Thoughts on Free Will, part 6
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Thoughts on Free Will, part 6

Prior essays have raised doubts about whether we humans have free will, i.e., that we could really choose differently from the ways we actually do choose. I have noted that there does not appear to be a mechanism by which we can genuinely choose between options, even though we often feel free to choose as we want.

Perhaps the language with which I have been describing the problem is faulty. I’ve been using physical, mechanistic language, and things described with such language tend to be deterministic and therefore unable to accommodate the notion of free will. Such mechanistic language works very well in describing falling rocks, interacting billiard balls, and orbiting planets, but it fails miserably to account for consciousness.

All properties of matter, such as color, mass, and hardness, can be as explained properties of atoms and their interactions with other atoms. However, we find nothing in the properties of atoms and compounds that would lead to an accumulation of atoms that would be conscious entity. How do we get living beings with subjective feelings from matter that (as best we can tell) does not have subjective feelings?

Perhaps the same mysterious component of our existence that gives us consciousness also gives us free will. Indeed, why should we be conscious beings at all, if we were actually unable to make choices? If our actions simply obeyed the laws of physics, it would seem that we should be like intelligent mechanical objects that can “learn” and make better “decisions” over time without actually being aware of its own existence.

I don’t claim to have resolved the question of whether we have free will. But the ambiguity, I think, has moral and practical implications, to which I will turn next.

Go on to: Thoughts on Free Will, part 7
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