Test Your Intuition 33: The Great Free Will Poll

Free will is defined (following Wikipedea) as the ability of humans to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded. But you may take your favorite definition of free will.  Philosophers (and others) have debated the definition of “free will” and the question if humans have free will for over two thousands years.

Answer at your free will

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14 Responses to Test Your Intuition 33: The Great Free Will Poll

  1. Foster Boondoggle says:

    I have free will, but no one else does. Just as I alone have subjective experience.

    (The usual debate where people talk past each other is based on a category error. Free will is what the mechanical operation of nature’s laws “feels like from the inside”. An electron freely chooses to jump to a lower energy state in a hydrogen atom and emit a photon. Don’t @ me.)

  2. Ori says:

    The wikipedia definition is meaningless (or rather, have too many meanings). I believe I have the same free will as an electron, which I don’t have free will according to most people, so I voted no.
    Anyway, I am eagerly waiting the answer to this TYI…

  3. Alexandre Zani says:

    Taxes are theft and there is free will.

  4. omer says:

    Free will may be an illusion, but that does not mean it does not exist.

  5. There are two distinct definitions of free will found in our dictionaries:

    Free Will
    Mirriam-Webster on-line:
    1: voluntary choice or decision ‘I do this of my own free will’
    2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

    Short Oxford English Dictionary:
    1 Spontaneous will, inclination to act without suggestion from others.
    2 The power of directing one’s own actions unconstrained by necessity or fate.

    Wiktionary:
    1. A person’s natural inclination; unforced choice.
    2. (philosophy) The ability to choose one’s actions, or determine what reasons are acceptable motivation for actions, without predestination, fate etc.

    The first one I paraphrase this way: “free will is when we decide for ourselves what we will do, when free of external coercion or other undue influence.” This is the one that most people automatically use when given a practical scenario and asked whether the person acted of his own free will or not.

    For example, after the Boston Marathon bombing, the Tsarnaev brothers hijacked a car and forced the driver at gunpoint to assist in their escape. Everyone would agree that the driver was not aiding them of his own free will. But the brothers themselves, were acting of their own free will when they forced the driver at gunpoint to come along.

    The second definition is a bit of nonsense that creates the paradox that has been puzzling some “philosophers” for a very long time. It suggests that in order to have free will one must also be free from causation. The reason I call it “nonsense” is because, without reliable cause and effect, we could never reliably cause any effect, and would thus have no freedom to do anything at all.

  6. Yiftach says:

    I am usually not fond of philosophical discussions. However, I will say something about this one. For me free will is not an ability, but a feeling. So you have free will if you feel you have free will. I guess it is similar to those who define a Jew as someone defining themselves as a Jew.

    • Yftach, Over in the RationalRealm blog, the author pointed out that we don’t normally feel freedom, but rather we experience a constraint upon our freedom, and notice its release.

      I kinda look at free will not as a feeling, but as something we empirically observe. For example, if we notice a woman go into a restaurant, sit down, then peruse the menu for a while, and then place her order, we would say that she did so of her own free will.

      But if she comes in with a child, and the child demands to eat his dessert first, and she tells him he must finish his vegetables before he can have his dessert, so he grumpily eats his vegetables, then we would say he did not eat them of his own free will.

      • Let’s say that the mother does not know if the child wants to eat its vegetables before the dessert and plans on forcing her child to eat the veggies in the case that the child refuses. Now it is clear that the child will eat the vegetables. Now the child eats the veggies on its own and the mother does not have to do anything. Then you would say that the child does so of its own free will? Because this is what everyone in the restaurant would observe (maybe except for the mother who knows about her evil plan)?

      • Since the child chose to eat the vegetables of his own free will, without being forced, then it is of his own free will. (Frankfurt case demonstrating PAP is baloney, correct?)

      • Yes, it should be Frankfurt’s case against PAP.

      • If I may offer a few words from my blog about “possibilities”:

        Yes, I Could Have Done Otherwise (the Semantics of Possibilities)

        Deterministic inevitability is about what will happen in the real world. But this in no way restricts what can and cannot happen. The inevitable and the possible exist in separate semantic contexts.

        When speaking of what we can and cannot do, our context is the mental process of imagination. We use our imagination to play out possible futures, to estimate what comes of choosing this option rather than that option.

        We can have as many possibilities as we can imagine. If we foresee an insurmountable roadblock for one possibility, then we may discard it as an “impossibility”. If a possibility is not feasible to implement, then we say it is not a “real” possibility. But all possibilities that could be implemented, if chosen, are referred to as real possibilities.

        The possibility that we implement becomes the inevitable actuality. Our choice is the inevitable result of our purpose and our reasons. Our purpose and our reasons are the inevitable result of who we are at that moment. Who we are at that moment, is the inevitable result of our interactions with our physical and social environment up to that point, including all the other choices we made along the way. We are active participants in causally determining who we become.

        So, we begin with multiple possibilities, and from them we choose what will become the single inevitable actuality.

        Now, if things don’t turn out as we imagined they would, then we may reconsider our choice, and consider what we could have done otherwise. This mental process of reconsideration is how we learn from our mistakes, and how we adjust our future choices to produce better outcomes.

        If we had more than one real possibility, then it is always true that we could have done otherwise. But, it is also true that we wouldn’t have done otherwise, at that unique point in time.

        The “hard” determinist’s assertion that we could not have done otherwise, because everything we do is inevitable, would be ass-backwards. We begin with what we could do, and from that we choose the inevitable actuality.

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