[This two-part essay was inspired by the author’s TEDx talk on the same topic, which can be viewed here.] 
I. Addressing Pragmatic Concerns with Free Will Skepticism
Let me begin with the concern that giving up free will belief will increase anti-social behavior. This concern has been fueled largely by two widely reported on studies in social psychology (Vohs and Schooler 2008; Baumeister, Masicampo and DeWall 2009). Kathleen Vohs and Jonathan Schooler (2008) found, for example, that participants who were exposed to anti-free will primes were more likely to cheat than participants exposed to pro-free will or neutral primes. In one study, they asked thirty college students to solve math problems on a computer. The volunteers were told that owing to a computer glitch, the answers would pop up on the screen after the problem if they did not hit the space bar. They were asked not to hit the bar, but also told that no one would know either way. In addition, some of the participants in the study were first asked to read passages by well-respected scientists to the effect that we do not have free will. In particular, they read one of two passages from The Astonishing Hypothesis, a book written by Francis Crick (1994), the Nobel-prize-winning scientist. The participants read statements claiming that rational, high-minded people — including most scientists, according to Crick — now recognize that free will is an illusion. Vohs and Schooler found that students exposed to the anti-free will primes where more likely to cheat than those in the control group. Additional findings by Baumeister, Masicampo and DeWall (2009) found that participants who are exposed to anti-free will primes behave more aggressively than participants exposed to pro-free will or neutral primes.
While these findings appear to support concerns over the anti-social consequences of relinquishing free will belief, I advise caution in drawing any universal or sweeping conclusions from them. There are powerful criticisms of the methodology of these studies which put into doubt the supposed connection between disbelief in free will and any long-term increase in anti-social behavior. First of all, the passages used to prime disbelief in free will appear to be priming the wrong thing. Several critics have noted that instead of priming belief in hard determinism or hard incompatibilism (Pereboom 2001), the Crick excerpt subjects read is actually priming a scientific reductionist view of the mind, one that is proclaimed to demonstrate that free will is an illusion. Free will skepticism, however, need not entail such a reductionist view and the priming passages may be giving participants the mistaken impression that scientists have concluded that their beliefs, desires, and choice are causally inefficacious (a claim not embraced by most philosophical skeptics) .
Secondly, there are alternative explanations for the cheating behavior that have nothing to do with belief in free will, per se. For example, it is equally plausible that the cheating behavior is being driven by the more general fact that participants are being told that one of their cherished beliefs has been shown to be an illusion by science. On this alternative, the cheating behavior would have less to do with disbelief in free will and more to do with ego depletion more generally. That is, perhaps people are simply more likely to cheat after reading passages from scientific authorities challenging (or even mocking) one’s cherished beliefs because it depletes one’s self-control, which in turn weakens one’s ability to trump the self-interested baseline desire to cheat . It would be rather easy, in fact, to test this alternative. One could, for example, challenge participants (say) pro-American beliefs by having them read extended quotes from a famous authority (say Noam Chomsky) which challenges or mocks the belief, then checking to see whether this increases one’s propensity to cheat. If it does, this would support the alternative explanation above since it would suggest that the results in the Vohs and Schooler studies are not being driven by anything unique about belief in free will. Until this alternative (suggested by Thomas Nadelhoffer and Eddy Nahmias) is tested and ruled out, Vohs and Schooler’s findings remain in doubt.
Thirdly, these anti-social consequences come immediately following the prime, are limited in scope, and appear only to be temporary. Hence, these studies establish, at best, that participants were temporarily morally compromised after being exposed to anti-free will primes. While this may suggest that (say) I should not do my taxes immediately after being told that I do not have free will for the first time, they say nothing about the long-term effects of free will skepticism! Once people properly understand what the denial of free will entails (and what it does not entail), and once they have sufficiently come to terms with it, there is no reason to think (at least not from these studies) that we would find an overall increase in anti-social behavior.
