Free will – By Jesús Zamora

This post is also available in: Spanish

With that it seems clear that, for you, the notion of free will exists and makes sense.

Well, of course there is a notion of free will. What’s more, there are many different notions of free will and many philosophers use different ones. The question is whether human beings -or lizards, or computers- have free will or not. When I was talking about lizards before, I was referring to certain empirically testable capabilities that human beings have and lizards don’t. We can choose amongst a much greater number of options than a lizard, but that’s due to the complexity of our brain -understood from the biological point of view, not the quantum one- allowing us to imagine a lot more alternatives than the lizard, which maybe is only able to imagine whether it lies in the sun or the shade. We have the ability to imagine many different options and also to adjust our behavior to choose one or another. This capacity can be perfectly described without the need to introduce a metaphysical notion of free will, which would entail some kind of violation of physical laws and for which I see no need. It seems to me that what we should do is observe the behavior of human beings, the behavior of other animals and then talk about those differences -which, as we understand, could refer to a greater number of choices- as free will, but we’re inside the realm of empirical science, not Metaphysics or Philosophy.

To put it like Spinoza: “what we call free will is the ignorance of the causes of our behavior .”

Exactly. I completely agree with that statement. For example, if I have a piece of chocolate in my hand and I’m trying to decide whether to eat it or not, what I observe by introspection is that, at a certain moment, I decide to eat it and I also observe there has been a process of deliberation in which the desire to eat it and the desire to not put on weight -or to not increase my cholesterol or whatever else- compete, but what I do not observe in any way is the causal process that leads from the deliberation to decision. I observe the decision as I see a pimple come out, without knowing how it comes about. Possibly, if we had a more precise knowledge -as Spinoza thought- of the causal mechanism which leads from the deliberation process to the decision, we would see there’s no need to assume there’s some entity which violates the laws of physics or anything like that.

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