Notoriously intractable, free will have had no success in being proven physically. Even phenomenally it is difficult to pin down precisely. So why do people believe each other when claiming that they have free will, what kind of shared experience in the individual helps them recognize it?

Let me expand that last sentence at bit: In order for something to be named in language there must be some sort of shared experience two parties could point to. "You have X?", "Yes, let's call it 'free will'"...

See our parents could talk to us as if we had free will, even actively inculcate such belief, but without some inner experience of free will we would simply not grow up believing it (so vehemently).

Now take a habit, something we do for whatever reason with some frequency becoming automatic behavior. Yet it's not always like that, sometimes the appropriate time comes up and we didn't do the "automatic" behavior. Sometimes we become aware of the time, recall what we should do and then decide to do it (or not to do it).

Point is, there is a whole range of mental activity (conscious and subconscious) around the performance of habitual tasks. Sometimes the habit chases us, and sometimes we chase the habit.

Question: Is there any literature that blame the experience of free will on this interplay?

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    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Nov 20, 2019 at 9:13
  • Perhaps the perennial view is what you're after. This states that our actions are conditioned such that, as Gurdjieff likes to put it, we are robots. Conditioning would play the role of what you're calling habits.
    – user20253
    Dec 18, 2019 at 14:34
  • @PeterJ Doesn't the perennial view take an endeavour to overcome our conditioning as a path to freedom, rather than, the simple observation that we can resist our habits leading to an implicit belief in our own freedom of choice? The first concerns an effort to obtain, the latter belief stems from a passive observation of every day action.
    – christo183
    Dec 20, 2019 at 6:32
  • @christo183 I think it might be better to say that overcoming conditioning is freedom. Resisting our habits is not wholly different from indulging them. Transcending or getting rid of them is the idea. This allows spontaneous action, or 'action non-action'.
    – user20253
    Dec 20, 2019 at 13:08

2 Answers 2

  • Establishing a link between habit and free will is counterintuitive, which does not imply that the hypothesis is false.

  • Habits seem to associated with a kind of psychic inertia: I tend to go on acting in the same way as I have acted in the past. But intertia seems to be directly opposed to freedom, if freedom is understood as being able to be a cause for oneself ( and specially an efficient cause of one's actions). This account of freedom can be found in Aristotle and Aquinas.

  • Also, a traditional definition of freedom is " immunity from necessity" ( necessity being " what determines to only one thing" , " id quod determinat ad unum"). But, a habit is what makes that, morally, I cannot prevent myself from doing something, for I am used to acting in this way. An alcoholic person is not someone that drinks occasionally, but habitually.

  • However, there is one sense of " freedom" that one could link with " habit". This meaning of freedom can be found in Descartes , when he says ( in a letter to Father Mersonne) that freedom in the course of action ( not before the action is performed) consists in the easiness ( "facilité") with which the action is performed: the more I act easily, the more I act freely. That kind of freedom is associated with grace, beauty,elegance.

If freedom is associated with easiness of action ( absence of impediment, be it internal or external) , the experience of acting in virtue of a habit might also be an experience of freedom.

Note : this sense of freedom is associated to " virtuosity"

  • Also in Aristotle, one can find the idea that habit is what you " have" steadily and permanently ( " hexis", "habitus") ; the habit of facing danger makes you a courageous person , in such a way that you are freed from fear; habit guaranties that reason rules over passions and emotions; if freedom is equivalent to rationality, and if habit helps reason, then, habits are linked to freedom.
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    Interestingly I saw the very "strain" of acting against habit as a possible sign of freewill.
    – christo183
    May 21, 2020 at 10:47

Maybe it can be thought of along the lines of Frankfurt's second-order desires, except instead of nth-order impulses, we think of "desires of agency." I mean, do we or do we not want to have nondeterministic free will, and is it possible for this desire (and attendant beliefs, "false" or not) to cause actions? But what strict effect follows from a belief that not all actions are strict effects? (One reply: well then, beliefs don't cause actions at all. What then of desires, though? For again, what strict effect follows from acting on a desire for actions to not always be strict effects?)

  • I see you've made the connection to the mind-body problem, but beliefs need not be on the mind side of that (e.g. optical illusions). Have you, perhaps, a specific reference regarding Frankfurt's second-order desires in mind?
    – christo183
    Nov 18, 2019 at 7:03

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