“Exercising Free Will” is the Opposite of “Making Good Decisions”
Updated: Apr 10
Introduction: What is "Free Will"?
Free Will is a concept that has been debated for centuries, with its roots in philosophy, mythology, and law. This section will delve into the contributions from various fields, including philosophy, psychology, and neurology, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the concept of Free Will and discuss its implications on the decision-making process, individual responsibility, and the legal system’s attitudes towards justice. Each of these disciplines offers unique insights and perspectives, enabling us to appreciate the intricacies and complexities surrounding the notion of Free Will. As we examine the key ideas and theories from these diverse fields, we will begin to see how they complement and challenge each other, ultimately leading to a more nuanced understanding of the subject.
The philosophical debate around free will often revolves around determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism. However, recent advancements in philosophical discourse, such as the exploration of moral luck, nuances within compatibilist theories, intersubjective mythologies, and the emergence of poetic naturalism, challenge these traditional views. Engaging with these developments can provide a more comprehensive understanding of free will and its implications for human behavior and moral responsibility.
Psychological research has shown that beliefs in free will can influence behavior and moral judgments. It is essential to consider the intricacies of cognitive processes that govern decision-making, as well as the implications of unconscious processes and external factors on human behavior. By acknowledging these complexities, we can better understand the limitations of human agency and the role of free will in shaping our actions.
Neurological studies have sought to identify the neural correlates of decision-making and the role of the neocortex in this process. The neocortex is responsible for higher-order cognitive functions and enables humans to reflect on their reflexive impulses and devise better responses. However, studies like Libet’s experiments challenge the existence of free will by demonstrating that decisions are initiated by unconscious brain activity before conscious awareness. A more in-depth exploration of the role of the neocortex in decision-making may further illuminate the neurological underpinnings of free will.
Sociological and Anthropological Perspectives
The role of free will in the context of sociology and anthropology must be examined in light of cultural relativism and the influence of power dynamics on individual agency. By recognizing the ways in which social structures and cultural norms shape human behavior, we can develop a more holistic understanding of free will and its implications for personal responsibility and moral accountability.
In the context of legal systems, Free Will as a Legal Fiction is a vital component in determining individual responsibility and culpability. The concept of “The Reasonable Person Standard” serves as a benchmark for evaluating decision-making and actions in legal proceedings. This hypothetical individual embodies a standard of behavior that takes into account the inherent limitations of human decision-making while still striving for well-reasoned choices. In essence, the Reasonable Person represents a balance between acknowledging the impossibility of perfect decisions and the importance of individual responsibility in a society governed by laws. A more comprehensive exploration of these topics can help inform policy and judicial decisions, ensuring that the legal system remains just and compassionate in its treatment of individuals.
The exploration of Free Will through the lenses of philosophy, psychology, and neurology has provided valuable insights into the nature of this complex concept. Each field has contributed significantly to our understanding of Free Will, shedding light on its various dimensions and aspects. However, despite these important contributions, the notion of absolute Free Will begins to break down as we consider the intricacies of human decision-making, the deterministic natural laws governing the universe, and the limits of our cognitive abilities.
This brings us back to the aforementioned “Compatibilism”. Compatibilism is a philosophical stance that suggests determinism and Free Will can coexist. Compatibilists argue that, despite the universe being governed by deterministic natural laws, there is enough chaotic complexity for the emergence of Free Will. This notion of Free Will has been the consensus in philosophy for a long time but leaves much to be desired in defining what Free Will truly is and how it can coexist with deterministic natural laws.
From a psychological and neurological standpoint, the human neocortex is responsible for higher-level cognitive functions, such as reason, which distinguishes us from other animals that rely on instinctive reflexes. As social beings, children are primed to believe in Free Will because they trust the knowledge passed down from elders. This trust in Free Will allows for deeper reflection on our impulses and the development of more thoughtful responses instead of mere reactions.
