This is the the thirty-ninth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at some of the reasons people might have for thinking determinism is true, and they turned out to be not very conclusive if taken as arguments, but they are some of the motivation people have had for thinking in that direction. In this post, I'd like to look at reasons people have offered for thinking we have free will.
1. It just seems that we have free will. When we’re confronted with a choice, it seems as if what we choose is up to us. Our options seem open, and we choose one.
Is this a good argument? We can’t deny that it seems this way, but couldn't someone still deny that it is that way? Is it like knowing you're in pain? My feeling pain is the sort of thing that guarantees that I am in pain. Is seeming to be free like that? Or is it more like seeming to be on a flat earth that turns out to be spherical? Perhaps it's not that bad, but is it as obvious as knowing you're in pain? Given no other arguments, one might say this argument is inconclusive, since it shouldn't easily convince those who aren't sure if they are free.
2. Believing we’re free allows us to be consistent with our other beliefs. We deliberate, weigh options, and make choices. We wouldn’t do that if we didn’t believe our actions are under our control. You can’t decide not to be subject to the law of gravity. So what would be the point of weighing options if we’re not really free?