Category Archives: free will

A philosopher tries to rescue free will by claiming that individuals exercise “choice” according to their “beliefs, desires,and intentions”

Although I’m suffering from jet lag, I’ll treat you today to a post on free will and “compatibilism”. Yes, I can hear the groans of distress as I write this, but my advice to you is the same as my advice to those who complain about Milo Yiannopoulos lecturing at Berkeley: if you don’t want […]

Agatha Christie on determinism and criminal justice

Reader John found a passage in a nearly 90 year old Agatha Christie novel that presages the views of Sam Harris, Robert Sapolsky, and many other determinists on the application of determinism to our justice system. This is what John sent: I  just read an Agatha Christie novel called “The Murder at the Vicarage” (published […]

Robert Sapolsky and Sam Harris on neurobiology, free will, and baboons

I’ve recently been introduced to neurobiologist and science writer Robert Sapolsky (see my post here), and am looking forward to reading his new book Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst. Apparently a lot of the book is devoted to the topic of free will, which was a big part of the […]

Did Hitler have free will?

Ron Rosenbaum’s 1998 book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, got a lot of critical approbation, much of it apparently for the author’s argument that many “Hitler studies” arrived at conclusions that were simply a projection of the authors’ preconceived biases onto the Hitler story. Here’s a bit of the original New […]

How determinism can help insurance companies deny medical claims

I think this article—which could have come from The Onion but actually came from another “joke news site,” The Beaverton—is hilarious.  Here’s an excerpt; I hope compatibilists have a sense of humor! Chicago, IL – American health insurers have begun classifying all medical claims as pre-existing conditions and refusing to offer settlements because of the […]

SMBC on dualism and free will

Reader jsp sent me this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal strip (creator: Zack Weinersmith); it’s on dualism. tri-ism, quadrism, and then the final panel bit’s on free will. The character is clearly based on Dan Dennett (see photo at bottom), but I’m a bit puzzled about the last panel. Given the rest of the strip, is this […]

A new paper says that belief in free will makes people more likely to criticize unethical acts and favor strong punishment

People who are determinists but are also compatibilists—that is, they believe that our actions are dictated by the laws of physics, and we can’t “will” them beyond that, but that we can still conceive of some form of free will—often justify their re-framing of “free will” on utilitarian grounds. That is, although we may not have “contracausal” […]

A great Radiolab show: Robert Sapolsky on why we don’t have free will

As I always say, it’s easier to convince a diehard creationist of the truth of evolution than to convince a diehard atheist of the fact that our behaviors are determined, and that we can’t make alternative choices at a given moment. Yet there are some enlightened folk who not only accept determinism but deny that […]

Robert Sapolsky on free will

UPDATE: In a review in The American Scholar, Michael Shermer gives Sapolsky’s book a very positive review, and also has a few words of his own on free will. Shermer’s assessment: The book is Sapolsky’s magnum opus, not just in length, scope (nearly every aspect of the human condition is considered), and depth (thousands of […]

Compatibilism: a parable

I haven’t posted much on free will lately, and I’m sure that’s fine with the compatibilist readers who think my take on the issue is, as the Brits say, “badly wrong.” I stand by my views, and apparently so does Zack Weinersmith, who published “Compatibilism: a parable” on his SMBC comic site.  (Thanks to several […]