Free Will Skepticism and Its Implications: An Argument for Optimism — Part 2

Evil02_insideby Gregg D. Caruso

[This two-part essay was inspired by the author’s TEDx talk on the same topic, which can be viewed here.] [1]

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) [2].

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 [3]. 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 [4]

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 [5].

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) [6]. 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) [7]. 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 [8] — can help usher in an important evolution in legal thinking away from retributivism and toward a more humane and just system of punishment.

III. Conclusion

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.

[1] 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.

[2] 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).

[3] 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).

[4] 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).

[5] 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).

[6] As quoted by Bruce Waller (2013, 72).

[7] 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).

[8] 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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86 thoughts on “Free Will Skepticism and Its Implications: An Argument for Optimism — Part 2

  1. Gregg,
    I realize I’m not exactly talking the talk and walking the walk to be included in the conversation, but if you think of time, not as the vector of events we perceive it to be in hindsight, but the process of those events being created and dissolved, future becoming past, as in tomorrow becoming yesterday, as opposed to the narrative sequence, then probability precedes actuality.
    Radical, but logical.


  2. Gregg This partially duplicates my second comment on your first essay, but it gets to the heart of the matter.

    Point 1: Free will and “retributive justice,” “just desserts,” or whatever, aren’t necessarily logically connected.

    Again, Kaufmann’s book, “Without Guilt and Justice,” points this out from an epistemological stance, rejecting “retributive” AND “distributive” justice alike, on other grounds. People are individuals, and we cannot treat them like data points in population genetics, therefore there is no way of being “fair.” We can’t have the “view from nowhere” that a John Rawls needs for his theories of justice.

    Thus, I can reject ideas of “justice” in general without even talking about free will or “something like free will.”

    You do get at this a bit, in the second half. But, I don’t think you wrestle with it enough. We can believe that a world is not generally just. We can believe that, per my essay, such a world has various psychological effects on people. Yet, we can realize that people do partially transcend this, at least at times.

    Related is the use of terminology. Maybe “retributive” is the wrong word. It’s arguable that it has definite connotative as well as denotative meaning. The same applies for “just deserts.” What if someone else, who even more strongly believed in free will of a classical style, talked about “responsible justice”?

    Point 2: On to politics, which, to be honest, further indicates to me that your primary concern is about “retributive justice” or “just desserts,” whether or not free will is in the picture.

    First, you note that conservatives who believe in free will have harsher views on “just desserts” than those who don’t. But, you only cite studies of political conservatives. What about political liberals? Do their stances on free will affect other things, like their belief in connecting criminal justice to free will or other things?

    That ties back to point 1. I doubt that most liberals reject free will; it’s just their/our view, often, that it’s more attenuated.

    Related? An old chicken or egg argument — for conservatives, does insistence on free will come first, or a just world? To be honest, I don’t most conservatives even consider that.

    Point 3 is politics part 2.

    I’ve waded through plenty of Chris Mooney on motivated reasoning, five-type personality scales and more to see parallels to part of your essay.

    First, “conservativism” isn’t totally the same worldwide. That’s especially true when comparing the US with the less religious rest of the developed world. However, issues of will are basically universal.

    Second is something I’ve repeatedly told Mooney, and blogged about more than once — liberals, like conservatives, can and do engage in motivated reasoning.

    So, I have to be honest. What I see, especially in this second essay, is a political science essay presenting itself as a philosophical essay.

    In trying to relate free will to theories of justice, American history and beyond? On the free will issue, we should remember Hume’s is ≠ ought admonition.


  3. HI Gregg,

    I have serious reservations about any study which is based on the FAD-plus scale. I have mentioned the problems with this scale before in Scientia Salon. It has questions which ask people to express partial agreement to absolute concepts – a no-no in this sort of scale. It forces people to make statements in the form ‘I somewhat agree that X is completely Y’, which is problematic and certainly ambiguous.

    In addition it uses this term ‘Fate’ more than once. A Muslim or Christian determinist would not agree that ‘Fate’ was the agency of determinism, rather God. A Materialist determinist would consider physics to be the agency of determinism, although some might interpret ‘fate’ as being an informal or poetic way of referring to the laws of physics.

    In all this will skew the result, pushing many determinists towards the libertarian end of the scale.

    I have only seen part of the “Free Will Inventory”, but it does not appear any better. So I question the value of the studies cited here.

    But even if such a correlation existed, it does not support the idea that encouraging people to believe in one of the alternatives to free will would change their views in other areas. It is the old caveat about correlation and causation.

    I would also point out that Muslims who follow their holy texts are committed to hard determinism and yet support of retributive justice is one of the core beliefs of fundamentalist Muslims.

    In general retributive justice is a bad idea whether or not libertarian free will is the case, and I think the linking of these two concepts is unhelpful to say the least. It will certainly split potential allies if the belief becomes common that someone who is a libertarian about free will would also be a supporter of retributive justice.


  4. Hi Gregg,

    Whereas I thought your first half was a little unsympathetic to compatibilism, on this half I agree with you. As I see it, notions such as dualism, moral realism and theism are our superficial commentaries about ourselves, trying to make sense of things (though going wrong in doing so), yet, since they are only commentaries, they can be replaced and re-thought with relatively little change to ourselves.

    Thus, fundamental human nature is pretty deeply programmed into us (though malleable to upbringing and education), and isn’t going to be changed much by ditching libertarian free will, any more than by ditching theism. I know that some leading compatibilists (e.g. Dennett) have expressed concern over this, but I think he’s wrong to do so.

    Skeptics acknowledge all the different compatibilists capacities that have been discussed and articulated in the literature … we just maintain that these are not enough to ground basic desert moral responsibility.

    I’d agree, and don’t think that compatibilism is compatible with moral-realist moral responsibility (if there are compatibilists who argue for moral realism then that’s rather weird). As others have stated, when one considers why we imprison people but not walls that collapse and kill someone, and why we refer to people making “choices” but don’t use that concept about a river flowing towards the sea, then incompatibilism more or less has to adopt concepts that amount to compatibilism.


  5. Sorry for not being able to respond to each and every comment (I’m typing this on my phone as my wife takes over the driving for a bit :).

    SocraticGadfly, thank you for your comments. The reason I tie free will to desert-based moral responsibility is that it’s hard to see what the “problem of free will” amounts to without (a) defining what you mean by free will (my definition is rather standard in the literature), and (b) without understanding and appreciating the practical concerns it is related to. We are not abstractly talking about a power or ability, we are talking about a power or ability that grounds a certain set of practices and attitudes. If you would prefer to talk about the “problem of basic desert moral responsibility” I am happy to do so. (I actually like how people like Bruce Waller and Neil Levy go directly at the moral responsibility system, rather than talking in terms of free will. With Levy, at least, you could however replace every reference he makes to MR with free Will and his argument would remain the same.)

    It sounds, however, that you are a (desert-based) moral responsibility skeptic–so we may be on the same page here. (I would personally avoid, however, talking in terms of a theory of justice.)

    I’m not sure why you want to avoid discussing retributive attitudes and punativeness since that is exactly what is under discussion. It’s also what’s at issue when justifying different systems of punishment and different interpersonal attitudes. Avoiding this question would be to avoid one of the central issues. I’m also not exactly sure what your replacement of “responsible justice” means. It’s a rather ambiguous concept. My guess is that once you get down to clarifying it you will end up making some of the same distinctions.

    As to your second and third points, yes I am moving here into the area of moral and political psychology. But my reason for doing so is not without philosophical import. There is currently a debate taking place about the practical effects disbelief in free will. If we are going to theorize about this we should (a) look at it empirically (not exclusively, but at least in part), and (b) we should try to connect up the philosophical debate with other relevant work in other disciplines (this is only now starting to take place).

    As to your point about “conservatives,” you should read the studies. They are not using this as a blanket statement. They are measuring specific beliefs, with specific commitments (e.g., the commitments measured by the right wing authoritarian scale, etc.).


  6. Re: SocraticGadfly
    “Point 1: Free will and “retributive justice,” “just desserts,” or whatever, aren’t necessarily logically connected.” — kaufmann’s book sounds interesting, but I wonder if this point of contention is a red herring. As I read Caruso, the argument hinges on empirical findings that suggest the following relation: if you believe in free will, then you are more likely to believe in harmful forms of ‘just desserts’. Some of the evidence is merely correlative, but priming/etc. adds causal legitimacy.

    “Point 2: On to politics, which, to be honest, further indicates to me that your primary concern is about “retributive justice” or “just desserts,” whether or not free will is in the picture.” — Back to my red herring complaint, free will IS in the picture: that’s what the empirical research is for. So perhaps this is very much about political science (robustly grounded in neuro/psych), but Caruso is utilizing this evidence to undermine the flimsy claim that we need free will to be moral.

    Concluding question: I think the approach you reference is valid, where issues about free will are bracketed as tangential/inessential, but perhaps we we can see a difference (in focus/argument), without a disagreement?

    Re: Caruso/general comment
    [1] I think your approach to this issue is the most clear-headed I’ve come across, and I’m very glad you are writing and speaking for the masses (SpacetimeMind, TED, and Scientia). I wonder if you have any positive claims about ‘responsibility’/morality without just-desserts, or so-called “Ultimate responsibility”.

    [2] One might ask: as we leave behind these harmful effects of free will, are we becoming more moral or merely amoral? How would you respond to a concern that the morality we end up with is too indifferent/cold?

    [3] Do you see any difference (in approach/empirical findings/etc.) between our moral judgements towards others and our moral judgements towards ourselves? I have often thought it healthy or useful to hold oneself more accountable for ill-doings than others.

    Another example (from “Bad Wizard Podcast ft. Sam Harris) of first person moral judgement: I get drunk and hit someone, then perhaps I think I deserve punishment. A softer version of this claim: IF the victim wants punishment (beyond mere utility-based rehabilitation), then I feel that I should morally accept that punishment, given the harm I have caused. Last example: Person X sleeps with person Y’s wife/husband, and person X feels compelled to let person Y beat him/her up. If I am in the perspective of Person Y, I may think it right not to get retribution, but if I am person X I may welcome the same act. Any empirical or more philosophical thoughts on this asymmetry?


