Archive for December 12th, 2014

December 12, 2014

On free will

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent video, “The Dark Side of Free Will“, of a TEDx talk by philosopher Gregg Caruso (h/t Brian Leiter).

Caruso argues that we do not have free will.  However, the main point of his talk is to argue that belief in free will has undesirable consequences, so we would be better off dropping any such belief.

I don’t get it.  I do not see any substance to his argument.  But I suggest you watch the video and decide that for yourself.

Among the undesirable consequences that Caruso mentions, are a retributive system of justice, and a “blame the victim” mentality.

I agree with Caruso that there are problems with our current system of justice, and that we should get rid of that “blame the victim” mentality.  But I don’t see that this as anything much to do with a belief in free will.

Caruso mentions evidence to support his case.  But all he has is correlations.  I am left wondering why he called his talk “The Dark Side of Free Will.”  Why not, instead, “The Dark Side of Conservatism” or “The Dark Side of Religion”?  Either of those titles would seem a better fit to the evidence that he mentions.

But here’s what leaves me puzzled about these kinds of arguments.  Caruso wants us to make changes, which involves us making choices.  To me, that we have an ability to make such changes is a very typical example of free will.  So I see Caruso as implicitly endorsing the view that we have free will, while explicitly denying it.

Arguments against free will always seem to involve that kind of internal contradiction.