Christopher Hitchens once averred that you don't.  Religionists claim that it is divinely endowed. Others claim that all are freelancers subject to subornation by others. Your thoughts?

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St. Augustine argued that we do not have free will to choose between good and evil.   He said that, due to original sin, human nature is evil, and we cannot choose good except by the grace of God.  His rival theologian, Pelagius, said that we are able to choose to do good rather than evil.  That is, we have the ability to choose to do God's will.   That is not my idea of free will.  

Humans chose, among other things, what to regard as good and what to regard as evil.  That is human free will: the ability to choose our own goals.   Humans vary in their capacity to control their own behavior in order to pursue rational goals consistently, however.  Addition is the most familiar example of the causal forces flowing through our brains compelling us to do evil, at least to ourselves. St. Augustine and Pelagius were both wrong.  Free will and determinism both affect our behavior.

Due to original sin human nature is evil. My, what the christian apologists will argue. I used to think "original sin" as in Genesis was simply that god said do not eat of the tree and they did anyway. This makes him a very mean god because he put the tree there in the first place. (oh, yes. It was to test us) Now we have other ideas of this "sin:"

1. Original sin was the desire to have the knowledge of good and evil.

2. Original sin was sex because their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked.

Using any of the above for ideas of "original sin" makes no sense whatsoever unless you see that man becomes god and replaces god! Maybe this is what the clergy has been arguing about all along. It's been going on for over 2000 years in this religion alone!

Do we have "free will?" Yes, but it is not entirely free. Our will is attached to everything we have ever known.

I do not understand your point about man becoming God.

In the bible itself one of the worries of JHVH was that if the humans ate of the tree "they will become like us knowing good and evil." This is in the plural for a reason, and it's also about man "becoming god" or he is "becoming like the gods." Perhaps it is a "sin" to become like god, or act like god, but the quest for knowledge is taking us there. Strange that "god" knew the whole time what man would do with the tree because we lived in his "garden." Man created god.

This is what its all about rather than sitting like Buddah and emptying our minds and saying "mmmmmmm" for long periods of time. That is good for clearing the mind and getting rid of stress though.

If man created god, therefore man becomes god. THIS is the great fight going on between secular humanists and fundies for more than the last 2000 years.

Thank you for the clarification, Dennis.  I tend to agree with what you say.  It leads me to a thought, however, about the question of whether we can change the future.   We are doing so right now. In our godlike creation of a world of cement and fossil-fuel powered machines to suit ourselves, we are destabilizing the natural environment around us that previously "just happened" according to natural laws (which are not necessarily deterministic.) The present and future are "anthropogenic," created by man, according to the hardest of hard scientists, the geologists.

I don't know what you're talking about, Homer. St. Augustine definitely was THE "popularizer" of free will. But his ideas were part of the "fleshing-out" of the concept of free will, which at the time, was not an established doctrine. As such, he wasn't perfectly consistent. In the main, he was the leading advocate for free will. Take a look at these 2 Wikipedia wiki entries:

Theologians of the Catholic Church universally embrace the idea of free will, but generally do not view free will as existing apart from or in contradiction to grace. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote extensively on free will, with Augustine focusing on the importance of free will in his responses to the Manichaeans, and also on the limitations of a concept of unlimited free will as denial of grace, in his refutations of Pelagius.

De libero arbitrio (lat. On Free Choice of the Will) is a book by Augustine of Hippo about the freedom of will. Young Augustine wrote it in three volumes, one 387-389 in Rome,after his baptism and the other two between 391 and 395, after his priestly ordination in Africa.

The author started De libero arbitrio as a part of a series of works against Manichaeism and argued in favor of aspects of Scepticism. Augustine challenged Determinism in the first volume and investigated the conditions of the existence of God and knowledge in the other two parts.

I quote the wikipedia article on St. Augustine:  Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped to formulate the doctrine oforiginal sin 

In other words, without God's grace humans do not have free will, because original sin has corrupted our nature.

There's always been this cognitive dissonance between free will and God's attributes (omniscience). It's almost impossible to avoid contradictions. St. Augustine was no exception. He was, nonetheless, the leading proponent of the then-immature concept of free will.

@Dr. Allan H. Clark,

My prior reply was a complete pain in the ass to write. I was in a hotel in Singapore and my laptop was acting up. I had no external mouse or keyboard attached, so I was using the built-in touch pad and keyboard. For some reason, the cursor kept bouncing around causing the text I was typing to get inserted in random places in the text I had already typed. I was constantly going back to cut out the misplaced text and paste it at the end, where it belonged. I was cussing my ass off.

