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After considering all possible ways that famous philosophers have tried to explain it, and reading so many articles that treat it like God’s greatest gift to mankind, I still don’t get it.

Is it that I cannot believe in free will- as though my free willing mind is being restrained by my own self; or do I just not want to? If I don’t want to, how do I make myself want to?

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  • Or do you just find the belief in the free will incompatible with your worldview? And why do you want to make yourself believe in it? – rus9384 Sep 28 '18 at 18:12
  • @rus9384 I wouldn’t mind believing in free will. It would make me normal and then I could do things with my time other than spamming the internet. I could even gossip about how stupid people are and boast about how awesome I am- and my boasts would be worthy because it’s actually me who is so awesome. I would probably even trust the government more because I would understand that all those criminals made a free choice- and it was the wrong one. Shoot, I might even start believing in an eternal torture chamber of burning flesh. Free will would open my mind up to infinite possibilities. – anonymouswho Sep 28 '18 at 18:26
  • What you are describing is simply power. But, well, not mind believing and to believe are different things. You might not mind believeing that gravity does not exist. – rus9384 Sep 28 '18 at 18:30
  • @rus9384 What do you mean when you say I’m describing power? Gravity makes sense to me, but if gravity is not real and it turns out heavy air or God is what holds us to the ground, then I can still make sense of “something causes me to fall when I jump”. But I don’t understand any explanation of free will. – anonymouswho Sep 28 '18 at 18:44
  • Because free will is a vague concept. In the sense concepts linked with the phrase "free will" differ drastically from one human to another. Many people simply understand it in the sense that human mind is able to have conditinals in decision making. – rus9384 Sep 28 '18 at 18:50
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Free will is tied together with responsibility, honor, and error. If a person were to fear responsibility, honor, or error, then perhaps they would find a mental block toward accepting free will.

Wanting to acknowledge free will is the first step... the second step is realizing what that means and taking up all the implications. If that were too heavy, the free-will-chooser still may do it, but not without help.

  • This does not address issues with determinism imposed on free will. – rus9384 Sep 28 '18 at 19:38
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    Why would someone fear responsibility, honor, and error? Is there some cause for this fear? – anonymouswho Sep 28 '18 at 19:38
  • Why or how? I can see "how"...a murder defendant may try to defend himself by claiming to have been insane and not to have freely willed the death of the victim. If his action had been freely willed, then his responsibility would lead directly to harm toward himself (via punishment)... clearly he would fear responsibility. – elliot svensson Sep 28 '18 at 19:42
  • Why did the murder defendant commit murder? – anonymouswho Sep 28 '18 at 19:51
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    @rus9384, if you don't acknowledge free will, then of what value is any honor (or error) you ascribe to a person? "Hey, he's a great guy: wish I had been caused by his external factors." Or, "Wow, what a jerk. I wonder how many other perfectly fine people have been caused to be so mean?" – elliot svensson Sep 28 '18 at 20:36
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For some people there is no good evidence that we do not have free will.

For a review of what evidence there might be, consider Alfred R. Mele's Free: why science hasn't disproved free will. Mele takes a skeptical view of the evidence that we do not have free will.

Some of the types of evidence he considers are the following:

  • Libet-style experiments where some decisions could be interpreted to be made unconsciously being generalized to a claim that "people probably never make conscious decisions to do things". (page 24)
  • "New-wave Libet-style" neuroscience where people in "fMRI and depth electrode experiments don't make conscious decisions to press buttons or click keys" is generalized to "probably people never make conscious decisions to do things". (page 38)
  • Social psychology experiments such as done by Daniel Wegner where some "human actions aren't caused even partly by conscious intentions" is generalized to claiming "no human actions are caused even partly by conscious intentions". (page 49-50).
  • "Bold situationist arguments" where it is asserted that "human behavior is entirely driven by the situations in which people find themselves and the effects these situations have on automatic behavior-producing processes." (page 72)

The supposed evidence that we are determined, that is, do not have any free will at all are based on specific experiments that are generalized to all of our behavior. The proof is a matter of faith in the generalization and without that faith, regardless what these experiments show, we have free will.

Even without examining alternate interpretations of what that specific evidence might mean, the generalization to all our actions, to saying that we have no free will whatsoever is a stretch that needs to be filled with something stronger than assertions.

Note that having free will does not require that all of our actions are without constraints of any kind. That is what makes this difficult for those who believe in determinism. It is only the determinist who must make such a strict claim against free will since it is the determinist who claims we do not have this at all.

Let's consider the OP's question: How do I believe in free will?

One way to potentially defeat the belief in determinism would be to take a skeptical approach to the claims that we do not have free will and examine that evidence critically. Mele's book is a short summary that might be a place to start.

In the comments the OP wrote: "Shoot, I might even start believing in an eternal torture chamber of burning flesh."

This issue has nothing to do with any religious position unless one wants to call the determinist master narrative a "religion".

For an atheistic, physicalist perspective on free will that is also critical of the evidence provided by the determinist master narrative see Mark Balaguer's Free Will. He believes it is up to neuroscience to determine whether we have free will or not. It is not up to philosophers. And we are so far from that result we should not expect it in our lifetimes.


Reference

Balaguer, M. (2014). Free will. MIT Press.

Mele, A. R. (2014). Free: why science hasn't disproved free will. Oxford University Press.

  • I’ve read this, and it mentions Mele several times. My issue is not that I don’t know enough about free will. Suppose I read your answer and the material you provided, and as I’m reading “You have free will because...” it finally makes sense and I begin believing. How can I stop myself from feeling deceived when I realize that my belief in free will was caused by those words? Or how can I say my decision was free from the causual influence of past events? In other words, how can I come to this decision from my self? – anonymouswho Oct 1 '18 at 6:35
  • @anonymouswho Having free will does not mean there are no constraints or no influences on it. Your belief may be "caused" by reading that. The determinist must claim it is "completely caused" by reading that. The free will position only says it is partially caused by reading that. That is Mele's main point in that small book: finding some constraint on us does not mean we are totally constrained. If you had any part to play in that decision, you have free will. The determinist must show you had no part to play in deciding to believe in free will rather than believe in determinism. – Frank Hubeny Oct 1 '18 at 10:53
  • I don’t understand why a determinist must claim anything was completely caused by a single influence. If you drip water into a cup, eventually a single drop will cause it to overflow. But had it not been for the prior drops, that particular water droplet would have hit the bottom of the cup. – anonymouswho Oct 1 '18 at 11:45
  • @anonymouswho It need not be a single cause. Call it a complete set of causes that does not involve any free will. This complete set of causes must exist otherwise free will exists. Free will can exist with constraints. Determinism cannot exist with any free will. It must eliminate all free will. That is what makes it difficult to show and is one basis for Mele's argument against the claim that any of these empirical studies actually shows we do not have free will. Their generalizations have not been shown by the particular experimental results assuming their interpretations are correct. – Frank Hubeny Oct 1 '18 at 13:09
  • I’m sorry Frank but this doesn’t make much sense to me. If there are indeed a set of causes, and reading your material was one of many causes that led me to believe in free will, then all the causes do exist. Also, how can free will be constrained? The definition of constrain is the exact opposite of free. – anonymouswho Oct 1 '18 at 13:43

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