some types of “free will”
Posted: 22 May 2011 09:42 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Aristotle gave a famous example of a ship captain who, on encountering a storm at sea, threw some of his cargo overboard to save his ship and himself.  Now, the folks in the Experimental Philosophy movement have confirmed that most people will say that the captain was “forced” to do this; but it seems highly unlikely to me that many of these same people would say that this has anything to do with determinism, or with “lack of freedom” in any deep sense.  I think they would just say that they mean that it was his only reasonable alternative. 

Now consider a young couple-to-be, asked by their priest, “do you enter into this union of your own free will?”  Going by the above usage, one might expect them to blurt out “no! this is the only path for us!  this is what we have to do!”  But of course that’s not what the priest meant.  He was asking if an external power was forcing them.

Then, of course, in psychology (and spirituality) there’s much debate over what constitutes an external power. 

If a woman feels that a demon has taken control of her body and forced her to do things, we may, from a secular standpoint, assume that whatever she does is still decided on by the “organism as a whole” that she is.  And yet i still wouldn’t generally call that “free will”... maybe i’d call it the free action of the organism, but not of the “person,” considering the “person” to be a limited “function” of the organism.

But even perfectly non-psychotic obsession and compulsion are often regarded as somehow coming from “outside” the person.  It can be useful to disidentify from dysfunctional patterns, even intentionally labelling them with silly names to more easily dismiss them: “Oh that’s just my Dudley Do-Right side, thinking it can be all perfect and virtuous” maintains some consciousness of agency, but “Begone, false angels of perfectionism!”, even if meant metaphorically, involves perhaps less ownership of agency with regard to the compulsion.

And then, of course, there are people and animals with no sense of mental agency whatsoever.  Sure, an eagle recognizes that its body is doing this and that, but i’m fairly sure that it has no idea of its own mental activity; no awareness of a mental process of “choice,” even when it is aware of “options” themselves, and torn between them.

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Posted: 22 May 2011 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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My favorite type of free will could be called action with “the consent of the governed”.  Sometimes, a sense of what to do may appear, to the conscious mind, spontaneously, and win the day and get its way.  Other times, well-deliberated conscious decisions may carry through, even over the objections of various appetites and fears.  If part of the self is dragging other parts along unwillingly, then those parts may feel very unfree.  But if there’s enough trust among the players, they may all feel like they’re engaging in consentual compromise.

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