And I didn’t really answer your questions as specifically as you phrased them. So, now that I’m back home and my laptop is working correctly, I’ll respond to your very specific questions.

You first asked: “Is it reasonable to say that it [determinism] is incompatible with free will in any definition of free will?”

I don't think so. But most folk don’t look at the issue in the same way that I do. To me, determinism is a consequence of causality in the inanimate realm. Until the advent of life and, especially, human beings, that means the entire physical universe and everything in it was inanimate. Animate beings are an infinitesimally small part of the universe and, in the grand schemes of things, won’t change its destiny. The universe began without life in it for billions of years and it will end without life in it for billions of years.

It’s possible that determinism is a false concept if the randomness of the quantum level affects or influences the macro level of existence. But, barring that, the physics of the inanimate realm – with its linear causality – appears to be absolutely deterministic. I’m assuming that it is. But life facilitates potentials for causality that inanimate matter can’t. Human beings, in particular, have created phenomena that could not and would not otherwise exist in an inanimate universe. For instance: a space probe flying through interstellar space; boot prints on the moon’s surface; television and radio signals emanating from Earth. These are all evidence of function and design: neither of which is possible with simple linear causality.

It takes reciprocal causality – interaction – to create functions and designs. We find ourselves in a physical universe of linear causality: a happy fact that makes it possible for us to design things in the first place. But that doesn’t prevent us from manifesting reciprocal causality. We exist in a causally deterministic universe but are not, ourselves, determined in the same way. Thanks to feedback, we function by reciprocal causation. We’re products of causally deterministic processes (genetics and physiology) but, because of reciprocal causation, are self-determined. Reciprocal causation loops with causality (stimuli): we influence ourselves as well as the world around us.

The inanimate universe unfolds like clockwork: cause and effect cascading for trillions of years: from the Big Bang to the eventual silent whimper of dissipating matter. Determinism, in the long run, is a certainty. But, for now, anything touched by life is not as set-in-stone as it once was. The Earth has a color it would not have without life on it. The moon weighs a few pounds less than it would have because we took samples from it. Instead of mere electromagnetic waves emanating from Earth, they’re actually signals: ordered waves – which can’t occur in an absolutely deterministic universe.

So, free will doesn’t prevent determinism from unfolding as usual. Determinism unfolds all around us. But free will does enable us to function differently than inanimate objects: to think and design and create things for an otherwise causally deterministic universe.

You then asked: “Is it possible that free will is simply a higher level emergent property of a very complex system?”

I think so. I think it’s part and parcel of human intelligence. You can’t have one without the other. If the brain is just a collection of atoms like anything else then not only would free will be impossible but so would the feedback that enables it . . . because atoms don’t enjoy feedback. And without feedback, you wouldn’t have human intelligence. And if you didn’t have intelligence, how would you know anything at all? How would you form concepts and abstractions? How would you be reading this reply?

Feedback and emergent phenomena go hand-in-hand, so I think it’s very likely that free will is an emergent property of the human brain.

All the Buddha demanded from the devotee was nothing less than the extinction of the ego. So, in my own investigation, I've come to see Buddhistic meditation as a kind of quietism, an experiment in consciousness where the purpose, in way to put it, is the cessation of thoughts. Now, that may seem anti-intellectual pastime, but I think you'd find, if you were to attempt it, you'd find it's quite a difficult psychological endeavor.

The more I look into it, the more it seems to imply that what is going on in meditation, is not only the cessation of thought, but the cessation of "personal will." Perhaps, this is what Gautama truly meant by "desire," after all, "desire" is what was translated by scholars in trying to decipher the Sanskrit and Pali languages. But I think "desire" leads to all these other connotations that may cause confusion, I believe that perhaps what was meant was something more subtle than "desire," and that is "personal will," your sense of "agency." So, it's not only thought that is an obstacle of your sense of "personal will," since you seemingly direct your thoughts, but there is also emphasis on breath. You can feel that you inhale or exhale, and that you will this to happen, but the goal of breath in meditation, if it is the cessation of "persona will" is to breathe involuntarily as in sleep. Do you will your breath in sleep? Gurus even speak of meditation being a "conscious sleep," and sleep an "unconscious meditation."

So, I think what one is attempting to rid of in meditation is this personal sense of "agency." Of course, you cannot "try" and rid of it. That would be like attempting to rid of your ego with your ego. So, just like the analogy of the ripples in the pond representing our thoughts, in order for the pond to become still, it must be left alone.