  7. Robin, dispite your concerns with FAD-plus, these results have been found with more than one scale. I agree, though, that additional work in this area needs to be done (and it is!). I’m open to being proven wrong with future empirical work–but two birds in the hand are better than a bunch of “what ifs” in the bush!

    You also say: “But even if such a correlation existed, it does not support the idea that encouraging people to believe in one of the alternatives to free will would change their views in other areas. It is the old caveat about correlation and causation.” I guess you didn’t read the part about the Sheriif et al. Study. I would suggest looking a that again.


  8. Thank you Cole and Dyami for your comments (and your kind words). Dyami, I see no reason to think we need to abandon morality. And I understand the concern that the skeptical approach will result in a “cold” and “calculating” approach. I don’t think, however, that this needs to be the case. There is a particularly good easy in my edited collection by Benjamin Vilhauer which addresses what he calls the “people problem”–which is related to this concern. He lays out a nice response. Of course, Pereboom has also written a ton on this.

    I’m starting to think that addressing these additional concerns will be my next book project 😉

    As to your third point, studies actually show that with regard to immoral behavior people actually attribute more free will to others so that they can justify blaming them. When it comes to their own immoral behavior they tend to look for exculpatory explanations.

    On the other hand, Tamler Sommers has also suggested that self blame can sometimes be crippling and counterproductive (so blame may be bad here as well).


  9. Coel,

    “Whereas I thought your first half was a little unsympathetic to compatibilism, on this half I agree with you. As I see it, notions such as dualism, moral realism and theism are our superficial commentaries about ourselves, trying to make sense of things (though going wrong in doing so), yet, since they are only commentaries, they can be replaced and re-thought with relatively little change to ourselves.

    Thus, fundamental human nature is pretty deeply programmed into us (though malleable to upbringing and education), and isn’t going to be changed much by ditching libertarian free will, any more than by ditching theism.”

    I agree.


    I feel something palateble needs to be offered -in place of- if we are to argue against it.

    And though I think there is variability in the freeness of actions we can take I haven’t seen any compatibilistic ideas that seem coherent to me, or useful in this context.

    On alternate methods of social redress,

    “For First Nations, the process of personal healing begins in the community, meaning that both the victim and the aggressor need the support of the community to heal their respective wounds. […] The victims, the survivors and the offenders are members of the community, and in this we cannot make any distinction between them and us. […] They are all entitled to compassion and acceptance […] In this sense, we transpose this conception of healing to a larger system […]”
    First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission (2003)


  10. Hard for me to accept that contested philosophical issues of a global nature such as determinism should be decided on the basis of uncritically reported results of highly contrived and controversial priming experiments, especially when they receive any methodological scrutiny only if unfavorable to the thesis. Nor do the author’s ethical assumptions seem any more justified than his scientism; he seems to argue that a belief in free will should be abandoned as it leads to political incorrectness. Nor is it easy to overlook the paradox that the author might be taken to claim that he has no choice but to put forth the arguments that he does. When reading, I tend to believe that the author has chosen every word, the better the writing the more scrupulously so. If I’m to abandon that conviction, the entire affair rests on thin ice. Of course, this is merely a layman’s reaction.


  11. Free will is independent of ethics.

    Gregg, it’s not that I want to avoid discussing retributive justice. It’s that there is no connection of logical necessity between free will and issues of justice.

    I overstated that you’re writing political science first. If I want to keep it within bounds of philosophy, you’re writing ethics first, free will second.

    But, there’s no logically necessary connection.

    There may (or may not) be empirical connections, based on psychology; hence my references to neuroscience. But, that’s a different matter.

    It’s like reading Rawls as if Rawls trying to justify his ideas by appeal to certain versions of free will. And, what Rawls says about issues of ethics and justice has no logically necessary connection with free will.

    I can be a hardcore determinist, yet still believe in the value of retributive justice.

    I can be a compatibilist, and believe in retributive justice. I can be a libertarian free willer and believe in… I can be some sort of free will optimist-skeptic and believe … I can be like I actually am, thinking the whole free will “versus” determinism issue wrongly framed ….

    and believe in retributive justice.

    Or, I can be any of the above, and reject that idea.

    Or, I can be any of the above, and reject the idea of objective morality in general.

    Again, what type of free will, or “something like free will,” we have, to be determined to some degree over the next century or two by scientific findings, should have some influence on our criminal justice system. And on our philosophy.

    (This isn’t the scientism rabbit hole, Massimo, or Gregg, I’m just saying we don’t know enough about consciousness in general to make pronoucements on free will from Early Bronze Age neuroscience. In a century?)

    So, let’s talk ethics of justice without free will.

    I stand with Kaufmann. I reject most retributive justice because we can’t determine “fairness” on a case-by-case basis. Contra Rawls, we can never have a “view from nowhere.”

    Can we adopt a less all-encompassing pragmatic utilitarianism toward justice? Yes.

    If, without dehumanizing people, retributive justice has at least some value for the person upon whom it’s administered, as well as larger society, to the best our limited POV can tell, then OK.

    If retributive justice doesn’t have such value, then not OK.

    Simple pragmatism. No particular stance on free will involved.

    Does this treat people as “automatons”? I think not. It treats them as persons with some degree of freedom. On a free-will stance, it can also lead to them being more conscious about “drivers” of their behavior. On a less free-will stance, it can simply work on those unconscious drivers, while offering the possibility of more.

    1. We still don’t know enough about the human mind to confidently talk about one theory of free will or another;
    2. Therefore, we shouldn’t entangle this with ethics.

    I offer this caveat in general, not just to Gregg.

    Now, which do you want to discuss?


  12. Hi Greg,
    Respectfully, maybe both the language you are using and your political approach is mistaken. I think liberal/leftists are going to be much less pleased than conservative are to hear that belief in moral responsibility is dangerous because conservatives have more affinity for that belief. I also wonder if you think your characterizations of people who regard themselves as conservative is something you think they would agree to without significant qualification–or if you’ve even thought about this.

    People equate moral responsibility with their own felt moral obligations. Convincing them that this is an ‘illusion’ is as ambitious a project as that adopted by some of convincing them that they aren’t really conscious. The fact that our moral obligation is taught us by our social environment does not make it less of a moral obligation. Free will is a matter of education. It happens in measures and can be improved. Part of the education is to inform people of their moral obligations. Disciplinary ‘punishment’ is part of the education, as is appreciation or praise. Certain behaviours will result in harm to one’s self and others and when one disregards this, one demonstrates one is in need of further education.

    People who are difficult to educate cause more harm to themselves and others. People who are easy to educate, cause more good to themselves and others. This is not merely a conservative ‘just world theory’, it is an empirical fact that everyone observes all around them. Education can be hard work and requires motivation on part of the learner. Sometimes this motivation is best supplied in the form of expectation from one’s social peers. It may be the case that one is, for some reason, incapable of meeting expectations, but it also may be the case that one is capable but simply has failed to properly assess the seriousness of that expectation. This is where a display of anger may be useful.


  13. Hi Gregg,

    This is an interesting essay series that gives me confidence in dealing with the metaphysical problem of determinism. It’s difficult to be impartial or indifferent about it, perhaps, because we appreciate it for what it represents as a gauge or scale of sorts that shows a spectrum of possible alternatives. I would like to use this as a source later. Please, see my comment on the previous part.

    For me, there is no need to separate character ethics (morality) as separate moral or political institutions (the holographic worldview picture of those who require that an individual be identical to any other in a given organization, what I have subsumed as simply “ideology” contrasted with “philosophy”). In fact, I have been struggling with such a worldview for a long time, now. It’s just too much labor to record it all with any fairness, but I have noticed a recurring struggle to understand moral justifications from such a perspective, too. There is, of course, no question that we prefer leadership, teaching, and philosophers (opposed to their absence, but worse opposed to their subjugation if even disillusioned) and that we must serve such a role as followers, with consent acknowledged and reciprocated legitimately. The *political authority* theme that seems both pervasive and persistent, however, has displaced individuals and philosophers to serve as social scientists, required to articulate theory (hardened by traditional academia) while noticeably constructing psychological as well as cultural or sociological narratives (of note, Freud and Jung, and perhaps reluctantly, ourselves, too). This comes clear in showing (JWB) Just World Belief and (RWA) Right Wing Authoritarian conceptions of freewill, and on apparently secret “scales.”

    I have been trying to produce an illustration of this predicament, with language and fatalism charting out the direction of historically and economically different learning institutions (omitting the history as well as the economics, because I think the representative conceptions show congruity, if not discontinuous contiguity). My chart is at

    Here is an interesting book (as a primary source of empirical, social evidence) on the subject of blame-the-victimology:

    “As a man Thinketh” (1902) by James Allen



  14. Dr. Caruso,
    I agree more readily to the points you are trying to make here, than in part1.

    However, one doesn’t need to engage the compatibilist/incompatibilist debate to agree that there are connections between retributive justice theory, a Just World mindset, and belief in libertarian free will, and that the world would be a better place were these connections broken. And such agreement would not necessarily lead one to adopt an incompatibilist position.

    It is nice to think that social history is a one way street, always progressing. It’s not. When I was young, the dominant theory of justice was rehabilitative. The Reagan revolution revealed that most Americans still carried the embers of vengeance in their hearts. Now we have stepped back considerably since the days when the SCOTUS seemed to reject capital punishment.

    It would be nice if we lived in an efficiently working representative democracy where we could arrive at policy through reason alone. But that isn’t the case either. I find it amusing that such studies on Right Wing Authoritarian attitudes are undertaken when the US government has been marching steadily rightward for 35 years. I’m not sure that study can be used as part of an argument with the right wing authoritarians in the current government. I suspect their collective response would be, ‘so what?’

    Both observance of reason and justice call us to continue the argument, in the hope of changing popular opinion and move elections in the preferred direction. But here’s another problem.

    If my goal is simply to convince people that they should abandon free will belief, that’s one kind of argument, and the political end of just that argument is not at all clear.

