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More denial of will.

--Preamble: I would like to flesh out my remarks from June 23, 2008. This is an attempt to make a more coherent whole out of comments made at the Forum over at GameFAQs. Those familiar with my postings there may find little new in this entry.--

There are no acts of will. For there is no will. Thus concepts such as 'free will' or 'constrained will' are meaningless. In denying the usefulness, meaningfulness, and existence of the will as a special faculty (and thus any basis for questions of free will), I deny terms and distinctions such as 'determinism'. Of course, not everyone agrees with me.

Determinists claim we do not have free will because either some deity, arbitrary fate, or the laws of physics constrain the will in an important and meaningful fashion (typically due to everything being thus predetermined), perhaps leaving us without personal responsibility. Some supporters of 'free will' (as concept) respond, 'Determinism is meaningless to everyday life.' They point out that experience (specifically, the subjective feeling of having and making choices) seems inconsistent with determinism. Even were this not so, even if determinism were the case, we could never confirm it through testing or prediction because the universe is far too complex. Thus, determinism (true or not) is without bearing on people.

I agree, except that I do not believe determinism can be true or false. I believe it is nonsense, because it is built upon the nonsensical concepts of the will and volition.

It has been argued the will has proven to be a useful concept, or if not useful, at least too pervasive a concept to be entirely mistaken. But simply having some idea is no justification for continued belief in it. Concepts of will and volition are neither necessary nor all that helpful to matters of choice or mindful action. Instead, they cause complications and confusion. It is better to leave behind these ideas laden with obsolete philosophical and psychological ideas. Volitional acts as an exercise of the will necessary to conscious action stand as the basis for any conception of the will which allows for questions of 'free will', but neither experience nor any science I am aware of can confirm such a thing. Should we insist on continuing to talk about will in terms of experience, we must admit it is not a special faculty or a component of every intentional act, but merely a particular kind of wishing (sometimes accompanied by wish fulfillment), as where one wills oneself to get out of bed when sick and weak.

"Objection! Aren't choices acts of will? Doesn't my picking out clothes to wear exhibit free will?" No. Choice and will may be synonymous to many, but they are not equivalent. If someone were to pull a gun on me and demand my wallet, and were I to give it to him, I would not do so freely; my choices would have been constrained. But those who believe in free will cannot claim this as an instance of my supposed metaphysical will not being free just because I did something I didn't particularly want to do (any more than they would say acceptance of some much desired gift is not free). So, my choices were controlled in this instance, but my (supposed) will was (supposedly) free; the two are not the same. One need not deny choice in order to deny the will.

"But, if there's no will, we're not responsible for our actions, right?" Not so. Since will and action are not necessarily related, since choice and will are not inseparable (for choices can be made even where a person who buys into the idea of free will would say the will is constrained), and since responsibility is explainable, justifiable, and typically addressed without reference to the will, I see no necessary or important connection between responsibility and the will.


  1. grahznybratchny11/06/2008 2:47 PM

    Wow. What an odd point of view. I'm not sure I understand all the implications of it either. So you think that all human actions are uncaused?

  2. No. That would be odd, though there are some 'compatibalists' (folks who accept the determinist argument to a degree, but still think we have free will) who like to claim free will may be (or arise from) random, uncaused movements of quantum particles. I find the idea ludicrous, regardless of whether or not quantum physics has some impact upon the daily lives of people.

    In denying the relevance of the will to our decisions, I do not claim our acts are untethered from the world (macro or micro). We exist in the world and are a part of it. Our thoughts and actions occur in the world, and are meaningful only in so far as this is true. Our actions tend to be causal in nature, if they are not always so. But this is no bar to our making choices, or taking (or being made to take) responsibility, and it does not lead us to any reason to believe the will (as it is relevant to daily life) can be free or restrained. It does not lead us to any conclusions about the will at all. It just means we are in the world.

    It is important to note I take my cue, loosely, from Gilbert Ryle (despite the echo of an existentialist philosopher's diction)--not just when it comes to the will, but also in terms of philosophy of mind. Thought is action, and mindful action is thought. Action occurs not in some occult space, but in the physical world.

    Of course our actions are informed by the world as it is, and was; we are a part of the world. It seems perverse for determinists to claim this strips us of freedom, choice, responsibility, or meaning. Meaning exists only in the context of the actual.

    And, no, that doesn't mean I think fiction is meaningless.


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