Is free will an illusion?

Benedict Spinoza wrote in "Ethics" (Book 2, Proposition 35) that "men are deceived in that they think themselves free, an opinion which consists only in this, that they are conscious of their actions and ignorant of the cause by which they are determined.  This, then, is their idea of freedom--that they do not know any cause of their actions.  They say, of course, that human actions depend on the will, but these are only words for which they have no idea.  For all are ignorant of what the will is, and how it moves the body ...".  Basically he is saying that free will does not exist and the reason we claim it does is that we simply do not know all the causes and variables involved in our decision-making process.  Even if Spinoza is right, it certainly seems as if we have freedom of choice.  Is that an illusion?  If it is, why do we have such an illusion?  If it isn't, then how do we respond to Spinoza's "lack of knowledge" argument?  If we had "adequate knowledge", would we still argue that we have free will?  Afterall, much of our moral and legal system involves the notion of one's responsibility in choice.  If one does not have free will, then how would we assign responsibility to one's actions?  How could we say one is wrong or guilty if he can say it's not my fault; it's the way I was conditioned or determined?  And from another angle, we generally agree that all things function in a cause-and-effect process.  Yet, we intrinsically deny that this process exists when we speak of free will.  If free will is somehow outside the cause-and-effect process, where does it come from?  Why do we have it?  Do we need it?

Well, one thing is certain: you are free to join us in discussing this issue at our next meeting.  Then again ... are you? 

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  • John W

    We discovered that answering the question of free will as an illusion was difficult because there was no absolute consensus on what free will actually means. Yet, a majority said we don't have free will. A most interesting discussion.

    April 28, 2011

  • Paula L.

    I really enjoyed this discussion. John provided good questions and kept us on track. Everyone contributed interesting thoughts on the subject and showed respect for each others' opinions. John asked me to post a couple of links, which I will attempt to do here:
    "Is Free Will an Illusion?" April 14,2008 Wired Magazine at http://www.wired.com/wiredscien...­
    "Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them" by Brandon Keim, at
    http://www.wired.com/science/di...­
    "Free will is an illusion, biologist says" by Lisa Zyga at
    http://www.physorg.com/news1868...­

    And to give one link to those of us who believe free will is NOT an illusion, I recommend The Institute of Noetic Sciences website, specifically I found the following altho I didn't listen to it:
    http://www.noetic.org/library/a...­

    April 28, 2011

  • Natalie

    Interesting discussion with a very diverse group of people - different ages, backgrounds and beliefs - that all contributed richly to the topic. Will definitely be going again.

    April 27, 2011

  • John W

    Natalie, late is not a problem. No particular reading, though you could Google "Is free will an illusion" and get some things. Hope to see you tomorrow.

    April 26, 2011

  • Natalie

    Hi. I plan on coming but I will be working until about 7:15pm. Is it okay to be late? Also, is there any reading you recommend for this for before the discussion? Thanks!

    April 26, 2011

  • Mert

    Thanks, John. If the timing works, I will make it. Otherwise, perhaps next time.

    April 24, 2011

  • John W

    Mert, we generally begin to wrap up around 8:30-8:45. The Factory closes at 9.

    April 22, 2011

  • Mert

    I will be just coming back from a business trip as this meetup is starting. I would have loved to attend otherwise. does anyone have an idea on duration? I probably can make it by 8 pm or so.

    April 22, 2011

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