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Yet another free will question.

  1. Jun 19, 2008 #1
    Apologies in advance, as I know this has been discussed before.

    I believe that, ultimately, the human body is comprised of nothing more than inanimate matter. Yes it's complex, but every organ, in fact every cell in the body, is ultimately comprised of atoms and associated sub-atomic particles. Break the human body down that far, and eventually its pieces are indistinguishable from pieces of rock, water, or interstellar dust.

    If we are ultimately built from inanimate matter, how could we ever have free will? Our bodies, and very likely our thoughts, are the results of interactions between lifeless particles.

    How is there free will?

    Is free will a myth?

    To tell you the truth, I'd feel better about my life if I knew that free will was a myth. Sounds sad, but that is how I feel.
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2008 #2
    We couldn't have true free will if we are built only out of inanimate matter that is described by current physical theories.

    As far as free will being a myth, if we are wrong about that, then we are most likely wrong about all of our science experiments as well. If I cannot be trusted to accurately report whether I have free will, how can I be trusted to accurately report my observations? If I am wrong about being free, then why would I be right about anything?

    Life would be easy if there was no free will, because then there would be no responsibility. In existentialism, anytime that we ignore our freedom is called "bad faith." Even weak arguments against free will e.g. "society made me do it" are comforting forms of bad faith.
  4. Jun 19, 2008 #3

    Doc Al

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    Before you guys get too far down the yellow brick road, why don't you define what you mean by "free will"? (And why do you want it?)
  5. Jun 19, 2008 #4


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    Can you please describe a rigorously developed experiment that can be performed to determine whether you have free will? We need to all get on the same page first (but then, that's something I seem to want to say in most every philosophical discussion).
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2008
  6. Jun 20, 2008 #5
    Really Crosson, this is going a bit to far even for you. Nothing in the above makes any sense at all, just assertion after assertion.

    How can you not see that philosophy is entirely a human creation, and cannot be applied to questions in physics. Philosophy has many wonderful applications, but it is not all in compassing nor is it science.
  7. Jun 20, 2008 #6
    1. Do chimps have libertarian free will as well? If not, we have to introduce a load of shaky ad hoc postulates.

    2. Exactly when in our evolutionary history did organisms start to acquire libertarian free will? How do you know?

    2. If libertarian free will does exist, we are most likely wrong about all of our science experiments, since there is nothing that suggests that our views of the world are causally connected to the real world, since libertarian free will asserts that our will is acausal.

    3. We actually experience determinism, not libertarian free will. We go to the bathroom because we want to relieve ourselves. We eat because we are hungry. We hug our wifes because we love them. What we experience are causal processes, not acausal ones. We always act for some reason. We are not unlimited in what we can do. To say that we have libertarian free will is to state that we act for no reason at all. Indeed, if we act for a reason, because this reason determines us to act, then that's by definition determinism. If libertarian free will existed and we act for no reason at all, it would be a horrible nightmare. So the argument back fires; If I cannot be trusted to accurately report whether I act for a reason, how can I be trusted to accurately report my observations? If I am wrong about acting for a reason, then why would I be right about anything?

    Even leading libertarian free will thinkers agree

    "no description of our desires, beliefs, character, or other aspects of our makeup and no description of the universe prior to and at the moment of our choice ... is sufficient to say that we did it" (J. P. Moreland in Geivett eds. 1997)

    4. As we have seen, libertarian free will completely eliminates responsibility since it entails that we act for no reason at all (our behavior is random). Only determinism (acting for and because a reason) can save moral responsibility.

    I suggest reading "Freedom Evolves" by Daniel Dennett or Carrier (2005, pp. 97-119), which are compatibilist accounts of how all the freedom worth wanting and moral responsibility is compatible with determinism.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2008
  8. Jun 30, 2008 #7
    A generalisation of this how can any system have some property which is absent in any component of that system.

    We can give a simple example of this. Take for example one molecule of some chemical substance.
    Now this single molecule does not have properties like liquid, gas, yet if we take many of those same molecules, we can see that it can have such properties.
  9. Jun 30, 2008 #8
    Yes, stating that humans have no free will because atoms have no free will is the composition fallacy. However, even if we assume for the moment that libertarian free will is possible, organisms with libertarian free will would be at a serious disadvantage in evolutionary processes for the reason(s) argued above.

    Dennett argues that compatibilistic freedom is that the sum of particles have more compatibilistic freedom than the individual parts.
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