Yes, determinists, there is such a thing as free will

By | May 20, 2019

In an interview with Nautilus, Christian List says:

I think the mistake in the standard arguments against free will lies in a failure to distinguish between different levels of description. If we are searching for free will at the fundamental physical level, we are simply searching in the wrong place.

Let’s go through these arguments one by one. What do you say to those who consider the idea that humans are beings with goals and intentions, and that we act on them, a prescientific holdover?

If you try to make sense of human behavior, not just in ordinary life but also in the sciences, then the ascription of intentionality is indispensable. It’s infeasible and not illuminating to explain human behavior at the level of astronomically complex neural firing patterns that take place in the brain.

Suppose I ask a taxi driver to take me to Paddington Station. Twenty-five minutes later, I’m there. The next day, I tell the driver to take me to St. Pancras Station. Now the driver takes me to St. Pancras. If I look at the underlying microphysical activity, it would be very difficult to pinpoint what those two events have in common. If we switch to the intentional mode of explanation, we can very easily explain why the taxi driver takes me to Paddington on the first day, and what the difference is on the second day that leads the driver to take me to St. Pancras Station. The taxi driver understands our communication, forms the intention to take me to a particular station, and is clearly incentivized to do so because this is the way for the driver to earn a living.

The neuroscientific skeptic is absolutely right that, at the fundamental physical level, there is no such thing as intentional goal-directed agency. The mistake is to claim that there is no such thing at all. Intentional agency is an emergent higher-level property, but it is no less real for that. [Continue reading…]

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