An illustrative analogy here would be the unfounded concerns voiced in the past about disbelief in God. It was long argued (and, perhaps, is still argued in certain corners of the United States) that if people were to come to disbelieve in God, the moral fiber of society would disintegrate and we would see a marked increase in anti-social behavior. The reality, however, has turned out to be quite the opposite. Several studies have shown, for example, that murder and violent crime rates are actually higher in highly religious countries than in more secular ones (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000; Zuckerman 2009). Within the United States, we see the same pattern. Atheists, for example, make up around 10% of the general population, yet they comprise only 0.2 % of the prison population (Golumbaski 1997). Census data further reveals that states with the highest murder rates tend to be the most religious. And these findings are not limited to murder rates, as rates of all violent crime tend to be higher in “religious” states (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center 2008; Zuckerman 2009). And if one looks beyond crime statistics, one finds similar trends with divorce rates, domestic violence, and intolerance — e.g., studies reveal that atheists and agnostics have lower divorce rates than religious Americans (Barna Research Group Survey 1999, 2007), conservative Christian women in Canada experience higher rates of domestic violence than non-affiliated women (Brinkerhoff et al. 1992), and non-believers are in general less prejudiced, anti-Semitic, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded and authoritarian (Altemeyer 2003; Zuckerman 2009). Given how wrong people were about the putative harms of disbelief in God, a healthy dose of skepticism would likewise be warranted here. In fact, I will argue next that disbelief in free will, rather than bringing about negative consequence, could actually bring about good, freeing us from other harmful tendencies, beliefs, and practices.
II. (Un)just Deserts: The Dark Side of Free Will 
Recent findings in moral and political psychology suggest that there may be a potential downside to believing in free will and moral responsibility. For the sake of this section, I will define free will as “a kind of power or ability to make decisions of the sort for which one can be morally responsible” (Fisher, Kane, Pereboom, and Vargas 2007, 1), where moral responsibility is understood in the basic desert sense. While most of the empirical work done so far has tended to focus on the potential upside of believing in free will (Vohs and Schooler 2008; Baumeister, Masicampo, and DeWall 2009), a growing body of research has also found some interesting, and potentially troubling, correlations between people’s free will beliefs and their other moral, religious, and political beliefs.
Recent empirical work by Jasmine Carey and Del Paulhus (2013), for example, has found that free will beliefs correlate with religiosity, punitiveness, and politically conservative beliefs and attitudes such as Just World Belief (JWB) and Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). They found these correlations by administering their The Free Will and Determinism Scale known as FAD-Plus (Paulhus and Carey 2011) — a 27-item scale used to measure people’s beliefs and attitudes about free will and related concepts — along with measures of religiosity, political conservatism, just world beliefs, and right wing authoritarianism. It’s important here to highlight just how worrisome some of these correlations are. Take, for example, a few of the sample items used to validate belief in a just world.
Just World Belief Scale (JWB) (Lerner 1980):
“By and large, people deserve what they get.”
“Although evil men may hold political power for a while, in the general course of history good wins out.”
“People who meet with misfortune have often brought it on themselves.”
And here are sample items from the the Right Wing Authoritarianism Scale (RWA) (Altemeyer 1996):
“The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just ‘loud mouths’ showing off their ignorance.”
“Our country desperately needs a mighty leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical new ways of sinfulness that are ruining us.”
“It is always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in government and religion than to listen to the noisy rabble-rousers in our society who are trying to create doubt in people’s minds.”
Many of you, I suspect, will find that these items express troublesome (and perhaps even potentially dangerous) ideas. If you do not, I will try to persuade you that you should in a moment. But first it is important to note that Carey and Paulhus also found a relationship between beliefs about free will and punishment — in particular, they found that believing more strongly in free will was correlated with punitiveness. They found that free will believers were more likely to call for harsher criminal punishment in a number of hypothetical scenarios. As Thomas Nadelhoffer and Daniela Goya Tocchetto point out, this is unsurprising: “It makes a priori sense that people who believe more strongly in free will would be more interested in giving wrongdoers their just deserts” (2013, 128).
In addition to the findings of Carey and Paulhus, Nadelhoffer and Tocchetto (2013) have also uncovered some troubling correlations. Using a slightly different scale — The Free Will Inventory (FWI), a 29-item tool for measuring (a) the strength of people’s beliefs about free will, determinism, and dualism, and (b) the relationship between these beliefs and related beliefs such as punishment and responsibility (Nadelhoffer et al. in prep) — Nadelhoffer and Tocchetto found, once again, a correlation between free will beliefs and JWB and RWA. They also found a number of correlations between religiosity, conservatism, and political ideology — e.g., Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) was strongly correlated with political conservatism, religiosity, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO), Just World Belief (JWB), and Economic System Justification (ESJ). And here, “the ESJ scale measures the tendency to perceive socioeconomic and political arrangements as inherently fair and legitimate — even at the expense of individual or group interests,” and the “SDO scale measures the degree of adherence to conservative legitimizing myths that attempt to rationalize the interests of dominant group members” (Nadelhoffer and Tocchetto 2013, 132).
