I’m not sure what it is about the concept of “free will”, but discussions of it always seem to bring out more heat than light. Recently, Jerry Coyne, over at the Why Evolution Is True site (he doesn’t like it being called a blog), has made several posts on the topic of free will. Then he promised no more, at least for a month. His post today, Why your concept of “free will” is important is the second one that breaks the promise (as Jerry admits).
I remember reading a book, several years ago, on the question of free will and determinism. The author was a determinist and incompatibilist, meaning that he held the view that we live in a deterministic world in which there is no free will. After presenting his thesis that denies free will, the author had a chapter which amounted a discussion of what you could do about the fact that you now know that you do not have free will. Or, as I like to describe it, that was a chapter about how you can use the free will that you do not have so as to make changes in your life that accommodate you to the fact that you do not have free will.
Well, that makes no sense at all.
Looking at Jerry Coyne’s latest post, I note that he says:
But that doesn’t end the discussion of determinism versus nondeterminism of human behavior, because one’s view on that question has profound implications for whether and how we punish people.
In effect, Jerry is saying that now that you know that the criminals did not have the free will to avoid committing the crime, you must use the free will that you do not have, in order to change how society deals with criminals.
Sorry, but that does not make sense either.