Section 2: Intersubjective Myth and Legal Fiction
Although Free Will may not exist as an objective relationship or subjective experience, Poetic Naturalism could be a framework for showing that it exists as an emergent phenomenon. Poetic naturalism is a philosophical perspective that asserts the existence of multiple layers of description for understanding the world (see last week's article), each with its own set of concepts, vocabulary, and explanatory power. This perspective recognizes the importance of embracing the complexity of human behavior and decision-making, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of free will. By adopting poetic naturalism, we can appreciate the multitude of factors that contribute to the exercise of free will and the limitations inherent in our understanding of human agency. Free Will can be viewed as an intersubjective myth or a Legal Fiction – a shared understanding that forms the basis of our intentions.
By defining Free Will as a Legal Fiction, we can determine its position within the layers of existence, allowing us to understand its nature and compatibility with the “lower” natural sciences. Free Will, as an intersubjective myth, is as fundamental to our understanding of intentions as physical energy is to our expectations of the world around us. This comparison allows us to view Free Will in terms of intentions and decisions, which are guided by principles like the Golden Rule and ethics (#Safety3rd).
Section 3: The Impossibility of Good Decisions
Free Will as a Legal Fiction underlines the importance of making well-reasoned decisions within the bounds of reason and practicality. By considering what a Reasonable Person would do in a given situation, we can better navigate the complexities of human decision-making while acknowledging the inherent limitations and uncertainties. The impossibility of making perfect decisions comes from the fact that an infinite amount of information would be needed to predict the infinite consequences of any action. Paradoxically, recognizing the impossibility of perfect decisions highlights the importance of striving to make the best decisions we can, grounded in reasonable justifications and Good Faith efforts.
Free Will, in this context, is "the freedom to be wrong", with society acknowledging that unforeseeable mistakes are bound to happen. This view does not negate deterministic natural laws but accepts that individuals, given the information available at the time, can only make decisions within the bounds of reason and practicality.
Section 4: Personal Responsibility and the Social Contract
A potential concern with redefining Free Will as a Legal Fiction is the erosion of personal responsibility. Critics might argue that individuals could claim they were predetermined to act in certain ways and therefore cannot be held accountable for their actions. However, this argument can be countered borrowing from the social contract theory.
By participating in society, individuals implicitly agree to uphold the myth of Free Will and take responsibility for their actions as a "Reasonable Person". By invoking determinism as a defense, individuals essentially relinquish their humanity, as defined by Aristotle’s concept of the civic or political animal. If they refuse to participate in the shared myth of Free Will and accept responsibility for their actions, society must address the potential danger they pose. This leads to a more sympathetic and rehabilitative approach to justice, focusing on restoring the individual’s impulse to “appear reasonable to other humans.”
Section 5: Implications for the Legal System
A more nuanced understanding of Free Will as a Legal Fiction may inform the legal system in several ways. By acknowledging the limitations of human decision-making, the legal system can adopt a more sympathetic and rehabilitative attitude towards justice.
Rehabilitative justice focuses on addressing the underlying causes of criminal behavior and reintegrating individuals into society as responsible citizens. This approach is more in line with the idea of Free Will as a Legal Fiction, recognizing that while individuals have a responsibility to make the best decisions they can, there are external factors that influence their choices. By addressing these factors, the legal system can help individuals develop better decision-making skills and reduce recidivism.
In conclusion, understanding Free Will as a Legal Fiction offers a multifaceted perspective on decision-making, personal responsibility, and the legal system. By examining the concept through various fields, we can better appreciate the complexity of human choice and the importance of striving for well-reasoned decisions, even in the face of the impossibility of perfect outcomes.
This approach encourages individuals to take responsibility for their actions while also fostering empathy and understanding for the challenges faced by others. Furthermore, it has the potential to reshape the legal system’s approach to justice, focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration rather than punishment. Ultimately, recognizing Free Will as a Legal Fiction allows us to navigate the complexities of human nature and build a more compassionate, sympathetic, and just society.