Free to Detangle

This is an intro to the problem of free will.  I want to compare my approach, which is about illumination, to other philosophers’ approaches in hopes of highlighting the many facets of free will.  Others’ approach to the problem reflects their keen insight (i) that the understanding of free will must be framed in terms of what we value and not get “lost in the ivory tower of irrelevancies.”

After reading most of Daniel Dennett and other philosopher’s material, they have convinced me that making a case for free will is not about needing it to exist but that there is a scientific case to be made that it does exist.  At first glance, it appeared to be motivated by a need to be pragmatic—it works for the legal system and makes sense—and to only assert to have a scientific basis.

But there was more to it as a lot of it corroborated with my understanding of how social and personality psychologists understand free will.  I will argue that belief in free will can result in indignation once we realize that ninety–five percent of our thoughts are unconscious and that, as Sam Harris puts it, “we are not the conscious source of our thoughts and actions”(ii).

Philosophers talk of intentional agency, but this model leaves out details.  There are facts from academia that will tell us how much control we have over our actions that matters to how fair free will is.  I can’t argue that free will doesn’t exist because I have the freedom to “act” and “I” am “I”.  But we can’t stop there because of how much free will and in what sense matters.

Even if my choices are entirely determined in advance, I still make decisions, and my decisions are still caused by who I am and what I know—my thoughts and desires and personality—just as they must be if I am to be “free” in any sense that matters.  And because I am still their cause, I can still be praised or blamed for them.  [1]


i) We must start with the everyday sense of free will because it only has value when understood in that sense.  Free will is important to us because it has the ability to either punish or reward us.  It is so obvious that it takes thought to figure this out.

ii). This is in desperate need of clarification and warning.  It makes no difference if we feel that we are not the author of our thoughts and feelings.  The mind projects a sense of self that is like a third-party observer and our intuitions appear to come from nowhere.

If it is not “I” receiving the intuitions, then who is it?  We simply cannot argue that it is not us.  This doesn’t mean we can’t argue that the existence of free will makes us feel indignation.  But this is a different kind of question, no longer an ontological one.

“Harris shrinks the me to a dimensionless point, ‘the witness’ who is stuck in the Cartesian Theater awaiting the decisions made elsewhere. That is simply a bad theory of consciousness.” Indeed.  – Daniel Dennett


[1]  Carrier, Richard.  Sense and Goodness Without God. Apple Books.

I’ll cite more references when I get the chance this evening.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    When you have a compound noun and pronoun, and you’re trying to figure whether to use the subjective or objective case for pronoun, try it without the other noun to see which sounds right. So
    My brother and I went to the store.
    is correct while
    My brother and me went to the store.
    is wrong because you wouldn’t say
    Me went to the store.

    Likewise, in your sentence, the correct way to say it would be
    If it is not I,…
    so that is what you should use.
    Another way of putting this is that predicate nominatives are in the subjective case, if that means anything.

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