You should believe in free will

If you believe in free will, and you’re right — well, then you’re right. That’s a good thing.

But if you believe in free will, and you’re wrong — well, that means you were fated to have incorrect beliefs, and there’s nothing you could possibly have done to change that. It would be meaningless to say that you “ought to” believe differently.


So if you believe in free will, don’t worry about the possibility of being wrong. If you were wrong, there wouldn’t be anything you could do about it anyway.


Filed under Philosophy

7 responses to “You should believe in free will

  1. Yes – the situation is not symmetrical. Indeed, I should probably write specifically about this matter of symmetry. Here goes!

    A false assertion of symmetry is a characteristic rhetorical device of secular modernity; it works by pretending that two sides of any debate are ‘symmetrical’ alternatives – implying one thing or another alternative thing.

    Symmetry may be so, as when comparing Judaism and Christianity, or the Big Bang and Steady State theories from Physics.

    But often a disagreement is between a positive statement and its negation: which is not symmetrical.

    So, evil is not an alternative positive program to that of Good, it is (merely) the destruction of Good; the Left is not a political blueprint – it is (merely) opposition to Christianity and traditional society; and rejection of free will is is simply that: a rejection of free will.

    The denial of free will cannot be refuted, because there is nothing to refute; the argument against free will is simply a set of challenges to the reality of free will – a set of various assertions that if X, or Y, or Z is a true and sufficient (complete) explanation of reality… then (logically) free will cannot exist. There is no alternative proposal of what IS reality, merely a set of attacks on free will. And the potential number of attacks on free will is unbounded, and so the process of attacking free will need never end (just as the number of criticisms of Christianity, or of existing society, is unbounded – so the Left can never – in this sense – be refuted)

    There will always be grounds for criticizing anything – and due to limits of human understanding and expression intelligence and attention, this applies to Truth as much as to error- since any actually-existing expression of Truth will be deficient or insecure if placed under a microscope. Free will is (obviously) True; but any actually expression of it is deficient and criticizable – if it is a short description it will be deficient and hard to contextualize, but if it is long it will contain insecure logical links and be prone to inattention; always, descriptions are constrained (on both sides) by human limitations.

    But the fact that something – anything – can be criticized for incompleteness, ambiguity, imprecision, possibly wrong assumptions and the rest of it, is trivial. It is trivial (or worse) in science (where it is indeed a typical strategy of anti-science – micro-methodological rigour pretending at truth seeking but unilaterally applied to reject something you don’t want to believe).

    And it is trivial – it is fake profundity – it is dangerously unserious – in theology, metaphysics and philosophy.

    “After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.” – from Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson

    Johnson was expressing impatience, and indeed anger, at the dangerous, seductive unseriousness of the conversation. That was a proper response.

  2. Samson J.

    That comment was useful for me, Bruce. I don’t know a lot about these arguments, the philosophy of “free will”, and all that; it doesn’t intrigue me much because the existence of my free will seems obvious – “I refute it thus”, indeed, is exactly my response!

    I would be interested to know whether there are any professional philosophers who agree with me and actually argue that one’s subjective experience of possessing free will is sufficient to prove it – a sort of “presuppositional apologetics” for free will, if you will.

  3. @SJ – It all depends on what is regarded as the bottom line validation for knowledge-claims in a particular ‘school’. If a philosopher regards subjective experience as primary, then that suffices; but if a philosopher assumes that all valid truth claims must have some other foundation – like scientific verification or non-falsifiability – then he will disregard subjective experiences. I haven’t checked specifically, but I would guess that (for instance) the Scottish Common Sense philosophers of the 18th and 19th century would have regarded free will as validated by this intuitive insight (Hutcheson, Reid, Stewart etc – – these philosophers are missed out of the canon nowadays, but if you read old books you will realize they dominated European philosophy for about a century.

  4. Bruce, I had never heard of Reid before, but less than an hour after reading your comment I opened up William James’s Principles of Psychology, which I have been reading, and the first thing I saw on the page was an extended quotation from Reid’s Inquiry. It appears that the synchronicity fairies are trying to draw my attention to this particular philosopher.

  5. Samson J.

    “synchronicity fairies” and “Scottish School of Common Sense” are both splendid turns-of-phrase. 🙂

  6. Pingback: Bruce Charlton’s case that atheism is incoherent | Boisterous beholding

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