Monday, July 16, 2012

The illusion of the free will problem

In the free will discussion – the discussion whether man is substantially free or whether his/her actions are determined in some way – generally man is seen as free when two conditions apply. The first one is that I must have several options to choose from, and the second one is that the choice I make must also be really my choice, in the sense that I am not determined to choose for one of the options I theoretically have. The extreme case of determination is that everything happens as it happens, including men’s actions, from the Big Bang onward: it’s impossible that the world and everything in it would have developed differently once it has started.
Much has been said about whether we have or haven’t a substantially free will, but now I don’t want to talk about that. Let’s just suppose that man is free in this sense and that the two conditions apply. As for me, I think this is so, at least to a certain extent. But what does it mean to us? I see here an analogy with what Wittgenstein wrote in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and what I quoted already in another context (see my blog dated August 2, 2010): “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions have been answered, our problems of life have still not been touched at all.” (id. 6.52) Here we see the same: If man is substantially free and if this freedom is not, for instance, an illusion, as some say (like Wegner in his famous book), does this involve that man is also free in the concrete situations s/he is in? As the case in my last blog makes clear, even if we can say that we are substantially free, even then the practical question whether we are actual free has not yet been answered. For although in the abstract I am as much or as little free as my neighbour, in practice there is a difference. In reality our freedom is enlarged or limited by the factual options of the situation plus our personal psychological make-up. Also in case we are free in the substantial sense and in case this freedom is not an illusion, it doesn’t imply that we are free in our actual actions, even if we feel so. Free will is a multilayered concept, and at the moment that all our substantial questions have been answered, our practical questions remain. That’s what life is about (and some other philosophy, too).

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