Nice article. THANKS!
Some of my favorite parts of the article:
“These discoveries about how our brains work can also explain how free will works rather than explaining it away. But first, we need to define free will in a more reasonable and useful way. Many philosophers, including me, understand free will as a set of capacities for imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one’s reasons for choosing them, planning one’s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires. We act of our own free will to the extent that we have the opportunity to exercise these capacities, without unreasonable external or internal pressure. We are responsible for our actions roughly to the extent that we possess these capacities and we have opportunities to exercise them.”
Plus I particularly liked the last two lines of the article….it reminded me of Daniel Dennetts’ book: ‘Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting’
I’ve been waiting for an article like this. It seems that the discourse on free-will has become largely a game of semantics.
I might add though, that Will Provine makes an interesting case against free-will; here are some of his thoughts from an article that appeared in The Cornell Daily Sun:
“Choices are not fee will. I make choices all the time. I like doing things my way. It’s not about choices. It’s about the procedure. The procedure is not free. Nothing about it is free,” said Provine.”
Provine argues that, from an evolutionary standpoint, genetic traits and environmental influences determine the actions of an organism. In the book he is currently writing on the topic, he cites factors including heredity, uterine environments, parental influences and peer influences as factors that affect an individual’s free will.”
If, according to Provine, the procedures involved with a notion of free-will are, in fact, not free, then how can we have free-will? I am not entirely convinced but it is interesting….any thoughts?
I really believe the debate about free will needs a spiritual and theological perspective. God is imminent in the world, and permeates every part of the cosmos, including the human mind and body. Neuroscience will never get a grip on the mind, or consciousness, without an appreciation that God is in control of all things. It may be hard to prove scientifically that God exists, but it is also hard to prove consciousness exists. It doesn’t mean God or consciousness don’t exist. In my opinion, God clearly exists, and is more real to me even than my own body. Don’t ignore God!
Also, Steven, I neglected to mention the following:
There are an abundance of theological and spiritual perspectives on free will and human action, but they are usually quite impoverished. From Calvin to Augustine, and Hick to Frame, I have yet to read a compelling, theologically based theory of agency which does not turn on absurdities or blind articles of faith. If you know of one you find particularly compelling I would be interested in reading it.
Steven wrote: “In my opinion, God clearly exists, and is more real to me even than my own body. Don’t ignore God!”
On what grounds do you base this opinion? E.g. what is so clear about God’s existence other than your opinion regarding it?
Also, while we are on the topic, are you aware of the evolutionary mechanisms at work in human beings, such as perceived agency, that lend themselves quite well to religious explanations of the world?
A short but excellent primer on this topic is “Why We Believe in God(s): A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith” by J. Anderson Thomson. I have a short review of the book on my personal blog, and can provide a link should you wish to read it.
I simply fail to understand how people could think ‘God’, ‘a soul’, or ‘an immaterial mind’ could better explain consciousness.
The hard problem of consciousness (which I happen to think is not a philosophical problem at all but rather a scientific one) turns on a supposed difficulty of materialism to account for consciousness. Even granting this, it is not at all clear how postulating an immaterial mind, etc., does any better. In fact, I would argue, it does a fair bit worse:
Dualist: “How could a complex material object obtain consciousness?”
Materialist: “Not sure. There is some pretty good scientific work being done in this field. Thus far, we can identify brain operations which control- indeed, constitute- much of what is commonly included in ‘consciousness’, such as sense of identity, personality, ability to empathize, love, etc. That aside, I have to ask: how could a non-physical thingamajig (whatever the hell that is) account for consciousness?”
Inevitably the dualist’s response amounts to this: “Well, I have no scientific research program. No testable hypotheses. So, I guess it just does!”
I hope you know, from what you may have read of my posts here and on Philosophy & Polity, that you and I share much common ground with regard to views of substance dualism. I would also echo your charge that, despite the alleged inability of materialism to provide a ‘concrete’ answer to the problem of consciousness, the issues attendant to a dualist’s worldview far outweigh any immediate lack of explanation for the materialist. Especially given that, as you rightly point out, we can expect further clarification as studies in this area mature and develop. No such hope appears to exist for dualism, unless Mr. Brenner can share some studies which point to the necessity of an immaterial substance at work in human consciousness.
RE: Andrew’s response
I do not find Aaron’s characterization above to be inept, childish, populist, crude, emotionally charged, etc. In fact, I would counter that your own use of such ascriptions reflects more upon your own emotional response to attacks against dualism than any on Aaron’s part.
Further, it ought to be immediately apparent to all but the most casual thinker that the perception of a phenomenon does not in any substantial way provide evidence for the existence of that phenomenon. Subjective perception of consciousness as a function/property of some metaphysical agent is as weak a justification for substance dualism as a perception of freedom is for belief in freedom of the will in any robust sense.
Substance dualism clashes with findings in neuroscience in a similar way as the old view of emotions being seated in the heart clashed with findings in basic physiology and biology. As we came to understand more about how the human body functions, this view of emotions fell away in all but colloquial use. Why should substance dualism be any different?
Whenever I listen to substance dualists argue for their thesis (which, I should add, I think is not sufficiently cogent), I am reminded of a Bertrand Russell quote (made in quite different context):
“The method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil. Let us leave them to others and proceed with our honest toil.”
The dualist simply postulates that an immaterial mind, soul, or ‘God’ accounts for consciousness. I say let us leave them to their empty, postulatory mental masturbations and proceed with our neuroscience.
I enjoyed the philosophy slam. Aaron seems kinder live than he does on this blog. I am not sure why it feels that way to me. Aaron (as the speaker) seemed quite kind to all questioners. Aaron seemed (at the slam) genuinely in search for truth not bent on being right.
I am reading a book by Popper. Here is a quote that seems appropriate here:
“The wrong view of science betrays itself in craving to be right; for it is not possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth”
I like Aaron’s definition of atheist as he offered it at the slam. If I understood him correctly, he didn’t say he was 100% sure there was no God. He said that the atheist simply believes that it is more probable than not that there is no God. My boyfriend is the president of the FCFS(an atheist group). He agrees with that definition except he would say there are other varieties of atheism. One other kind is the person who has never been exposed to theism. BUT I liked the succinct definition that Aaron offered.