    But if my goal is to move collectively to an end of retributive justice policies, that’s not only an entirely different argument, but in the process, I will have make alliance with people who share that goal, but not my particular philosophic grounds for having that goal.

    I have several friends, devout Catholics, who are socially and politically active in efforts to reform both the prison system and the justice system as a whole, out from the retributive dark ages. Should I tell them that unless they abandon any residual belief in free will, they are enacting their politics in bad faith?

    Several issues that are getting confused here. The philosophical debate concerning free will is just that. Arguments drawn from it can be used in political debates, but when they are, the political interest must override the philosophical. The same is true of sociological or psychological analyses of cultural or political trends. This has long been a problem for theorists in various fields having political commitments, and there is no easy solution to it.

    But politics is not a science, it’s an art, directed at accomplishing social goals. The question one begins with is not ‘how can I convince others my cause is right,’ but ‘how do we persuade others to award us our desired goals.’


  15. Hi Gregg. I don’t particularly like the idea of connecting belief in free will to belief in a just world. The two might well be correlated — I accept your evidence that they are — but there is no logical necessity for the connection. Belief in free will does imply a belief that the world *ought* to be just, but not that it *is* just. Arguing against free will on this basis is a sort of “guilt by association”, which I think we ought to avoid.

    But there is a deeper issue. I have a sense that the moral feeling that underlies all of this is a deep-seated aversion to the use of punishment to shape behavior. But as I see it there is no viable alternative. In many cases there is no realistic way of preventing people from committing crimes except to threaten them with punishment. If that is accepted, then the problem is to come up with a set of rules for the proper use of punishment. I believe that any set of rules that people would accept would end up using a construct that is practically equivalent to free will, even if it is framed differently.


  16. That “Free Will” is not free of society was made clear in Europe with the example of fascism, and various nationalistic crazes and pogrom like activities, since 1099 CE (when Jews were mass massacred, in Alsace and further east, as masses of violent Catholics engaged in the First Crusade).

    Thus, after World War Two, social engineering in many countries repaired the society to cure the individuals.

    Does Knowledge Cause Crime?

    That knowledge causes crime is the argument the partisans of obsolete moral systems always use. In a way, they are right: if one defines crime as what the old moral system forbid, the change of moral systems will always cause crime. Having women starting to drive in Saudi Arabia would not doubt augment the crime rate.

    However, human beings are knowledge and wisdom machines. Once they know what influences them, they take it into account.

    Saying that “Free Will does not exist” is not really what is going on. Much of what looks like “free” is actually a product of the group. Free Will arises from “Meta Will” what Rousseau called the “General Will”. The “General Will” will be hard to define: after all, it’s a mathematical notion going beyond our present computational capabilities (a typical case where Quantum Computing will help).

    Any social thinking, where part of the Meta Will lays, is tainted in the USA by the background of the American police and justice systems, with its incarceration rate more than five times the world average (and much more if one takes into account all those under judicial surveillance, a category developed more in the USA than anywhere else).

    Much “Free Will” being “Group Will”, if one does not like what the former leads to, one has to work on the latter. This is why what society believes in, say a superstition, does not just impact individuals, it makes them up.

    The more we know, the more we can act upon the world, and thus the more freedom we have. However freedom is not what plutocrats want to see in average people, not any more than demons in hell want to see those they are supposed to torture, enjoying freedom, or enjoying anything at all.

    Yet, it’s the other way. Knowledge augments not just power, but morality.

    The more we know, the more we know when we are not acting for the best, the more we can accuse ourselves of not acting well. And thus, the greater the opportunity we have to act well, and the better we will act.

    We have a moral system which is evolutionary given (evolution being the Creator!). This natural Human Ethology interacts both with the Meta Will and individual Free Will.

    However, in the USA the Plutocratic mentality is triumphant (latest GDP growth at an annual rate of 5%, not far behind plutocratic China). In this social paradigm, the Randian worship of the rugged individual is celebrated. People have to work, not by choice, as in Europe, but just to survive.


  17. Most of the comments on these two article are not addressing the point of this essay, which is the effect of free will beliefs, not whether true or false.

    Hard determinism (and free will skepticism) has become a leftist-atheist dogma like the Catholic transubstantiation. It is not usually taken literally. Yet it gets recited in order to show allegiances of beliefs.

    Jesus said “Go and sin no more”. Christianity teaches that you have to free will to accept or reject God. Other religions are more fatalistic and superstitious. To oppose free will is a way of opposing Christianity without mentioning religion.

    Opposing free will is also a sneaky way of promoting leftist political goals. Conservatives (in America at least) celebrate individualism, personal and family autonomy, free markets, and libertarian ideals. Leftists strive for a society where everyone is dependent on everyone else, has involuntary empathy, and lets the government make all the decisions.

    The philosophical and scientific arguments against free will are wrong, as Pigliucci explains here and here.

    The right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale was created by a left-wing Obama supporter who was infuriated by the libertarian anti-government views of the Tea Party. Here is his anti-Tea-Party rant (pdf). The Tea Party is the least authoritarian political movement in the USA today. And yet he claims that the Tea Party is dangerously authoritarian because they believe that President Obama is dictator and that mounting debt and interference with the free market is destroying the country. This junk only gets uncritically published because the social science journals are overwhelmingly leftist.

    Maybe if the Tea Party can somehow be convinced that they have no free will, they will go away and let the left-wing authoritarians take over the country. This is a leftist fantasy.

    You argue that we should deny free will so that women can make rape allegations without being questioned about their choices and decisions. That was apparently the attitude of Rolling Stone magazine and most of the mainstream media that uncritically reported Jackie’s story about a UVa frat party gang rape. Now it turns out that she invented the character of Haven Monahan, the date, the party, the rape, and everything else in order to arouse the feelings of another boy.

    I guess the leftist anti-free-will view is that Jackie and Rolling Stone should have no moral responsibility for perpetrating this hoax, because the article has raised consciousness and empathy about a trendy leftist subject. It is not even clear that they wanted to hold the alleged rapists legally culpable, as they showed little interest in making a police complaint. No, they want Jackie’s feelings validated, even if they are just symptoms of a mental illness, and to make a cultural statement against privileged blond fraternity members.

    If your point is that belief in free will is contrary to certain leftist atheist goals, I agree.


  18. SocraticGadfly, I simply disagree with you that there is no logical connection between free Will and moral responsibility. As I stated in my article, I 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. My definition therefore ties the two concepts together! Obviously you disagree with my definition but (a) you have not offered an alternative definition, and (b) you have not explained why your purified conception would be of any practical interest. The virtue of defining free will as I have is that (a) it is a neutral definition that all parties can agree to (I.e., compatibilists, libertarians, and free will skeptics can all agree that this is what we are debating about), (b) it captures what’s at stake in the free will debate, and (c) it’s reflective of how most philosophers define free will. Of course you are free to talk about something else….but this is what I am discussing.

    Secondly, you seem to be preoccupied with the brain science. I too am interested in what the behavioral, cognitive, and neuroscience can and will tell us about human agency. In fact, I’ve sometimes been criticized by philosophers because of my interests in this area (read my book on free Will and consciousness). That said, you seem to be ignoring the fact that there are purely philosophical arguments against free will that have nothing to do with neuroscience or issues related to consciousness. The arguments of Galen Strawson, Neil Levy, Derk Pereboom, etc, are completely independent of these issue. You seem to be dismissing this as irrelevant from the start. Why? (And at the pain of being redundant, the goal of my paper is NOT to argue directly for free will skepticism.)

    Astrodreamer, you write:

    “Hard for me to accept that contested philosophical issues of a global nature such as determinism should be decided on the basis of uncritically reported results of highly contrived and controversial priming experiments…”

    I’m not deciding anything here about the nature/truth/etc. of determinism. I think you’ve misread the paper.

    “Nor do the author’s ethical assumptions seem any more justified than his scientism”

    What Scientism? I think you have me mistaken for someone else 🙂

    “he seems to argue that a belief in free will should be abandoned as it leads to political incorrectness.”

    I said nothing of the kind. Sorry.

    Wm Burgess, you write: “People equate moral responsibility with their own felt moral obligations.” That is not what I mean by moral responsibility. As I indicated, I define basic desert moral responsibility as follows:

    “For an agent to be morally responsible for an action in this sense is for it to be hers in such a way that she would deserve to be blamed if she understood that it was morally wrong, and she would deserve to be praised if she understood that it was morally exemplary. The desert at issue here is basic in the sense that the agent would deserve to be blamed or praised just because she has performed the action, given an understanding of its moral status, and not, for example, merely by virtue of consequentialist or contractualist considerations.”


  19. Ejwinner, thanks for the comments. Sorry I have been unable to respond to everyone–it’s a holiday weekend and I got a six year old that wants my attention as well. Anyway, you write:

    “However, one doesn’t need to engage the compatibilist/incompatibilist debate to agree that there are connections between retributive justice theory, a Just World mindset, and belief in libertarian free will, and that the world would be a better place were these connections broken. And such agreement would not necessarily lead one to adopt an incompatibilist position.” I’m happy to accept your consolatory suggestion, but I am concerned that it downplays the desire of compatibilists to ALSO defend basic desert moral responsibility. Bruce Waller, for example, does a good job in *Against Moral Responsibility* at showing how the plateau Arguments of compatibilists is guilty of this (the idea that while we do not all start off with equal starting points, capacities, opportunities, etc., we all reach a plateau where those factors are irrelevant at assessing blame and praise).

    I agree with many of your other comments and suggestions. Of course, I agree that there is an important pragmatic question as to how to best go about achieving the goals that we both share. In fact, in my day to day life I often just address these issues head on, without reference to free will. Sure, I can (and often do) go directly after the counterproductive policies (I.e., tough on crime, mandatory sentencing, three strikes your out, the cruel treatment of prisoners in super max prisons, etc). As a professional philosophers, however, I am here trying to analyze the problem at a different level.

