I thought dougsmith’s original post on this thread deserved to be bumped up:
IMO the western notion of “free will” is basically a theological creation, invented in order to get God out of some apparent problems with evil. (For what it’s worth, there is no similar issue in eastern religions). That is: if God created us knowing that we were going to do evil things, then isn’t God culpable for the evil we do?
Supposed answer: God created us with this thing “free will”, whereby our actions are not amenable to God’s power, but done solely by our spontaneous uncaused decision. Our free will is then an “uncaused cause” of our action. (4) So therefore when we do evil things, God isn’t responsible for them since he didn’t cause them ... they were solely due to our “free will”.
(Objn 1) How is this “free will” supposed to work? If we look at the brain, there are no “uncaused causes” there ... just physical/chemical interactions between neurons, receptors, and so on. Where does this free will “ghost in the machine” do its causing? It’s got to be something supernatural.
(Objn 2) How are “uncaused” actions really actions? Normally something “uncaused” would be seen as random in nature, like the unpredictable decay of a uranium atom. Muscular motions caused by random things wouldn’t really be actions, they would be more like twitches or jerks, over which we would have no responsibility.
(Objn 3) This model of action in fact has nothing to do with how we know actions to be created from the inside. Take an example: I am thirsty, and I know there is water in the refrigerator. This desire for water and belief about its location causes me to walk to the fridge and open the door. But this explanation of action is causal. It is, at base, deterministic. There are no “uncaused causes” here. Actions are caused by beliefs and desires (or by the brain states that underlie beliefs and desires).
Now, some take determinism to mean that there is no free will. But I think that’s totally the wrong tack. The problem is not with determinism, it’s with an incoherent, theologically based notion of “free will” as an uncaused cause. So I’d say that we are free, and that our freedom is compatible with determinism.
To some (particularly those directly or indirectly steeped in theological notions of humanity) this seems a paradox. Dennett and others work hard to dispel that feeling.
I’d like Doug to confirm his first claim. (A) If the concept of free will was *created* by theologians, which one, when, and in what work? And since until the 17th century most *all* philosophical discussion was either by theologians or philosophers who accepted theism of one sort or another, (B) let’s make sure to discover whether or not the concept of free will was developed *specifically* for theological reasons - rather than being a more generally interesting philosophical concept that was *then* used in theological problems.
Btw, I can think of many notions of free will that aren’t compatibilistic, yet are not ‘radical’ free will. For example, Aquinas’ notion of free will is much weaker than Duns Scotus’, who I *think* was the earliest important philosopher to speak about a completely or radically free will. As I recall his discussion, he doesn’t bring in theology specifically. Buridan has the famous example of the donkey starving between two equally delicious bales of hay - which is meant to be absurd; obviously creatures can choose even if there’s no difference among the choices. The seventeenth-c philosopher Cudworth (is it?) has a more modern example of identical golden balls arranged at the same distance from a man; obviously he can choose one, but there’s no physical reason to pick one over the others.