Category Archives: Free Will

Wagering on Free Will

If you don’t think the evidence can decide the question on free will, you might run a wager style argument, as some studies have suggested that belief in free will encourages moral behavior (Vohs KD, et al. Psychol Sci. 2008). 

Ah, but you object that wager-style arguments cannot motivate belief because you think doxastic voluntarism is false. Well, give it a shot and try to believe on the basis of this wager. And if you succeed, you will have more than pragmatic reasons for holding your belief. As William James puts it, “[t]here are… cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming” (The Will to Believe, 1896).

Belief in free will may be just the sort of belief that verifies itself, if one is able to believe in it while admitting the evidence isn’t sufficient on its own to compel belief.  If one chooses to believe because one thinks it is not a possibility closed off by science, and assesses the merits of the belief from pragmatic concerns, then one has the sort of first-person experience of freedom that libertarians tout even in the face of Libet tests.

In other words, see if you can bring yourself to believe in free will by wagering on it, and thus experiencing direct evidence of doxastic voluntarism, i.e. direct control over your own beliefs.

Does Quantum Mechanics Make Room for Freedom?

This clip from Dr. Michio Kaku has caused me to think a bit further about the free-will debate, or at least it contributed to my reflection!

Pierre-Simon Laplace once theorized that if a super-intellect were to know every force, and every vector of every motion of every atom in the entire universe, then that intellect would know the entire future history of the universe.  Laplace’s demon, as this intellect was known, is no longer tenable given what we now know about quantum mechanics.  Surprisingly, despite the death of this demon, determinism and compatibilism remain the dominate theories regarding free will.  Libertarian views of free-will are largely marginalized by the philosophical community–with only Kantians, Existentialists, and Religious philosophers maintaining the banner.

Quantum mechanics may reveal a world of indeterminacy, but how does this actually relate to the free-will question?  In my conversations with determinist, they often think that the appeal to quantum indeterminacy is an attempt to equate free will with randomness.  But clearly if free will is anything, it is not randomness, but self-determination.   The free-willer does not deny causal principles.  Rather, the free-willer thinks that we who are individuated, intentional, rational, moral beings play a unique role in the causal narrative.

The reason quantum indeterminacy is important to the free will debate is that it opens up a space that the Newtonian-Laplacean world-view had closed off.  We now know that, even in principle, no action or event can be completely reduced to the surrounding external causes.  Sure, external factors play a huge role in determining our behavior and choices.  No one denies this.  But indeterminacy opens up a space such that we cannot say for certain that a truly self-caused decision, thought, or action didn’t arise.  We cannot trace all of the vectors of all the atoms behind a person’s choice, so it may very well be that the person herself played an irreducible role in that choice.