    Bill, thanks for your comments. While we both agree we should look for approaches toward criminal behavior that work and are effective and humane, I’m afraid the model of retributive punishment is less concerned with deterrence or effectiveness and more concerned with giving people their just deserts! I think Pereboom’s model is a promising one. I’m open to other alternatives as well.


  20. Schlafly, I am a free will skeptic because I am persuaded by the arguments, not because of atheism. There are plenty of atheists that are defenders of free will–in fact, while most contemporary philosophers are non-theists, most are also compatibilists (not skeptics). The flip side is also true. There are plenty of free Will skeptics that are theists. I believe Pereboom is even one of them.


  21. Bill,

    “In many cases there is no realistic way of preventing people from committing crimes except to threaten them with punishment”

    After reading a few definitions of punishment I realize it doesn’t always include things like a notion of vengeance, a threat, or judgment of the individuals basic worth.

    So I’d moderate my previous statement but I’m still uncomfortable with those kinds of words, and I don’t believe they are needed and suspect they are counter productive.


    The quotes in my previous comment is from the report titled:

    “Reinventing a partnership: more than mere necessity for First Nations Mental Health” it was produced by the “First Nations of Quebec and Labrador Health and Social Services Commission” in 2003.


  22. Hi Bill Skaggs, you wrote:

    But there is a deeper issue. I have a sense that the moral feeling that underlies all of this is a deep-seated aversion to the use of punishment to shape behavior. But as I see it there is no viable alternative. In many cases there is no realistic way of preventing people from committing crimes except to threaten them with punishment. If that is accepted, then the problem is to come up with a set of rules for the proper use of punishment. I believe that any set of rules that people would accept would end up using a construct that is practically equivalent to free will, even if it is framed differently.

    This seems far from the truth, in fact there are well document research showing that punishment, while effective in some context, is not overall as effective as positive methods and has many undesired side effects. This is not to say punishment can be completely removed, I think even at a pragmatic level, we would always need some punishment but even with this basic level of punishment, I don’t think it should be retributive. In other words, the punishment, if needed, must still serve a pragmatic purpose of improving conditions and not satisfying emotional need to hurt the person.


  23. I suppose I’m just not getting the rules of the game, but the issues do seem to have some basic points of observation that don’t get much attention:
    How can the future be determined, if the speed of light and thus information is finite? Input has to be known, if output is to be known.
    Isn’t the concept of “free will” an exceedingly shallow political slogan, given to will is to determine and the extent to which we would be free of influences would be the exact limits of our influence on factors beyond our conscious exertions? contextcontextcontext…
    Also, while it may seem emotionally repellent, there doesn’t really seem to be any getting around morality as a bottom up social/civil construct of beneficial/detrimental binary code.
    The success of having such social/civil systems imposed externally is very limited.
    Sorry Plato. Sorry God.


  24. We’ve already had a near-identical discussion on S.S. not long ago, so I don’t have much new to say on this topic.

    Free will is one of the classic philosophical problems — but it is also one of the rotten ones. That is, it is one of the problems that is the result of a misunderstanding — one of those problems that analysis of the late-Wittgensteinian/Ordinary Language variety is designed to dissolve.

    The ascription of agency is not the attribution of some power or force to an actor. Rather, it is a background condition for the intelligibility of not just moral discourse but for the ascription of intentionality and intentional explanation. It is not, therefore, subject to rational justification, but rather, is part of the framework of concepts by which we justify/or condemn action. That so-and-so has agency, then, is what Crispin Wright has called a “hinge proposition”, in the language games of intentionality and morals; language games that are not going anywhere, regardless of how many people say there’s no such thing.

    There are no free will skeptics, only pretend ones. Every time one utters a sentence like “you should have called instead of standing me up,” one has implicitly ascribed agency and agency must be presupposed for the utterance to be intelligible. The author utters scores of sentences like these a day. His skepticism, therefore, is of the variety described and put in its proper place by Hume — the sort that cannot survive even a day’s common activity and discourse — the sort that disappears, once we’ve played a game of backgammon, talked with our friends, and gone for a stroll.

    A tired pseudo-problem that should have long gone away.


  25. Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn wrote:
    >”To my understanding, the supernatural/libertarian position sees the self as a little soul in supernatural control of the natural body – mind/body dualism. The compatibilist views the body as the self – monism. It is therefore that I as a compatibilist consider the neuroscientific studies cited above to be entirely irrelevant. My genes are me; my experiences are me; my subconscious is me; my neurons are me, and so on. Therefore I make decisions if they make the decisions.

    >Finally, the incompatibilist sees the self as a little soul riding along in the body, having to watch helplessly while the body is pushed here or there by the laws of nature.”

    I like that way of putting the compatibilist position, which is pretty much as I see it, and it does seem to me that insisting there is no free will *and* that it’s important to act on that knowledge, how do you avoid being left to “watch helplessly…” (other than by saying there is no self)? But really, it seems some free will deniers** are tempted to have the self that they’ve explained away on some separate plane deciding how things ought to be. The kernel of truth of postmodernism, with its insistence that rationality is an oppressive scheme, is that when we project ourselves outside of a single body among billions, and look at the world and its problems and imagine new systems or social contracts to address those problems, we tend to produce “solutions” suitable for a god or controller of everything. Maybe you weren’t really wishing to be the world’s dictator but this kind of solution if held to tenaciously leads you to seek that position. This is true even if the solution you imagine is for governments to be weak enough to “drown in a bathtub”.

    ** skeptics have doubts, so if one is foregrounding not doubts but ones definite settled way of seeing things, “skeptic” seems the wrong word.


  26. Again, from Alexander Schmidt-Lebuhn: “we have to make a difference between what people believe they believe or what they argue on an intellectual level on the one side and what they really believe as demonstrated through their behavior on the other side.”

    That seems to me a very important point, and what is the appropriate way to act if one believes one isn’t actually making choices?


  27. Aravis,
    Hi, this is Paul. I respectfully disagree with your comment. I’m writing out my disagreement because I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the author’s work out of hand when he puts a lot of effort in his article. I think it would be far more fair and respectful if you justify your disagrement with more argumentation out of respect. Moreover, I don’t think you adequately demonstrated that the problem of free-will is a “pseudo-problem” that can be dissolved by late Wittgenstenian/Ordinary Language analysis. Anyways, I shall proceed with my critique.

    “Free will is one of the classic philosophical problems — but it is also one of the rotten ones. That is, it is one of the problems that is the result of a misunderstanding — one of those problems that analysis of the late-Wittgensteinian/Ordinary Language variety is designed to dissolve.”

    Ok, your main claim is that Free Will is a result of *misunderstanding* which can be dissolved by the late-Wittgenstenian/Ordinary Language variety. Then, you said:

    “The ascription of agency is not the attribution of some power or force to an actor. Rather, it is a background condition for the intelligibility of not just moral discourse but for the ascription of intentionality and intentional explanation. It is not, therefore, subject to rational justification, but rather, is part of the framework of concepts by which we justify/or condemn action.”

    I suspect this is where you try to identify the misunderstanding. You seem to assert that the misunderstanding in this case is that philosophers think ascribing agency is attributing power or force to an actor when in fact it is just a “background condition for the intelligibility” of moral discourse and intentional explanation. It’s not clear to me that you identified the misunderstanding in question. For one, philosophers discussing about free-will are not merely attributing power or force to an actor. They are discussing about metaphysical conditions required for free-will to exist. For example, Libertarians think determinism needs to be false and alternative possibilities must exist in order for free will to exist. Hard Determinists agree with Libertarians that the falsity of determinism and truism of alternative possibilities are required for the existence of free will, but they think determinism is true (hence there are no alternative possibilities). Compatibilists believe that even if determinism is true, free-will still exists. I don’t think this characterization of the free-will debate can be reduced to a misunderstanding that confuses ascription of agency with “attribution of somer power or force to an actor”, because it also takes the nature of reality into consideration in order to decide if free-will exists.

    Moreover, you said ascription of agency being a “background condition for the intelligibility” of moral discourse and intentional explanations implies that it is not subject to rational justification. But, all you really said is that the notion of agency is required to make intentional talks and moral talks coherent or intelligible, but how does that preclude any rational justification for or against agency? What is it about agency, being a presupposition of moral discourse and intentional talks, that precludes any rational justification? I mean, that’s precisely what’s being disputed: whether we have any genuine agency that would render moral talks and intentional talks coherent. You did mention that it is a “hinge proposition” but what is it about a hinge proposition that extricates it from any rational justification?

    Another problem is that you seem to continue with the late-Wittgensteinian analysis as an appropriate approach dissolving the problem of free-will without justifying that approach in the first place. Why should we accept the late-Wittgensteinian analysis as a way to dissolve the problem of free-will? You only showed what such an analysis would look like in the context of free-will, but you didn’t argue why such an analysis is correct or appropriate.

    “That so-and-so has agency, then, is what Crispin Wright has called a ‘hinge proposition’, in the language games of intentionality and morals; language games that are not going anywhere, regardless of how many people say there’s no such thing.”

    Ok, but I think there’s the distinction between linguistic practices and metaphysics. For example, It’s the case that the sun is in the center of the solar system and the earth revolves around it such that earthlings would perceive the sun going up and down. That this is a matter of fact that would be included into our ontology. However, just because this is the case, it doesn’t follow that our linguistic practices of “sunrise/sundown” will go away. We still do it all the time even though scientifically speaking there is no such thing as “sunrise” and “sundown.” All you have shown is that even if there is no free-will in the metaphysical sense, we can still continue our linguistic practices of moral responsibility and folk-psychology. But this doesn’t show that there is no metaphysical problem of free-will anymore than showing that we still talk about “sundown/sunrise” doesn’t show there was never a scientific problem of geocentrism vs. heliocentrism.


  28. Hi Gregg, I don’t find much to disagree with regarding the main arguments being made in the essay, which focuses on potential take away messages from empirical studies. I guess I should note at the outset that I did not read all of the studies you gave, and will be taking your word for much of the evidence. Robin was correct (as he was in the last essay discussing Haynes), that closer inspection of any of these might reveal significant experimental/statistical flaws (which you do address for studies in the first section).

