Implications of the Free Will Debate?

At Templeton’s BQO site, Alfred Mele asks What Are the Implications of the Free Will Debate for Individuals and Society? But before looking at the content, let me comment on that title.

Sometimes titles are imposed by editors, but the chance that that one was put forward (or at least approved) by the author certainly reduced my expectation of learning anything from the article – and that reduced expectation turns out to have been appropriate.

The debate, being an extended event or occurrence, may have consequences, but since it is not a proposition it can’t have any implications, and confusion between these two concepts permeates the article – with significant impact on its conclusions. (Often such language is used without adverse consequence – a newspaper editorial on the “implications of a trade agreement” for example may legitimately use the word “implications” as a colloquial substitute for “expected consequences”. But in the context of this particular philosophical discussion the distinction is crucial.)

It may well be that, as some researchers claim to show, a belief in “lack of free will” may be associated with (and so perhaps even in some cases be a cause of) behaviour and opinions deemed to display a lack of self control.  And, if true, the fact of the debate having those consequences might imply that there are reasons to avoid it and instead to just encourage people to believe in the existence of  “free will” regardless of whether or not it is actually true – and this might apply even if the propositions established in the debate actually imply that all commonly held definitions of the term “free will” are either incoherent or refer to something that does not exist.

The research on consequences of the debate so far is not conclusive so I won’t address the question of whether or not it might be a good idea to promote the existence of “free will” even if it doesn’t exist (which of course also raises other questions as to the morality of claiming to serve the common good of our peers by deliberately misinforming them). Rather, I will just deal with whether the author has proposed a meaningful definition for something that does not not exist.

And he has not.

(I will continue this post with more on that later)


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