“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intention emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. 

“Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.“

~ Sam Harris, 

Oh, there is the rub. “we are not responsible for them”. 

“Moral responsibility

“The belief in free will has given us both the religious conception of “sin” and our commitment to retributive justice. The U.S. Supreme Court has called free will a “universal and persistent” foundation for our system of law, distinct from “a deterministic view of human conduct that is inconsistent with the underlying precepts of our criminal justice system” (U.S. v. Grayson, 1978). 

“What does it mean to take responsibility for an action?”

~ Sam Harris 

What motivates an individual to harm another? 

Some individuals are dangerous, for whatever reason, and present a risk to others. Actions taken, for whatever reason, reveals the kind of person one is. The motivation for action may lie deep within the subconscious mind, and it is the thought that resides in the person that gives meaning to the name. 

Ed Lindaman, my mentor, stated “who you are gives meaning to your name”. Meaning comes from the conscious and unconscious mind. We can’t see into the mind of another; the only evidence we have is observable behaviors.

~ Ed Lindaman  




"Dispensing the illusion of free will allows us to focus on the things that matter - assessing risk, protecting innocent people, deterring crime, etc.”

~ Sam Harris , Free Will 


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Comment by kathy: ky on August 13, 2014 at 3:33pm
Joan, I'm sure we've all noticed how animal's seem to be attracted to some people and shy away from others. This always puzzles me. I'm not a cat person, because they set off allergies, but most cats seem to like me. A lot! A friends cat loves to rub on me. But she's afraid of most people and won't come near them. She hides when anyone comes in. She's never hidden from me. I wonder what they are picking up on?
Comment by Idaho Spud on August 13, 2014 at 3:07pm

Joan and Freethinker31, the words make no sense to me as well.  I quit following the last free will discussion very quickly because it made no sense.  I only started following this one because Joan is the one that started it.

I'm getting ready to quit this one also, because it's also very confusing.  For one thing, I can't figure out Joan, if you are for, against, or just trying to make sense of it.

Another question.  Of what practical use is it for me to understand it?  

I once started reading Plato's The Republic, and got disgusted with it very quickly.  From what little I read, I concluded that he only made points by having the person he was questioning agree with everything he said immediately.  A yes man.  I would have wanted to spend hours, if not weeks, on each question instead of immediately saying I agree.

Never took to philosophy.  Even when young, I got the idea that a person could spend a lifetime on philosophy, and find far less truths than the same amount of time spent doing science.

Comment by Future on August 13, 2014 at 12:39pm
I have a 90 minute commute. :(
But it gives me 3 hours/day of audio book time. :)
Comment by Future on August 13, 2014 at 7:26am
My cats are definitely creatures of habit. They follow almost the exact same routine every morning while I scoop their litter box and prepare their food (because I'm a creature of habit between 4:45 am and 6:00 pm). However, every once in a while they will do something out of the ordinary, because even they are free to choose a variation in their routine.
Comment by Joan Denoo on August 12, 2014 at 8:14pm

This is a cartoon Daniel Dennet used in one of his videos on free will. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on August 12, 2014 at 7:57pm

@Freethinker31, Oh! I agree. The trouble I have with the discussions on free will, is that the words make no sense to me. Trying to find words and metaphors to clarify the definition of free will leaves me with more questions than understanding. 

Let me try again at a definition that makes sense to me. I do not want a definition out of the apologetic which is nothing more than rationalizing ideas to make them fit traditional religious values, 

"an agent has the capacity to choose his or her course of action."

"free will is the capacity unique to persons that allows them to control their actions."

"free will is freedom of action and moral responsibility."

“A free agent is he that can do as he will, and forbear as he will, and that liberty is the absence of external impediments.”

Thomas Hobbes

"David Hume thought that free will (or “liberty,” to use his term) is simply the “power of acting or of not acting, according to the determination of the will: that is, if we choose to remain at rest, we may; if we choose to move, we also may.… This hypothetical liberty is universally allowed to belong to everyone who is not a prisoner and in chains.” 

David Hume

From my own experience and with humans and with animals, the agent often has a reflexive action of attraction or aversion that is not based on known environmental factors. There may be a reflexive action that is based on unknowable events from earlier events, that attracts one to a decision or choice that does not have a knowable cause.

One example is my strong aversion to topics sexual. I don't know where that comes from, although I have an idea. Another is my attraction to bearded men that has no basis in my memory. I once hired a house painter because he had a beard. Why? I have no idea. However, I trusted him to be a good painter and he was an outstanding one. 

When it comes to animals, my cats and dogs had aversion to some people and not others. They also had an attraction to some and not others. Why? I have no idea. 

Comment by Joan Denoo on August 12, 2014 at 4:21pm

I like both Harris and Hitchens because they make sense to me. They say enough to be clear on the point they make and enough to jump over a paragraph if their issues are clear. I am not a philosopher with training or experience with philosophical jargon, although it seems to make sense to others. Try as I may, I can't seem to untangle the verbiage.  

Comment by Future on August 12, 2014 at 12:56pm
Some, like Sam Harris, claim it is all predetermination on a neural level. While there might be some science to vaguely support that, it is impractical and potentially reckless to promote such a concept, since we are no where near having the scientific ability to make accurate predictions on who may be a risk, and we probably never will be. Imagine telling the proud parents of a newborn baby that their child will eventually be responsible for the death of some innocent people, based on some algarythmic projection in a supercomputer. Where do you go with that?
Comment by Andrew Bradford Hoke on August 12, 2014 at 11:37am
I suppose we are discussing free will as opposed to pre-determination. Is that right?
Comment by Future on August 12, 2014 at 7:10am
Joan, you are conflating instinct with free will. Yes, the octopus needs to eat, but if given options on what to eat, the octopus is as unpredictable as you or I am when we're standing in Baskin Robins deciding amongst 31 flavors. My favorite flavor is mint chocolate chip, but I've also randomly picked any other flavor on a given day, for no other reason than "that sounds good".



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