    Section one dealt with how disbelief in Free Will (FW) does not necessarily lead to a break down in personal/social function. I agree with the possible flaws or alternative explanations for studies you mentioned. Your third point about how any “ill effects” may just be temporary in nature is certainly true, though you leave out another reason why this could be. I was instantly reminded of a passage by Hume regarding moral skepticism, which can easily be adjusted and reapplied to FW skepticism. (my alterations in brackets):

    “Those who have denied the reality of [Free Will], may be ranked among the disingenuous disputants; nor is it conceivable, that any human creature could ever seriously believe, that all characters and actions were [without some level of autonomous agency]… [T]here is no scepticism so scrupulous, and scarce any assurance so determined, as absolutely to deny all distinction between [a puppet and a person]. Let a man’s insensibility be ever so great, he must often be touched with the images of [Free Will]; and let his prejudices be ever so obstinate, he must observe, that others are susceptible of like impressions. The only way, therefore, of converting an antagonist of this kind, is to leave him to himself. For, finding that nobody keeps up the controversy with him, it is probable he will, at last, of himself, from mere weariness, come over to the side of common sense and reason.”

    I see this morning that Aravis beat me to the punch in making the same link to Hume. Ah, I should have had the will to stay up a bit longer and post before going to bed ☺

    But I don’t want to make a strawman of your position. You hold a form of FW skepticism which you explicitly state is not hard incompatibilism. This not the form of skepticism I normally encounter and at times I’m having a hard time seeing the difference between compatibilism and the FW skepticism you describe. It seems to hinge on a belief in “true” or “ultimate” moral responsibility as opposed to practical moral responsibility, but those seem to be artificial modifiers which shoe-horn in a hard incompatibilist concept. Even the description of FW requiring “causa sui” appears to inject a hard incompatibilist concept to create a form of FW that compatibilists like myself are definitively not using.

    This makes a difference in your second section, which I will address in a separate reply.


  29. Hi Gregg, this addresses the second section of your essay, dealing with how holding a belief in FW might possibly lead to negative outcomes. You and Robin have already touched on the experimental limitations of these studies, so I will leave that alone.

    Let me start by saying that I share your distaste with JWB and RWA, and that it is not surprising proponents of such beliefs (or social movements based on such beliefs) would also hold a belief in FW. They provide mutual support and an increasingly unhealthy positive feedback loop.

    I also agree that it is important to inject a level of realistic skepticism regarding libertarian FW in order to combat errant social policies which rely on inhuman levels of FW. The concepts of “rugged individualism” and the “self-made man” are great for inspiration, but not education and therefore counter-productive when attempting to create functional policies for societies (among patently social animals).

    That said, I agree with Socratic that the issue of FW is not necessarily tied to moral beliefs. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. I think it is important people remember this, as Socratic was correct that (regardless of correlations found) one can connect believers/deniers in FW with any kind of moral/social/justice scheme. This leads to part of my criticism/caution regarding this section.

    What was shown was correlation and not causation. We don’t have a solid arrow in either direction (FW to MR, or MR to FW, much less to any specific mode of justice/social policy). In fact, it is arguably more important to show how libertarian FW concepts can be used as theoretical support for specific policies, rather than trying to determine a current causal (or highly correlated) connection. That is because given different definitions of FW, or secondary social beliefs, one could find very different stats. A lesser correlation wouldn’t undermine our need to caution over-emphasis on FW when making social policy.

    More problematic to me is that the concept of FW used in these studies seems to have been libertarian, and so blackens compatibilist FW not only with a guilt by association argument but a straw man. If “ultimate” moral responsibility is used as a functional aspect in the definition of FW, perhaps it should underlined that one is only testing the effects of “ultimate” FW beliefs.

    Your essay suggests that JWB/RWA attitudes scale with “strength” of FW beliefs. Okay, that immediate begs the question how strong/weak is compatibilist FW? It seems to me that compatibilist FW would not support, and should caution against strong JWB/RWA policies. Similarly, it seems errant to conclude having exposed people to neuroscience information weakened belief in FW, but rather in “ultimate” FW. Perhaps they became compatibilists (I did).

    So I think the criticism you made of studies in part 1 (not using same definition of FW that skeptics hold) can be applied to studies in part 2 (not using same definition of FW that compatibilists hold).

    The question of retribution is another issue altogether.


    To accept Freewill, or some form of Compatiblism, then behaviour is indicative of the moral nature of its “reasoning”.
    To accept Determinism, as I do, then behaviour becomes indicative of the moral nature of its “reasoner”.

    It was not by his will that Charles Darwin was born and he had no choice of genes. But those genes, plus the affects of his acquired knowledge and experiences and opportunities as he grew up, created a body/brain that found the Beagle expedition irresistible. And that body/brain then made him keen and able to devise and justify his ideas and convincingly express them in “On the Origin of Species”.

    How could this be “freely-originated” (uncaused) authorship when it was ENTIRELY the result of all those prior physical events? It was a book which he “had” to write. Nevertheless, it was that body/brain of Charles Darwin which produced the “inevitable” achievement and “he” rightly deserves permanent recognition, respect and praise. That all human actions are physical effects determined by prior physical events does not (and should not) detract from the genius of a brain/body such as Darwin’s.

    Yes, Determinism does deny “freely-originated” human behaviour and makes our “agency” that of mechanistic causally-controlled “robots”. But (and vital to our evolution as a species) not one “robot” is exactly the same as any other. We vary, sometimes wildly, in our “set” behaviours: though all are “unfree” some of us are “genius robots” (like Darwin) others are “heinous robots” -and all points in between. It is rational to socially treat the former as examples of “good” (i.e.”moral”) beings who behave so as to tend to foster humankind, the latter as “bad” (i.e “immoral”) versions who tend to hinder our our ability to survive/thrive as individuals, as a group, or as a communal species.

    The observable evidence of a body/brain’s behaviour under the restraints acting on it at the time is the only way we have to assess its relative quality. Whether your view is Libertarian or not hardly matters, the “moral value” or “worth to our species” of any individual body/brain is proportional to the effects of its behaviour on itself and other humans: this equally applies to the body/brain of any individual (or group) be they genius, nonentity, tyrant or psychopath. Determinism, whilst saying “You are what you are”, does not erase our relative moral value as humans: Determinism neither diminishes genius nor entails an automatic “Get out of jail”.


  31. OK, let’s come at this once more in brief, since Bill Skaggs also notes two of the same issues as I do, Gregg namely:
    1. The lack of logically necessary connection between certain ideas on free will and certain theories of justice; and
    2. Your seemingly ardent commitment to certain theories of justice.

    Foremost, two of the main schools of normative ethics, consequentialism and deontology, are compatible with anything and everything from the hardest of classical determinism to the most libertarian of free willing. And, of course, justice is a subset of ethics, so, there’s further proof right there that theories of justice and ideas on free will aren’t logical connected.

    Second, the use of language such as “harsh” retributive justice offers further confirmation for my and Bill’s thought, I do think. As noted earlier, I could talk about “responsible justice,” or “guiding justice” or other terms.

    Third, as I also noted, you fail to distinguish between US conservatives and conservatives elsewhere in the developed world. As I noted this is something that Chris Mooney repeatedly fails to do.

    Being a (fellow?) liberal of some sort, I’d love to talk theories of justice more, either from the philosophical or from the political science point of view, without the entanglement of theories of free will. However, having not only clicked a few of your links, but done teh Google for a few reviews of your book and other things, I’m not sure you would want to go there.

    As for discussing ideas of free will, or broader volition, without the entanglement of theories of justice?

    Different kettle of fish.

    I’m ready to go beyond my “mu” article I wrote earlier for Massimo and call for a moratorium on discussing this issue at all, for about a century or so. That should be long enough for sciences of mind to move from the Early Bronze Age into the Early Iron Age and start having some things to tell us.

    Beyond that, since I’ve got far more than 500 words to burn there, I’ve wrapped up previous comments here, and extended them, into one long piece at my blog.


  32. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I’m afraid I may not be able to do justice to all of them here. My apologies in advance. Here are some morning thoughts:

    I’m surprised that no one has yet directly defended the claim that disbelief in free will would be harmful to society, our interpersonal relationships, meaning, etc. The few studies that appear to indicate that it will increase anti-social behavior have problems as I suggested (and they say nothing about the long term effects of disbelief). I agree that one could pick apart these other studies as well. I’m open to such criticisms and I’m looking forward to more empirical work in this area. In fact, as I said earlier, I am always open to being proven wrong empirically. (I’m more open minded than you may think 🙂 Let the experimental work begin! (If anyone following this does experimental work, I have a few experiments I would like to run. I would also like to test the ego depletion interpretation I speculated about in my paper.)

    As for causal connections, I think the Shariff et al. article does go some distance in showing a causal connection. Study 2, for example, found that experimentally diminishing free will belief through anti-free-will arguments diminished retributive punishment, suggesting a causal relationship. Of course, though, I’m hoping again for more work in this area. I think we are only at the beginning of exploring these cluster of beliefs and how they are connected. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should dismiss the connections or discount them when considering the pragmatic effects of disbelief in free will.

    I know a lot of people have commented on compatibilism and how it may not be that different from free will skepticism. I’m wondering, however, if there is a disconnect between the “everyday” compatibilist and the compatibilism defended by professional philosophers. Followed the debate closely over the years, one of the main disagreements between compatibilists and skeptics is over basic desert moral responsibility. Of course if you are a compatibilist that gives up the idea that people deserve to be praised and blamed for their actions (for nonconsequentialist reasons), and that consequentialism and pragmatic considerations are all that is at play, then I think you may not be a typical compatibilist. In fact, if you are a compatibilist that rejects basic desert moral responsibility, the retributive attitudes, etc. I’m not sure I understand then what the difference is between compatibilists and free Will skeptics. (I also ask you to read the compatibilist literature to see how different your views actually are from the versions defended in the literature.) Additional, as i said both in my article and in a previous comment, I do not reject all conceptions of moral responsibility. With Derk Pereboom, I accept a forward looking account of moral responsibility and find it perfectly consistent with free Will skepticism.