Ramesh Balsekar, a recently deceased Indian guru who was a practitioner of Advaita Vedanta, said it this way, "The only thing that one has to 'surrender to God' is his/her personal will." Alan Watts used to say, "Deos it do you or do you do it?" Sort of like Laura's question in an earlier post, "Is it 'running us' or are we 'running things'."

I suppose, if you take one side to its extreme, then you'd arrive at hard determinism, and that would leave no room for "free will," but then if you go to the other extreme, and then you have "free will," and how does that make sense? I've heard people say that the at the root of some quantum experiment, it's not "random," but "indeterministic." Laura spoke about how is "free will" constrained, and then referred to our ability to make the "best possible choice," but how does relate to someone who has severe brain damage or some other type of impairment or handicap? Are they any less free?

If there is any "constraint," it's that whatever you choose, you could have not chose otherwise. If things are truly "predetermined," then that means despite the degree of freedom you can seemingly entertain, whatever outcome occurs is inevitable. There's a lot of rhetoric in eastern philosophy and in religion in general surrounding the concepts of predestination and free will. For instance, in Hinduism, you'll often hear the rhetoric "There is no doer" or "nondoership" basically referring to free will as an illusion. In one interpretation, it's almost as if, yes, there is a cosmic law, and if you somehow distinguish this veil of "ego," then you see that all your actions (or anyone's actions) weren't necessarily your actions, but the actions of the universe itself, so they call it "nondoership" or "akarma." Perhaps this is why there's a lot of talk in Buddhism of "sentient beings," and that no matter where "sentient beings pop-up" or "life arises" in the multiverse, they ultimately have to succumb to this principle. It's an interesting concept, because then it says no matter how evolved a sentient being may be, it is in a way, no superior nor inferior to any other being (or thing, for that matter). I like to imagine that maybe this is why a buddha can sit in total acceptance and content.

I want to note that this is only my interpretation, and I'm not saying that this is how eastern philosophy is interpreted. Although, there are proponents such as Ramesh Balsekar who do see it as fatalism. But if you do take into consideration this interpretation, then it's as though they (buddhas) do not feel impelled to tell others of their insight, because from their perspective, everyone is, in a way, exactly how they should be according to a cosmic law. So, it wouldn't matter either way if they were ignorant to this revelation or not, there's no urgency for them to awaken from the hypnosis of the ego. So, they're not going to come knocking on your doors anytime soon.

I want one to say more thing about this topic before I say too much, and that is, I've always saw compatibilism as vaguely described by Daniel Dennett. Dennett sometimes relies on a metaphor involved with what he calls "evitability," which I could never truly get (maybe someone can help me). The way I've come to look at it, is perhaps there is a degree of "freedom" within our choices that we can explore, whether they're infinite or finite is another question, but for now let's say at any given moment, you're free to explore an infinite array of possibilities which include your thoughts, choices, actions, etc. This degree of freedom that we have is what I believe gives way to our overwhelming impression of "free will." Now, the caveat in that, according to compatibilism, is despite this seemingly free choice or conscious spontaneity, is that it is all predetermined. So, the two notions (free will and no free will) seem to be acting simultaneously. Is there anyone out there that gets Dennett's "evitability" example? 

"A sense of overriding futility is a vital part of the process. Embrace it." -Friedlander

@ Matt--Lukin.

...according to is all predetermined 

 You were doing okay(sort of) until you came up with the possibility of predetermination. Where does that fit in with this conversation. Are you inferring an orchestrator or saying things only unfold as they're supposed to ? To have wit and imagination would alone seem to rule out predestiny as a template for our actions and thoughts. Of course there are the constraints of physics and also of our species, but how is that a predictor of how anybody behaves as they set about their lives?

Well, in the eastern view, there's no "orchestrator" and it is, like you said, happening in and of itself, it is a principle in nature, a "cosmic law," if you will. So, there's no one who "started it," it's seen as an eternal causal chain, very similar to the cyclical universe model in the "multiverse theory." It is my interpretation, yes, that what eastern philosophy is getting at is that in this perspective "things unfold as they're supposed to." I left a couple of links of some people who articulate it a bit better than myself, but I didn't exactly emphasize the links, they're just there to click if you see "blue" text, but I'll repost them below if you didn't catch 'em. But I want to point out Buddhism's great emphasis on the letting go of "ego," because it is only the "ego" which we derive our sense of this indeterministic "free will." 


Uniquely Programmed Individual

Steven Gray - Nondual Mystery

Alan Watts - The Illusion of the Ego


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