Philosophical Multicore

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Archive for the ‘Free Will’ Category

Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Justice

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 30, 2012

Free will is an illusion [1]. What does this say about moral responsibility?

If the purpose of morality is to maximize the happiness of sentient beings, as I often claim, then whether free will exists is irrelevant. In fact, whether free will exists does not matter as long as morality focuses on the consequences of actions, rather than their motives.

The traditional argument goes: if free will is an illusion, then we are not in control of our own actions, which means we cannot be held responsible for them. So it doesn’t matter what actions we take, right? We can run around killing people, right? Well, no. Our actions still matter just as much as they ever did: they affect the outside world whether they are the product of free will or the result of deterministic processes. Others are still affected by our actions. We still feel emotions, even if those emotions arise deterministically.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ethics, Free Will, Utilitarianism | 2 Comments »

Free Will and Compatibilism

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 1, 2012

I have argued that free will does not exist. In short, I argue that any action is either deterministic or random, and neither is free. This is a well-known philosophical position that is similar to determinism. Some posit that determinism is true and free will does exist; this is known as compatibilism. I do not object to this position, so I must explain why I continue to suppose that free will does not exist.

From an incompatibilist perspective, there is no reason to support free will. Evidence (not to mention logic) clearly demonstrates that every event is either deterministic or random. But I can see the merits to compatibilism, which effectively redefines free will so that it exists. Under the definition I gave in the article linked at the beginning of this essay, free will clearly does not exist. But under a different definition, it may exist. I can understand that a different definition may be useful in a different situation. I continue to assume that free will does not exist, because it does not exist under the definition of free will that I like best.

This debate’s significance primarily lies in the question of moral responsibility: If free will does not exist, some argue that we are not responsible for our actions. However, based on what I see as the most sensible definition of moral responsibility, free will is irrelevant. The only reason to define someone as morally responsible is if that definition will influence people to do more good than they would have done otherwise. (I will write about this more in a future essay, which I will (hopefully) publish soon.)

For my purposes, the incompatibilist definition of free will makes more sense. Some prefer the compatibilist definition; as long as we are clear on what our terms mean, I have no problem with using a different definition. I simply see no reason to.

Posted in Ethics, Free Will, Philosophy, Utilitarianism | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Free Will: Proven?

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 4, 2009

On this page, you can look at an image and it gives you two choices:

I wanted the arrows to point to the right, SAW them pointing to the right, and am GOING to the right

I wanted the arrows to point to the left, SAW them pointing to the left, and am GOING to the left

I initially saw the arrows pointing to the right, so I clicked on the hyperlink for that option.

CONGRATULATIONS. You have just taken an action which is not determined by anything else (since the figure can be seen either way) and which you controlled (since you decided which way to see the figure).

It’s proven! I have free will then! But not really though. Either the first or the second premise is false. Probably the first.

I saw the arrows pointing to the right. But it was determined by something else. What? I don’t know. My best guess is that, since green is a “stronger” color then yellow, I saw the green arrows (which were pointing to the right) first. Assume that the decision was not determined by something else, though. In that case, it must have been random. So it was a completely arbitrary decision, and not really based on free will.

Posted in Free Will, Philosophy | 2 Comments »

Moral Responsibility and Free Will

Posted by Michael Dickens on September 24, 2009

What if we truly do not have free will? What does that mean? Does it mean that we are not responsible for our actions, since we are not in control of them?

There is flawed logic here already. We are still in control of our actions, even though we do not have free will. We make a rational decision to put one foot in front of the other. It is entirely a matter of choice. But not free choice.

The question of moral responsibility comes back to the roots of responsibility. My own definition of responsibility is this:

The entity that is responsible for some outcome is the one who was most aware that the outcome would occur and the one who was most able to change the outcome.

This definition in no way relies upon free will. In this sense, moral responsibility lies upon the most active agent and not just upon agents with free will. Therefore, moral responsibility can be applied to all rational agents, not just those that happen to have free will.

Posted in Free Will, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

Is free will ever possible? Like, ever?

Posted by Michael Dickens on June 25, 2009

Free will requires the following:

1. That the entity be capable of rational decisions independent of external input.
2. That the entity has the ability to be completely unpredictable. (This does not mean that the entity will be unpredictable all the time, only that it is possible.)
3. That the entity is responsible for all decisions.

It follows from (3) that decisions cannot be random. So (2) and (3) seem contradictory. Unless . . . what if the entity is responsible for decisions, but the decisions are still random? Is this possible? Unfortunately, no. The only case in which it works is if the entity is combining a random result with a personal decision, which violates (1).

Let’s defy logic here. Maybe that will work. What if the entity is both responsible for all decisions and not responsible for all decisions? Well that doesn’t make any sense.

In conclusion, free will is not ever possible. Like, never.

Posted in Free Will, Philosophy | 5 Comments »

God does not have free will.

Posted by Michael Dickens on June 25, 2009

You’d think that God, being omnipotent and all that, would be able to have free will. But even God is subject to determinism.

Free will is impossible, since an event is either predetermined or random. So not even God can have free will. He still has to make choices, and those choices are determined somehow. God cannot have free will. Interestingly, this is a proof that God is not omnipotent, since he is incapable of making free choices and can therefore not do everything.

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Free Will

Posted by Michael Dickens on May 15, 2009


Free will: The capability to make a free choice.
Free choice: A choice that ultimately is not influenced by any outside entity and completely unpredictable, but also is completely rational from the perspective of the entity making the choice.
Note that a being with free will does not have to make every choice a free choice, but must only be capable of making a free choice.

Why Free Will Is Impossible

1. Every event is either caused by something or caused by nothing.
2. If an event is caused by something: it is not free because it is a reaction dependent on external cause.
3. If an event is caused by itself: events can’t be their own cause so this is impossible.
4. If an event is caused by nothing: it is unpredictable and therefore random; randomness is not free will.

Therefore, free will cannot exist.

Posted in Free Will, Philosophy | 5 Comments »

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