    BTW, I recent wrote up a précis of Pereboom’s new book and it dawns on me that some of you might be interested in reading it. I lays out Pereboom’s arguments for free Will skepticism and his optimism. It’s worth a read (but it’s no replacement for reading the actual book!)

    Click to access downloads.php


  33. SocraticGaffly, I fear our exchange is getting redundant. But to reiterate:

    I simply disagree with you that there is no logical connection between free will and moral responsibility (by the way, I’m not sure why you continue to talk about theories of justice instead of (what I have been talking about) basic desert moral responsibility–I fear you are conflating a number of things in your comments). Again, as I stated in my article, I 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. My definition therefore ties the two concepts together! Obviously you disagree with my definition but (a) you have not offered an alternative definition, and (b) you have not explained why your purified conception would be of any practical interest. The virtue of defining free will as I have is that (a) it is a neutral definition that all parties can agree to (I.e., compatibilists, libertarians, and free will skeptics can all agree that this is what we are debating about), (b) it captures what’s at stake in the free will debate, and (c) it’s reflective of how most philosophers define free will. Of course you are free to talk about something else….but this is what I am discussing.

    SO, how do you define free will? (I’m authentically interested in this (I’m not just being rhetorical). A clear definition of what YOU think is under debate In the free will debate would be helpful since I think it would help clarify our disagreement.)

    Btw, I love talking about theories of justice without discussion of free will–I do it all day long in my social and political philosophy course. That doesn’t mean, however, that free will and moral responsibility are not connected. Perhaps if you want to achieve the separation you wish, it might be better if you used a different term–degrees of autonomy, voluntaries, etc. It seems that given your brain-centered concerns, this is what you are actually interested in. That’s fair enough. I’m also interested in these questions, but I think there is an additional interesting question: are people truly deserving of praise and blame in a nonconsequentialist sense (what Pereboom and others call Basic Desert MR). It’s totally okay if you are not interested in this latter question, but again thesis what I am discussing.


  34. There is an interesting discussion buried in here, about the feedback loops of moral responsibility between personal judgement and the various forms of social conventions and civil strictures, but it is obscured by this focus on the concept of free will, which is, for all intents and purposes, a political slogan, specifically designed to inflame emotions. A sledge hammer, when a scalpel is needed.
    It reminds me of the anti-tax slogan, “We want you to keep more of your money in your pocket.” For one thing, it isn’t your money, because if it were, it would have your picture on it and you could run some off on the printer, every time you ran low. Money is a medium like roads, but it serves the interests of some to treat it as personal property and get as many yahoos as stirred up as possible. Basically the notion of free will appeals to the same level of intellectual sensibility.


  35. Gregg,

    With all due respect, it strikes me as disingenuous to claim that displaying the dark side of free will is not to be taken as part of your argument against the concept of free will.

    What I mean by your scientism is the use of scientific paraphernalia to solve philosophical issues, as if the philosopher can call on science to be a true-or-false question-answering toolkit, worse than a toolkit, a black-box. There’s a kind of thrill to supporting your argument with bleeding edge lab results like Shariff, et al. (2014, on-line), impatient of replications, of the extra effort needed for extraordinary claims, completely ignoring the skid-marks in the entire field of social-psych since Kahnemann’s broadside in Nature calling faddish priming work the “poster child for doubts about the integrity of psychological research.”:

    There is in fact a far richer and more durable cache of social psychological research that might be incorporated into any consideration of free will belief effects: the “illusion of control” material, which has already demonstrated a wide range of effects (positive and negative and under methodically varied circumstances) attributable to the belief that one has control. – Ellen Langer, now at Harvard, invented the field. She was the departmental wunderkind at CUNY when I studied there in the 70s.

    As for political correctness, I think Schlafly connects the dots. I simply react to the extraneous anti-rape lecture. (Someone needs to investigate the evolving role of rape as the degree zero of ethics.)

    At the moment I doubt that belief or non-belief in free will is an important agent in human behavior. But it could become so at least for certain individuals – concern about that issue is actually (tho not necessarily) a pathology seen in institutionalized subjects. I wonder when a charismatic TED talker will convince an entire audience to give up their believe in, pierce through the illusion of free will?


  36. Paul So:

    There is nothing disrespectful or dismissive about a Wittgensteinian analysis. It is one of the main approaches to philosophical questions of the last century.

    With regard to hinge propositions and justification, the idea is developed primarily in “On Certainty,” Wittgenstein’s main foray into epistemology. It is in response to the infinite regresses/skepticism that result from classical Foundationalism, and it’s main insight is that not every belief can be justified, if only because one must believe the principles of justification themselves. Wittgenstein views beliefs/propositions as only justifiable against a background or within a framework, and obviously, on such a view, the background/framework cannot itself be justified. The idea is also found in Carnap’s distinction between “internal” and “external” questions, as described in his “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology.”

    Finally, with respect to “justifying” the Wittgensteinian approach, personally, I do *not* think that the approach is useful with respect to every area of philosophy. That is, I *do* think that there are some genuine philosophical questions. Generally speaking, the Wittgensteinian/Ordinary Language approach seems called for, when a philosophical problem seems to have become interminable and stagnated — and/or resulted in skepticism. Like Hume and unlike Kant and much of mainline philosophy, I believe that skeptical paradoxes mark the place where rational/philosophical inquiry ends, not where it begins. Interminably persistent questions and insoluble skeptical paradoxes are what typically tell me a philosophical problem is a pseudo-problem and thus, amenable to a Wittgensteinian analysis. And this is what I think of the free will problem.

    I should add that I think that the ascription of agency provides hinge propositions for a number of crucial language games, beyond that of morals. As I already mentioned, it is also required for the intelligibility of intentional ascription and explanation, and even if, in some alternative universe, we got rid of moral discourse (a very distant alternative universe), we still would be engaging in intentional discourse and explanation.

    Finally, to Socratic Gadfly, I don’t see how a Wittgensteinian analysis of the free will problem constitutes a “straw man,” but perhaps you didn’t mean to associate the two.


  37. One of two:

    I want to thank Mr. Caruso for an exceptionally well-written article and for engaging the readers’ comments as he travels during the holiday. My thanks also to his wife and daughter who, given the circumstances, must be praised for uncommon understanding. In this regard, my best wishes for the holiday season and for a safe journey home.

    I want also to express appreciation to the readers for the generally high quality of the commentary. As often happens when an article deals with the subjects of free will and moral responsibility, I find myself tugged in so many directions that my desire to form a position of my own seems rather hopeless. Where to begin? The female spider gives birth to hundreds of little ones that proceed to devour her.
    The author’s concern seems best summarized here:

    “As public proclamations of skepticism continue to rise, and as the mass media continues to run headlines announcing ‘Free will is an illusion’ and ‘Scientists say free will probably doesn’t exist,’ [9] we need to ask what effects this will have on the general public and what the responsibility is of professionals.”
    I must confess to initially feeling that there is a trace of condescension here. This is captured in part in the Wiki discussion of folk psychology:

    “Folk psychology remains the subject of much contention in academic circles with respect to its scope, method and the significance of its contributions to the scientific community.[19][not in citation given] A large part of this criticisms stems from the prevailing impression that folk psychology is a primitive practice reserved for the uneducated and non-academics in discussing their everyday lives.[20]”

    But, as I continued to read, I became convinced of the author’s genuine concern in this matter. Accepting the premise that free will skepticism is in fact becoming more prevalent among the folk, he asks a series of provocative questions:

    “What, then, would be the consequence of accepting free will skepticism? What if we came to disbelieve in free will and moral responsibility? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings? Would it cause nihilism and despair as some maintain?”

    It should perhaps be noted that most of these questions have been posed for centuries. The author doubtless knows this, but suggests that they take on greater urgency as a result a our current understanding of human nature and human or folk psychology. He then sketches some different positions in response to the position of free will skepticism and clearly expresses his own:

    “My position is one of optimistic skepticism and disillusionism. I maintain that belief in free will, rather than providing the pragmatic benefits many claim, is too often used to justify treating people in severe and demeaning ways. The problem is the belief that individuals “justly deserve” what they get. The idea of “just deserts” — which is so central to the “moral responsibility system” (Waller 2011, 2013) — is a pernicious one.”


  38. Two of two:

    My question would be whether references to what most reasonable people recognize as the essentially platitudinous nonsense of “rugged” individualism or the “self-made” man can be said to capture the aspirational nature of a desert-based morality much less to characterize its failed or misguided implementations as “pernicious.” This leads to the rather bizzare conclusion, in my opinion, that the notion of retribution inevitably results in “social and economic inequalities.” In all honesty I fail to see the “optimism” in this sort of skepticism. What you propose in part II is rather vague as an alternative to a desert-based notion of moral responsibility. The studies cited seem to me rather underwhelming or, as you point out, “I advise caution in drawing any universal or sweeping conclusions from them.”

    More to the point, I find the reports of such studies to be less than enlightening and largely simplistic attenuations of the subject matter. Granted, I have not read the studies themselves or the reference material in your extensive bibliography. 🙂

    Having said this, I’m grateful for this article, your clarity and transparency in articulating your position. Bottom line, I suppose, is that I am not a disillusioned optimistic skeptic in the manner of your characterization. I believe that the notion of retribution, for better or worse, is embedded in human nature. At the same time, I recognize that its aspirational nature–the ideal notion of proportionate measure for measure–is often muddied in the waters of deterrence and self-serving emotionalism and rationalizations.

    Given my background, I find it personally more helpful (and entertaining) to read Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” while discounting its Freudian motifs.


  39. If we hope to as a society to create an effective system of ‘justice’ or if we hope as individuals to progressively ‘self-actualize’ it seems to me the issue of prime importance is understand the practicalities of how freedom, constraint and adaptibility are intertwined in living beings. I just don’t think choosing sides on ‘free will’ as a static concept informs this understanding.

    If we ask ourselves what leads to the experience of freedom when engaging with our environment I don’t think the answer lies the act of continually making deliberate conscious choices. On the contrary it is when we have already developed the skills and layed down the pathways (neural and otherwise) that constrain our responses to flow effortlessly as we are absorbed and aware in a specific medium that we experience a sense of freedom.

