Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You can so believe in free will, atheist says

In New Atlantis, Raymond Tallis tackles free will:
This essay is an attempt to persuade you of something that in practice you cannot really doubt: your belief that you have free will. It will try to reassure you that it is not naïve to feel that you are responsible, and indeed morally responsible, for your actions. And it will provide you with arguments that will help you answer those increasing numbers of people who say that our free will is an illusion, or that belief in it is an adaptive delusion implanted by evolution.

The case presented will not be a knock-down proof — indeed, it outlines an understanding of free will that is rather elusive. It is of course much easier to construct simple theoretical proofs purporting to show that we are not free than it is to see how, in practice, we really are. For this reason, the argument here will take you on something of a journey.

That journey will provide reasons for resisting the claim that a deterministic view of the material universe is incompatible with free will. Much of the apparent power of deterministic arguments comes from their focusing on isolated actions, or even components of actions, that have been excised from their context in the world of the self, so that they are more easily caught in the net of material causation.
I don't know that his theory works exactly, but it's interesting that an atheist is trying it.