These findings, I believe, support the claim that where belief in free will is strongest we tend to see increased punitiveness. In fact, empirical work has confirmed that weakening free will beliefs, either in general or by offering evidence of an individual’s diminished decisional capacity, leads to less punitiveness (Aspinwall, Brown, and Tabery 2012; Monterosso, Royzman, and Schwartz 2005; Pizarro, Uhlmann, and Salovey 2003; Shariff et al. 2013). These findings also support the claim that a conservative worldview, which is associated with free will belief, is generally correlated with an acceptance of economic inequality and a belief that the world is just and “people deserve what they get.” One should not be surprised by these correlations since the link between conservative social attitudes and free will belief has long been known (see, e.g., Atemeyer 1981; Werner 1993; Jost 2006; and Baumeister 2008). Robert Atemeyer (1981), for example, has shown that conservatives tend to be more blaming and punitive toward lawbreakers. And John Jost (2006) has found that conservatives and liberals tend to make different trait attributions for lawbreakers — conservatives draw attributions about “sinful” character, whereas liberals point to situational causes. Hence, the personal responsibility ethic emphasized by conservatives is firmly rooted in (and perhaps even necessitates) belief in free will.
To make clear the potential danger of belief in free will and moral responsibility, let me return to the aforementioned Just World Belief (JWB) scale. As Nadelhoffer and Tocchetto (2013, 132) put it:
“The origin of the just world conception can be traced back to the original empirical findings of Lerner and Simmons (1966); namely, that persons have a tendency to blame the victim of misfortunes for their own fate. Based on these empirical findings, Lerner (1965) formulated the Just World Hypothesis, whereby individuals have a need to believe that they live in a world where people generally get what they deserve. In order to measure the degree to which persons are willing to believe that everyone deserves what happens to them, Lerner (1980) developed the JWB scale. Scores on the scale have been found to correlate with the presence of frail religious beliefs (Sorrentino and Hardy 1974), and internal (as opposed to an external) locus of control, and with the likelihood of derogating innocent victims (Rubin and Peplau 1975). In addition, people who score high on JWB are more likely to trust current institutions and authorities, and to blame the poor and praise the rich for their respective fates (Jost et al. 2003).”
For sake of time, I will focus the remainder of my comments on just world belief. I must unfortunately leave aside the Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA) scale — but it should be noted that RWA, just like JWB, is associated with a number of troubling tendencies .
So what’s so dangerous about just world belief? Well, belief in a just world (which, again, has been shown to be correlated with belief in free will) is a blame-the-victim approach. It promotes the idea that “people deserve what they get” and “people who meet with misfortunate have often brought it on themselves.” Adrian Furnham gives a succinct statement of the basic belief in a just world: “The [JWB] asserts that, quite justly, good things tend to happen to good people and bad things to bad people despite the fact that this is patently not the case” (2003, 795) . Lerner and Miller also acknowledge the falsehood of this belief, though they point out that it may serve a valuable function in motivating behavior and avoiding a sense of helplessness. This makes the belief difficult to shake:
“Since the belief that the world is just serves such an important adaptive function for the individual, people are very reluctant to give up this belief, and they can be greatly troubled if they encounter evidence that suggests that the world is not really just or orderly after all.” (1978, 1031)
Because of this, and despite its patent falsehood, belief in a just world continues to exercise a powerful (and often unconscious) influence on our attitudes about free will and moral responsibility (see Waller 2013) . Yet despite whatever benefits this false belief may provide, they are bought at a high price. As Bruce Waller notes, “ironically, the costs of belief in a just world are paid in fundamental injustice” (2013, 72).
We can see evidence of just world belief in the unfortunate tendency, both among ordinary folk and the legal system, to blame rape victims for the circumstances. When we cannot easily and effectively help innocent victims, our belief in a just world is severely threatened, and the most convenient and common way of preserving that belief is to change the status of the victim from innocent to guilty:
“The case of rape victims is the most obvious and extensively studied example of this phenomenon. Rape is a brutal, demeaning, and trauma-producing crime; in a just world, no innocent person would be subjected to such a horrific fate. Thus there is a powerful tendency to see rape victims as really not quite so innocent: they dress provocatively; they were “loose” women; they did something to put themselves in that situation (they were careless about where they walked, or they drank too much); they “led him on” or were “asking for it” (thus in some parts of the world, rape victims are subject to death by stoning). Harsh cross-examination of those who claim to be rape victims are notoriously common; those harsh cross-examinations are common because they are often effective; and they are often effective because juries — eager to preserve their belief in a just world — are already inclined to see the victim of this terrible ordeal as other than innocent.” (Waller 2013, 73)
This is just one unfortunate example of the pernicious nature of belief in a just world. Other examples include blaming those in poverty for their own circumstances, viewing criminals as “deserving what they get,” labeling those on welfare as “lazy” and “mooches,” and blaming educational inequity on the parents and children themselves — since, of course, if the world is just, then people must have brought these circumstances upon themselves. This blaming of victims (in defense of belief in a just world) has been established by numerous studies, including studies showing that the stronger the belief in a just world the greater the likelihood of blaming victims for their unfortunate fates (Wagstaff 1983; Furnham and Gunter 1984; Harper and Manasse 1992; Dalbert and Yamauchi 1994; Montada 1998).