    We our constrained however by environment to experience that type of freedom in those limited arenas or mediums where the contingencies that playout do not overwhelm our inborn and cultivated talents. If we hope to expand the environments where we can experience a sense of freedom we need to be receptive to the sense of willful constraint that is invloved when progressively cultivating new skills or building new pathways. The constraints/pathways we cultivate afford us new freedoms. I think this relates to the idea of maximum entropy and intelligence and can serve as a model for ‘self-actualization’.

    When we assume ‘free will’ and ignore the necessity and utility of internal and external constraints then flawed ideologies like the author mentions can be adopted. If we however take a stance denying the capacity to apply effort to ‘self-actualization (‘will’) I believe we unnecesarily deny and constrain the very real manifestation of individual and societal progress. I would ask why must we describe such a complex perhaps paradoxical relationships between ourselves, others, our everchanging environments, freedom, constraint, justice etc…. on the basis of static dichotomy?


  40. Yes, Gregg, a disbelief in free will would be harmful. If your goal is to promote leftist goals and undermine personal freedom and Christianity, then I agree that a disbelief in free will might help, as I argued in previous posts. You did not disagree, except to point out that beliefs among philosophers are not perfectly correlated. Of course some theists are free will deniers, as some believe in predestination.

    Unless you are some sort of hard-core Marxist atheist, creating a nation of sheep is not a good thing. The Soviet Union tried it. It still exists in Cuba and North Korea. It partially exists in the Islamic world, where the mosques teach fatalism and the suicide bombers think that they are carrying out Allah’s will.

    People want to be free. Modern civilization was created in Europe when Christian, Roman, and Greek influences created a system where people are free to do as they please, subject to a personal moral accountability for their behavior. I like it that way. So does most of the Western world, as far as I know.

    You want to convince people of something contrary to common sense and modern science, in order to promote your personal left-wing atheist authoritarian ideology. Thank God it is not possible. My choice is for a free society.


  41. Excellent article. This philosophic issue is now a total sociologic and political mess, which is the result of total confusion of three terms.

    One, free choice: no, we do not have free choice, as the winning lottery is always beyond our choosing.

    Two, free belief: {although you do have free will, please do ‘believe’ that free will is an illusion as I can show you the dark side of it} is based on the ‘fact’ that free belief is a human faculty. The arbitrary connections between the priming and its finding, between the free will and the just world belief are supported by the fact that we do have free belief faculty.

    Three, free will: what the heck it is?

    The total mess of this ‘free belief’ can be easily organized as a math axiomatic system. And, it is not very difficult to prove that,
    Free belief = free will

    Then we can prove a ‘theorem’:

    The structure (expression) of believing in free will = the structure of disbelieving in free will

    That is, all the dark side of the ‘free will’ will show up as a different set of darkness in the anti-free-will side.

    Yet, by choosing {free will = free belief} is too easy of an answer.

    Standard Model is a 100% phenomenological model. Then, there are two types of ‘theoretical physics’.

    Type one (the fake, the TP1): calculating the SM equations.
    Type two (the genuine, the TP2); finding the ‘base’ for its free parameters, etc.

    In addition to the above math pathway, this ‘free will’ is a 100% TP2 issue with the following simple questions.

    Q1, is ‘free’ a physics (not physical) reality?
    Q2, is ‘will’ a physics reality?
    Q3, is “free will’ a physics reality? Where can it be found? In dog, cat or proton?
    Q4, is human carrying this ‘free will’?
    Q5, is human ‘free will’ caste dependent? Only King has while commoners have not.
    Q6, how does this human free will manifest? If the human free will is carried on his toenail, can it still be expressed?

    These 6 Qs are clearly defined and can be easily answered in TP2 with the ‘current’ known physics. I will give the conclusion first.

    Conclusion: Yes, ‘free will’ is a physics-reality, totally objective.
    Yes, human ‘free will’ will definitely reach its full expression even if it is carried on his toenail. [That is, those brain studies are nice but have no relevancy.]

    In a few short comments, I can only give out a roadmap for this.
    First, to show that free will has nothing to do with the ‘determine of …(any kind of determinism)’.

    Second, what is ‘free’ in physics?

    Third, what is ‘will’ in physics? That is, the ‘intelligence’ and ‘consciousness’ must be defined in physics.

    Fourth, what is the implementation pathway?


  42. Thomas, thank you for your very kind comments. For a more philosophical gloss of the implications of free Will skepticism, one that doesn’t rely on the kind of empirical studies discussed here, I would once again recommend checking out Derk Prebooms two excellent books. Pereboom also does a good job spelling out the alternatives to desert-based moral responsibility. He explains how we can preserve most of what we care about, that we can make sense of a forward looking conception of moral responsibility, that we can deal successfully with criminal behavior, etc. For a start, I would check out the link to the precis I wrote, which is linked to above.

    Schlafly, you make some big leaps! I don’t know why you think I’m trying to undermine personal freedom and Christianity. First off, political freedom is not the same as metaphysical freedom. Secondly, we might end up with more freedom and better opportunities under the model I propose. I think what you are really opposed to is the idea that we should focus on addressing the social conditions and systematic causes that lead to criminality, wealth inequality, education inequity, etc, instead of blaming people on the tail end. I understand that we probably have different political philosophies, but to equate my ideas with the Soviets and North Korea is simply outrageous!

    I will probably be offline for the next day. Happy holidays!


  43. Hi Professor Caruso,
    I appreciated the work you put into the article to make it very clear and thorough. The unleashing of empirical studies to support your claims makes your thesis very convincing.

    However, I did want to raise a couple of criticisms. Before doing this, I want to make it clear that I actually don’t think I disagree with your position. I just want to, out of respect for the amount of work you put in and your sincerity on the subject, try to directly address your arguments since it doesn’t seem that many have done this in the comments section.

    So, your general thesis is that it would be good for us to give up our belief in free will, as this would have many practical benefits. Additionally, that belief in free will has a “dark side” (it leads to many harmful and impractical consequences). You are NOT arguing, as you have repeated, that free will does not exist, merely that we ought to give up our belief in free will in practical decision making.

    I think what is confusing some people, is whether or not you are advocating that everyone believe free will skepticism, or simply that everyone accept free will skepticism.

    Accepting a theory is when you employ a theory or proposition in practical decision making even though you don’t necessarily believe it. For example, nobody believes Newtonian mechanics accurately represents the way the world actually is, we all believe that Quantum mechanics accurately (at least more-so) represents the way the world actually is. However, for practical reasons, if we had to figure out what the trajectory of a moving rocket is going to be, we would most likely use (accept) newtonian mechanics in figuring out this problem. The reason for this is that quantum mechanical equations are too hard to use and newtonian mechanics does a good enough job (this example I got from Jake Ross’s thesis paper on practical decision making).

    So, sometimes we accept a theory we don’t believe, and we believe a theory that we don’t accept.

    When you talk about how free will skepticism will effect our legal policies and political policies, I think that some thinkg that it is too strong to say that we ought to BELIEVE free will skepticism. We could achieve policy revision with simple acceptance of free will skepticism.

    Brushing this issue aside though..(continue on next post)


  44. One of your arguments is for the claim that it is practically beneficial to give up our belief in free will has to do with, as you say in your TEDx Talk, “it would allow us to focus on the causes of criminality instead of punishing it on the tail end.” I agree that focusing on preventing crime is intuitively better than punishing people afterwards (for many reasons you mentioned in your talk and paper).

    However, one might want to argue that one of the causes of criminality in the first place is being a free will skeptic. If this is the case, then your claim that we ought to prevent the causes of crime instead of punishing them might actually be satisfied only if we refrain from believing in free will skepticism. In other words (to use the distinction employed earlier) if the belief in free will skepticism is a cause of criminality, then you might think we ought not accept free will skepticism!

    I think you recognize this, and this is why you wanted to dismiss, or mitigate the power of, the experimental studies mentioned at the beginning of Part II of your paper. These studies could be suggestive that one of the causes of criminality is belief in free will skepticism. One of the studies suggested that belief in free will skepticism (you dispute that this is the belief actually primed but we will discuss that later) leads to an increased likelihood of cheating. Since cheating can be a crime (plagiarism, stealing perhaps, etc.) this study suggests that belief in free will skepticism could be a cause of crime.

    The other study is even more incriminating. It suggests that belief in free will skepticism increases aggressive behavior. Engaging in aggressive behavior can be either a cause of crime or a crime in itself, so this study also suggests that belief in free will skepticism is a cause of criminality.

    For the above reasons, it was very important for you to dismiss these studies, because if you didnt, it might undermine your project. I think that we might want to resist your claim that we shouldn’t place too much weight on these studies. You offer three reasons (continue on next post)


  45. 1. The passages used as primes for belief in free will skepticism primed the wrong thing. Specifically, perhaps they primed the belief that free will is an illusion (a scientific reductionist view), but not that free will doesn’t exist.

    2. It is possible that the cheating behavior could be explained by ego depletion. When my fundamental beliefs are being questioned, my ego may be hurt, I feel some negative valence, and so I engage in bad behavior (like cheating).

    3. These studies, at best, only show that there are temporary effects of the belief in free will skepticism, not what the long term effects are, if there are any at all.

    I want to respond to each one of these and encourage that we, instead of dismissing these studies, take the results as data to be respected in this discussion.

    Regarding 2- perhaps you are right that it is possible that cheating behavior could be explained by ego depletion. It is not clear at all that ego depletion could, or regularly does, cause aggressive behavior (as the second study found). I would want to hear how this connection would work. I see no connection. Given funding limitations, if we have absolutely no reason to thing ego depletion could explain the results, it seems warranted for us to disregard this skepticism and proceed under the assumption that the results support the conclusion that free will skepticism belief might be a cause of criminality.

    Regarding 1- It is possible that we primed the “wrong thing” but I think most people, including many psychology and philosophy professors I have spoken with, would want to say something like, come on… the belief that free will is an illusion and the belief in free will skepticism are close enough for this not to be a problem. I mean, the important thing is that both beliefs involve implicitly denying that we have the robust sense of free will that we thought we had… (some kind of absolute libertarian free will).

