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I don't know very much about the positions on free will that important philosophers have expressed, so here's my question:

One could argue if we discuss the topic "Do we have free will", the "hidden" question we actually discuss is "Do we have free will, and if not, how should we change our behaviour as a consequence?"

Expressed in the latter way, the question seems to become futile, because the implied ability to change behaviour (even if only in our way of thinking) also implies free will (at least to me). And if there were no free will, we could not change our behaviour whatever the answer, so that the question becomes pointless in each possible case.

Maybe one could reject the hidden question and be interested in the free will problem as a purely academic exercise. But I'm not sure if that would be so easy, since even deciding to deal with the free will problem or trying to convince others of a view on it could be regarded as changing behaviour.

Since all that seem pretty obvious thoughts to me, I assume it has been discussed before, and/or contains a flaw in the reasoning. Can you point me to examples where philosophers have discussed this?

  • "I refute it thus!" Yes, your pons asinorum, or whatever it is... proof by contradiction, would be enough for most people to drop the question entirely. Philosophers seem to be more stubborn! – user16869 May 16 '16 at 12:41
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    c.f. this answer philosophy.stackexchange.com/a/15798/3733 -- we have intuitive notions of freedom, coercion and determinism; it's philosophy's job to flesh out these intuitions. – Dave May 16 '16 at 13:24
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"Free will" is not a monolith. The reason that no person considers the issue futile to discuss is that if the determinism of behavior is a given, but we keep using the term, then what do we actually mean to say when we claim to have willed an action?

The question that arises from discussions about free will is typically not whether we can change our behavior, but whether it's right to hold people responsible for their actions. If so, then what level of coercion or force is required to eliminate what we think of as free will, and how does this differ from the overall deterministic nature of the world?

Most philosophers of any note have weighed in on some aspect of this question. Some books to start with (just off the top of my head) would be Elbow Room by Daniel Dennett, or Free Will, a collection of notable essays and papers on the subject dating back to the seventies (Ed. Gary Watson).

  • I disagree. Compatibilists such as Daniel Dennett claim to have dissolved the metaphysical question of freewill and decisively answered the ethical question by showing that the compatibilist account of freewill is sufficient to hold people responsible for their a actions. But compatibilist accounts give as much freewill to a super advanced AI as they do to an adult human. Should we start giving Google's self-driving cars speeding tickets and taking them to traffic court? – Alexander S King May 17 '16 at 22:08
  • @AlexanderSKing You're not wrong, but I don't believe that was relevant to the content of the question, which straightforwardly asked whether the consequence of the answer rendered the question itself futile. – Ryder May 17 '16 at 23:08
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People who debate on free will, or freedom of the will, whether it exists or not are purely giving speculative answers based on their personal social contexts; an individual defines free will based on their personal experiences in our social, politico-economic, racial, gendered system. Those who feel fluidity and ease to upward mobility will likely defend the position of free will, where the less Mobile person in the same system will adhere to idea that free will doesn't exist or is limited; the debate on free will might be an affective based debate not an intellectual based debate.

Furthermore, free will is different from freedom of the will or freedom from the will; this means when debate occurs, the word 'will' differs in connotation depending on debator as well as the phrase "free will", " freedom of the will", and "freedom from the will", and also word 'free'. People don't usually delve deeper into these nuances; The debate feels futile.

If one starts to analyze the phenomena of the debate itself, it won't feel so futile.

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