Column on Without Free Will

Without Free Will
Tibor R. Machan
Lots of important people, in the sciences and in philosophy, are saying
that free will is a myth, a delusion. Some go so far as to embark on
revamping the legal system and our ideas of ethics or morality so concepts
of guilt, innocence, responsibility and so forth are dropped. No one is
guilty of anything, they hold, since no one could have done anything other
than what he or she did. This is just one notion that follows from the
absence of free will in human life. What are some others?
Regret is out; so is pride. Apologies are pointless since no one could
have done better than she or he did. Certainly no one can be blamed for
anything. Or praised. Just as it makes no sense to blame the weather for
being unpleasant or even horrible, or praise it for being great, so none
of the awful stuff that people do can be blamed on them and none can
receive praise either, since it all just happens as it must. That means,
also, that editorials that congratulate some while those that chide others
are all nonsense, gobbledygook, if there’s no free will. Forget about
admiration, too, for no deed is a function of individual good judgment and
effort. It’s like nice flowers, which simply grow as they, too, must.
Artists must do their art, murderers must do their murders, no alternative
to any of it is possible, just as the way a river runs is how it must run.
Most difficult to swallow, though, is that what I am saying or writing
here or anyone else has said or written or is saying or writing or will
say or write is no more true or false than is the noise made by ocean
waves since the idea of truth–the independent, objective identification
of reality by an unprejudiced mind–is also dead without free will. You
affirm free will? Well, you just had to do it, just as if you were to deny
it, that to just had to happen. The issue of which is right cannot arise,
either, since when it is claimed that one is while the other isn’t, that
too just has to happen as it does.
Juries, too, simply have to come up with the verdict they do–they have
no freedom to consider evidence, or to evade it (when supposedly
perpetrating malpractice). Scientists, too, just must believe as they do,
as do their detractors–Creationists cannot help but believe as they do,
as do the Darwinians. Everyone just has the beliefs he or she must have,
as the unstoppable chain of causal connections has made it necessary. Que
Sera, Sera!
But this, of course, means that believing in or disbelieving in free will
or determinism amounts to just something that happens to people. Arguing
is pointless–it is just helpless prattle, no more productive of truth (or
falsehood) that the yapping of a parrot or the noise of a tape recorder.
It’s no more related to truth or falsehood than are thunder and the roar
from a lion.
Of course, all of this could be as I say but none could know it since
knowledge itself requires freedom of judgment, of a capacity to research
and think about issues without prejudice, without being driven to reach
some given conclusion!
As far as I can figure, being without free will makes no sense since
giving up everything one must to be without free will is nonsense. But
that may not be a decisive enough argument for free will. What would be?
Among other things that would have to be dealt with is how come so many
serious folks can so easily come to believe that tossing free will can
make sense, despite all of what follows from it. What might be amiss with
their framework, with how they go about considering this matter? These
folks are bright–in fact, one of them has proposed that there should be a
name for them, at least the ones who also deny God, and it should be
"Brights"! (A label that’s a bit vain, if you ask me, but not necessarily
wrong.)
To help get to the bottom of this topic, much besides listing what all we
would have to do without free will is necessary. Still, considering what
it would be like without free will should be a good beginning for
seriously considering the matter.

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