    Regarding both 1 and 2 (and this is somewhat of a follow up the the previous comment on 1)- I think that you are being a bit uncharitable to the studies. I have heard many professors of psychology and philosophy say that when it comes to psychology studies (especially social psychology studies), one can always muster up some skeptical scenarios that would warrant us disregarding the results. For example, in all of your studies, I could probably argue that its not clear whether or not belief in free will was the thing that led to the revised attitudes and behavior, perhaps the subjects merely ACCEPTED free will skepticism…

    The point is that there are some cases where possible confounding variables ought to seriously cast the conclusion of studies into doubt, but there are other times when it the possible confounding variables raised to cast doubt seem as outlandish as skeptical scenarios in epistemology. Sure, It could be that I am dreaming and there is no external world, but come on….

    Granted I don’t think that your possibilities are even close to being as frustrating as skeptical scenarios in epistemology, but I do think that we can count them as concerns that we can set aside.

    Regarding 3- I was sitting in on a graduate course at NYU taught by Ned Block and Eric Mendelbaum this past semester. One day we went over a paper Eric wrote about belief acquisition. What’s important is that he mentioned in this class a study that indicates that primed beliefs actually have long-lasting effects (studies have shown effects years later!). I don’t know the exact study he mentioned, but since you said you are open to being shown to be empirically corrected, I recommend you email him and ask which study this was. Perhaps it would be illuminating (and sorry I cannot actually provide the article myself).

    Anyway, if it is the case that primed beliefs can have long lasting effects, it seems reasonable to suppose that these primed beliefs about free will skepticism would have long lasting effects as well leading us to place less weight on concern #3 you brought up. It is safe to assume that belief in free will skepticism would have long lasting criminality causing effects.

    With all of these things in mind, I think that we should operate under the assumption that the studies you mention at the beginning of part II of your essay should be taken much more seriously. If we are taking them seriously, then there is definitely a down-side to belief in free will skepticism- it can be a cause for crime. If this is right, then perhaps we ought not believe (or accept?) in free will skepticism.

    Now, this doesn’t yet show that the badness of believing free will skepticism outweighs the badness of believing in free will, but I think that the playing field is a bit more leveled. In other words, further argument needs to be given showing that belief in free will skepticism won’t lead to more harm than good.

    I hope these comments were helpful, and once again I really appreciated your paper. It forced me to think about these issues a lot more than I had before, and I think that this topic ought to be thought about.


  46. (Sorry Massimo for posting so many times and at such great length, this will be my last one!)

    I just wanted to clarify one point- I said that I would want you to spell out the connection between ego depletion and aggressive behavior. The reason for this is that if we have no reason to think that some variable was influencing the results at all then we typically don’t think we have to control for it.

    For example, it’s possible that location of large hadron collider effected the results of the higgs boson finding, but intuitively we since we have no reason to think that location is a variable involved or connected to the results in any way. So, we don’t need to move the Large Hadron Collider and test it in another location to control for this…

    Similarly, I don’t see any connection between ego-damage and aggressive behavior. I personally don’t know of any studies showing such a connection. Perhaps maybe when you feel hurt you lash out on others or something? Either way I feel as though this concern can be disregarded just like location in regards to the large hadron collider.

    Also I hope I haven’t misrepresented any of your views or been uncharitable to you. Apologies if this happened or if it sounded like this happened.


  47. Hi Gregg, hope this finds you after an enjoyable holiday. I’m replying to your last general reply…

    “I’m surprised that no one has yet directly defended the claim that disbelief in free will would be harmful to society…“

    Well I agreed with your analysis and suggestions for strengthening the studies so it was hard to defend their conclusions. Also, as I suggested in my reply, I don’t believe such beliefs can be maintained for long in general, so can’t inherently become harmful to society at large. But I’ll nibble at the bait you offered.

    I do believe that anti-FW beliefs can be harmful to people when joined with other feelings or beliefs. Just as I argued libertarian FW can support/be supported by JWB/RWA beliefs, so can anti-FW beliefs support/be supported by nihilistic/fatalistic beliefs. It would be interesting to see correlational studies on that, and more importantly in people with suicidal/self-harm impulses.

    I also believe indoctrination with such beliefs can be used to manipulate subjects, especially in vulnerable populations or over generations. There is much to be had in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course this does not seem to apply to your described FW skepticism (I will be reading much from Pereboom to get a better handle).

    “…experimentally diminishing free will belief through anti-free-will arguments diminished retributive punishment, suggesting a causal relationship.”

    Mmmm, mirroring your arguments in the first section: for how long?

    “… if you are a compatibilist that rejects basic desert moral responsibility, the retributive attitudes, etc. I’m not sure I understand then what the difference is between compatibilists and free Will skeptics. “

    I have a rather different view of morality but again I will nibble at the bait. Here you say “basic desert”, but your usual references have been to some “truly” or “ultimately” deserved punishments/rewards. Those last two I can’t agree to because they seem to carry incompatibilist baggage. However “basic” deserts seem fine to me.

    Let’s say Mr X kills someone. From what I understand FW skepticism would accept punishments based on consequentialist ends (perhaps deterrence) but not because Mr X deserves it based on his being responsible for the acts.

    As a compatibilist I would argue that (barring extenuating circumstances) X is responsible at a level that is sufficient to “deserve” blame and punishment. This would take a bit to parse out, so I will take a backdoor approach.

    Punishing a random group of people, or someone close to the killer, might also act as a deterrent or serve consequentialist ends. That is the idea behind collective punishment, which can be effective. The problem is that it is unjust. The others punished do not “deserve” it. According to an FW-skeptic position it would seem that others would be just as deserving as the killer (not) and so as long as the punishment served specific ends others could be punished. To argue others shouldn’t be punished seems to hinge on an understanding they are less responsible and so less deserving.


  48. I agree with SocraticGadfly that there is no logical connective between belief positions about free will and retributive justice. The desire for retribution is an emotion and a belief provides no more reason to scratch that itch than determinism. Similarly determinism provides no less reason to scratch the itch.

    Linking the case for non-retributive justice to metaphysical theory only muddies the water and polarises the debatee. The case for non-retributive, evidence based or consequentialist jurisprudence stands very well on its own and is just as valid if libertarian free will is the case is it is if determinism is the case.

    I also agree with Hal Morris that “skepticism” is the wrong word. Determinism is a definite claim, it would make as much sense for a proponent of libertarian free will to call himself a ‘Determinism skeptic’.


  49. Gregg D. Caruso: “Determinism, as it is commonly understood, is roughly the thesis that every event or action, including human action, is the inevitable result of preceding events and actions and the laws of nature. The problem of free will and determinism therefore comes in trying to reconcile our intuitive sense of free will with the idea that our choices and actions may be causally determined by impersonal forces over which we have no ultimate control.”

    No, this {preceding events … and the laws of nature determinism} plays minimal role in nature. The nature is ‘determined’ in three tiers.

    Tier 1 (T1), the events: They are determined by the laws of nature and zillions ‘boundary conditions’, and the ‘preceding events’ play only a minimal role in this process. A bullet can miss the target by a gust of wind, etc. No, there is no ‘determinism’ in this ‘event-tier’ as everything happens as happenstance according to the ‘interactions’ of boundary conditions (including the preceding events). Quantum effect is not a major factor in this ‘event-tier’ indeterminacy in the human-action level. This indeterminacy denies the ‘free choice’ to be a faculty of human. No, our will might not be realized all the time. But, this indeterminacy does not prohibit us to project our will, as at the worst, we fail.

    Tier 2 (T2), the laws of nature: However the quantum-tail wiggles in the event-tier, the quantum law itself is consistent. In fact, all laws of ‘this’ universe is determined (although they could evolve but not chaotically). This determinacy does not kill the indeterminacy in the event-tier.

    Tier 3 (T3), the ‘pop process(es)’: at this moment, the ‘fundamental’ laws of nature are popped out. For the multiverse people, the pop process(es) could be undetermined. Of course, they are wrong. But, either cases will not change the event-tier on its freedom.

    So, Nature (capital N, encompassing three tiers) is hard-determined while the boundary-indeterminacy and the quantum-uncertainty are allowed in the event-level. No, this hard-determinism does not kill ‘free’ as a physics reality. Yet, our choices and actions could be altered by the event-level indeterminacy, but this indeterminacy cannot kill or prevent any freely chosen starting conditions. It can only alter or interact with them.

    So, the preconception that determinism is incompatible with anything ‘free’ is wrong. Yet, is ‘free’ a physics-reality? Under what condition a thing can be ‘free’? I have showed many times (see ) that,

    Permanent confinement = Total freedom

    No, ‘free’ is not coming from the boundary-indeterminacy nor from the quantum-uncertainty but is from the total and permanent confinement. Although ‘this’ universe is expanding, it is still totally confined. I will discuss this next.

    Yes, ‘free’ is a physics-reality. Yet, is ‘will’ a physics-reality?


  50. Hi Gregg,

    Robin, dispite your concerns with FAD-plus, these results have been found with more than one scale. I agree, though, that additional work in this area needs to be done (and it is!). I’m open to being proven wrong with future empirical work–but two birds in the hand are better than a bunch of “what ifs” in the bush!

    I don’t think that it addresses the issue I had with the scale to say that the same results were derived usig another scale.

    If someone points out that measurements are being taken with a faulty instrument, this can hardly be refuted by saying that the experiment gave the same results using an other instrument, unless you can demonstrate that the second instrument is sound.

    Two birds in the hand are no good unless they are the birds you are looking for.

    As for the Sharrif et al result, I have read the paper. I not that it also uses FAD+ and the results are generally at a fairly low level of statistical significance. But, well, OK, the results do suggest that whatever it is that FAD+ is measuring has a causal link to attitudes to retribution.

    I just question that FAD+ measures any sort of considered position about volition. I can’t help feeling that I could word the scenarios or the scales in that experiment to get the opposite result.


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