beliefs are false and our practices are baseless. This isn't to say that such reasons don't exist, only that overturning the status quo requires them.

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