We all know, however, (at least in our more rationally self-reflective moments) that the world is not just and the lottery of life is not always fair. We need to admit that luck plays a big role in what we do and the way we are. It’s my proposal that we do away with the pernicious belief in free will — and with it the myth of the “rugged individual,” the “self-made man,” the causa sui. If what I have argued here is correct, the concepts of free will and desert-based moral responsibility are intimately connected with a number of other potentially harmful beliefs — e.g., just world belief (JWB) and right wing authoritarianism (RWA). It’s time that we leave these antiquated notions behind, lose our moral anger, stop blaming the victim, and turn our attention to the difficult task of addressing the causes that lead to criminality, poverty, wealth-inequality, and educational inequity.
Let me conclude by briefly looking at another set of recent studies that reveals the potential benefits of diminished belief in free will. Shariff et al. (2014) hypothesized that if free will beliefs support attributions of moral responsibility, then reducing these beliefs should make people less retributive in their attitudes about punishment. In a series of four studies they tested this prediction and found reason to be optimistic about free will skepticism. In Study 1 they found that people with weaker free-will beliefs endorsed less retributive attitudes regarding punishment of criminals, yet their consequentialist attitudes were unaffected. Study 1 therefore supports the hypothesis that free will beliefs positively predict punitive attitudes, and in particular retributive attitudes, yet it also suggests that “the motivation to punish in order to benefit society (consequentialist punishment) may remain intact, even while the need for blame and desire for retribution are forgone” (2014, 7). Shariff et al. describe the potential benefits of these findings as follows:
“[A] societal shift away from endorsing free will could occur without disrupting the functional role of punishment. Society could fulfill its practical need for law and order, leaving the social benefits of punishment intact while avoiding the unnecessary human suffering and economic costs of punishment often associated with retributivism (Green & Cohen, 2004; Tonry, 2004).” (Shariff et al. 2014, 7).
There is no reason to think chaos would ensue if we relinquished our commitment to retributive justice. As this study indicates, other justifications for punishment remain intact and unaffected by diminished belief in free will.
Study 2 found that experimentally diminishing free will belief through anti-free-will arguments diminished retributive punishment, suggesting a causal relationship (2014, 6). Studies 3 and 4 further found that exposure to neuroscience implying a mechanistic basis for human action — either reading popular-science articles or taking an introductory neuroscience class in college — similarly produced a reduction in retributivism. Interestingly, Studies 3 and 4 made no mention of free will; they let participants draw their own implications from the mechanistic descriptions. These results suggest that shifts in people’s philosophical worldview about free will beliefs, “even through simply learning about the brain, can affect people’s attitudes about moral responsibility, with potential broad social consequences” (2014, 6).
The findings of these studies are promising (at least for the line of argument I’ve been pushing here) since they show that reducing belief in free will leads people to see others’ bad behavior as less morally reprehensible, resulting in less retributive punishment. This is a good thing, since it diminishes a harmful kind of “moral anger” (Pereboom 2001) and an inclination toward excessive punishment. I am also encouraged by these findings that changing attitudes about free will and desert-based moral responsibility — which are probably inevitable as we learn more about neuroscience and the brain  — can help usher in an important evolution in legal thinking away from retributivism and toward a more humane and just system of punishment.
