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?