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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Free will: Understanding what it means

A friend writes to say:
Logan Gage has a blog post up at ENV that's a must read. He discusses an AEI panel discussion about genes, neuroscience, and free will. Logan points out that the very distinguished panel (including Charles Murray, James. Q. Wilson, and David Brooks, among others) were dumfounded by the moderator's perfectly reasonable question about free will: if we are not entirely determined by our genes and by the environment, what exactly remains that is free? Doesn't the assertion that we are not entirely determined by our genes and environment mean that we have a ... soul?

Logan points out that this philosophical lacuna is the consequence of our abandonment of the concept of the classical understanding of causation, in this case of essence or form. I completely agree. Our abandonment (beginning in the late 17th century) of the classical Aristotelian/Scholastic concept of four causes - material, efficient, formal, and final- and the replacement with a 'Mechanical Philosophy' of only material and efficient causes, has left us unable to explain, understand and defend free will and even the concept of a human being. Philosopher Ed Feser addresses these issues in a great book "The Last Superstition- a Refutation of the New Atheism" which is the best book I've read in many years.
I'd like to think that the new atheism is the last superstition, but I bet it isn't.

Logan's superb post is a must read as well, and I believe that it addresses vital issues in our current debate with materialists/atheists.

Other free will stories.

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