In this two-part article, I have briefly sketched the main arguments for free will skepticism as well as the debate over their implications. Defenders of free will, along with illusionists like Saul Smilansky, maintain that belief in free will is essential for the proper functioning of society, morality, and the law. Optimistic skeptics and disillusionists, on the other hand, disagree. Making the case for disillusionism, I argued that belief in free will and desert-based moral responsibility, rather than being a good thing, actually has a dark side and that we would be better off without it. In section I of part 2, I briefly examined one common concern people have with relinquishing the belief in free will — that it will lead to an increase in anti-social behavior — and argued that this concern is misguided and overblown. In section II of part 2, I then discussed recent findings in moral and political psychology which reveal interesting, and potentially troubling, correlations between people’s free will beliefs and their other moral, religious, and political views. In particular, belief in free will, it was found, is associated with just world belief, right wing authoritarianism, religiosity, punitiveness, and moralistic standards for judging self and other. While these considerations do not prove belief in free will is mistaken, they do indicate that the putative pragmatic benefits of believing in free will and desert-based moral responsibility are bogus.
Gregg Caruso is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Corning Community College (SUNY) and Editor-in-Chief of Science, Religion and Culture. He is the author of Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will (2012) and the editor of Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility (2013) and Science and Religion: 5 Questions (2014). In 2012 he was awarded the Regional Board of Trustees Excellence in Teaching Award.
 This paper includes previously published material from the book Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility, Copyright 2013 by Lexington Books. Used by permission of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing, Inc.
 This criticism has been made by Eddy Nahmias and others. It’s important that one be careful not to misrepresent or caricature the claims of the skeptic. Free will skeptics do not deny that we make choices or engage in acts of deliberation and reasoning. Rather, they hold that these acts themselves are the result of factors ultimately beyond the control of the agent (see, e.g., Pereboom 2001, 2014). It’s important therefore that Vohs and Schooler prime the correct belief and not the mistaken impression that scientific findings have obviated the possibility of local control (Clark 2013). As Thomas Clark has noted, “if people come to believe they don’t have ultimate control, and if they have something like the authors’ (mis)conception of what not having it entails, then indeed they might become demoralized. This could explain the results of the study. But it’s important to see what’s demoralizing isn’t the empirically and logically well-supported conclusion that we don’t have contra-causal, libertarian free will, that we are not ultimately self-created, but the inference that if we are not free in this way then we aren’t causally efficacious agents” (2013).
 I am grateful to Thomas Nadelhoffer and Eddy Nahmias for bringing this objection to my attention on the now-defunct-blog The Garden of Forking Paths (January and February 2008).
 The title of my TEDx talk, “The Dark Side of Free Will,” comes originally from a paper by Thomas Nadelhoffer and Daniela Goya Tocchetto (2013).
 Right Wing Authoritarianism is typically defined in the literature in terms of submission to established and legitimate authorities, sanctioned general aggressiveness towards various persons, and adherence to the generally endorsed social conventions (Nadelhoffer and Tocchetto 2013, 131). “It is also closely related to a large set of ego-justifying tendencies that provide support for social ideologies such as intolerance of ambiguity, dogmatism, terror management, uncertainty avoidance, and need for cognitive closure” (Nadelhoffer and Tocchetto 2013, 131).
 As quoted by Bruce Waller (2013, 72).
 As Waller writes: “When we think carefully, it is quite obvious that the world is not just. The world news provides depressing and constant examples of innocents caught in the midst of terrible wars and ethnic conflicts, dying from industrial pollution or industrial accident (think of Bhopal), losing life or loved ones in tsunamis and earthquakes, dying slowly and painfully in drought and famine stricken regions; and our daily lives among our friends and families and communities include cases of tragic traffic deaths, terrible genetic diseases that kill or disable children, abuse of children and spouses, the deeply depressing loss of jobs and homes and pensions among good hardworking people. Philosophers are very familiar with the ancient ‘problem of evil’: the unjust suffering of the innocent — on an enormous scale, and produced by famine, flood, war, and pestilence — is the major argument against belief in a just, caring, and omnipotent deity … Whether philosophers or folk, belief in a just world cannot survive conscious scrutiny; but the deeper nonconscious belief in a just world avoids such scrutiny and continues to exert a powerful influence” (2013, 71-2).
 As Studies 3 and 4 revealed, people naturally become less retributive after having been exposed to neuroscientific and mechanistic descriptions of human behavior. And as Sheriff et al. note, “What is clear is that the belief in free will is intertwined with moral, legal, and interpersonal processes. As the mechanistic worldview espoused by many scientists and particularly psychologists, gain attention (e.g., Gazzinga, 2011; Monterosso & Schwartz, 2012; Nichols, 2011), the impact of these trends — good, bad, or both — calls for understanding” (2014, 7). This remains true whether or not the mechanistic worldview espoused by these thinkers is correct or a real philosophical threat to free will.
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