So, Jerry Coyne is pretty much a determinist about free will, which at the extreme can be summarized as “We don’t really have it”. He talks about it here, summarizing someone else’s ideas of what it means:
Now, normally as you all know I tend to quote a lot from posts I comment on, but this time I’m not going to include any quotes at all. But if you read it, you’ll see that it basically boils down to this:
- Due to evidence x, y and z, we don’t seem to have meaningul choices or free will.
- Therefore, we should act differently because of the fact that we don’t have free will.
The problem with this is obvious, and is a common one stretching all the way back to at least B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” — which, yes, I have read — and probably long before that. In “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”, Skinner claims that we don’t have free will and all our actions are basically determined by environment and history, reports that we see that positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement … and then advocates that we condition others with positive reinforcement as opposed to negative reinforcement. The problem? How in the world can we be “free” enough to “choose” to change how we condition people so that they react appropriately without any of us having the ability to choose?
That’s the common issue that determinists always run into. They’re trying to convince us to accept their view that there is no free will, and that we don’t have meaningful choices. But to do that, we have to be able to have choices, or else we have to accept that it was determined long before they open their mouths whether or not we’d accept their recommendations, either on free will or how we have to act with respect to this lovely information about free will. And if we don’t have free will, neither do they, and so they will keep making this mistake just because they do; they can’t, in fact, meaningfully choose otherwise. If determinists are right, there are no meaningful choices all the way down … but then attempts to change behaviour are equally determined.
That’s the issue they face: they want to promote the lack of free will when our entire mindset and way of speaking presumes that we have free will. This should certainly put them behind the 8-ball, no matter what science says.
Tags: free will