Free will


Free will is an important idea in ethics, politics, metaphysics and philosophy of mind, since it allows for many important conclusions and principles to be derived. For instance, the fundamental reasoning of a court (at least on some level, historically) that holds somebody responsible for a crime, is that they had a choice whether to commit the crime or not, and by choosing to commit it, they exhibit their deplorable moral character, warranting a punishment. We can see this in how in modern times, psychiatrists are able to declare someone unfit to take responsibility for their actions, which greatly impacts what kind of punishments may be meted out.

Free will can also be used as support for Cartesian dualism, the idea that the body is somehow essentially separate from the soul. Some people would perhaps argue that “we can perceive that we have a free choice, therefore we have a free will, therefore the soul is separate from the body”.

Without having gone too deeply into the literature about the topic, I will posit an idea. Clearly, it is not the case that the mind is perfectly separated from the body, since physical trauma, drugs, stimulants etc, can influence our thinking. On the other hand, the mind is not immediately joined to the body either. This is in the sense that there is no “happy button” or “sad button” that I can press on my skull, or a phrase I can hear, that immediately provokes the feelings of happiness or sadness. Such feelings come only in response to complex stimuli over time. And the mind may reconfigure its responses to a certain stimuli: we may decide to be brave in the face of fear, or sad in the face of something that used to make us happy. We may find a new understanding of some object. So if two extreme ways of thinking about the will are that it is 1) perfectly coupled with the body/surrounding world, or 2) perfectly decoupled from the body/surrounding world, maybe the most accurate way of thinking about a mind is as decoupled to a very high degree, but not perfectly, from the world.

Category: Philosophy | Tags: , , 2 comments »

2 Responses to “Free will”

  1. Monomorphic - Free will (2): Decision making, cause and effect

    […] we claim that an act was carried out as a decision made freely, we implicitly seem to say that the acting subject is fully responsible for the action at hand. In […]

  2. Monomorphic - The unfree will

    […] Do I suppose that my will is free? […]

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