by Laurence Houlgate
(Emeritus professor of philosophy at California Polytechnic State University)
Regarding your excellent review of the free will problem, I have two questions. First, when you say that the ability of the neurons to deliberate emerges from the water and chemicals that make up our bodies (along with our evolved consciousness), you are making an empirical judgment. As such, it requires proof/evidence. Are there any experiments that have been performed to show that this claim is true? If so, are the experiments similar to what happens when I make pancakes? I begin with flour, water, milk, egg, etc. and I end up with a mixture suitable for pouring on the griddle. The mixture is an observable simple chemical change. But even if there is evidence that the ability to deliberate emerges as a complex chemical soup, how does the determinist use it to prove that we have no free will when we walk, talk, eat, and do anything else that moves the body?
Second, in the section where you say that “I live as if I make free choices,” my question is why don’t you come right out and say, “I make free choices.” I don’t like the “as if” part. It implies that you are pretending to live making free choices. For example, compare “I made a free choice when I bought my new car,” with “I pretended to make a free choice when I bought my new car,” or “I believe I made a free choice when I bought my new car, but I’m not sure that it was a free choice.”
Finally, what I don’t like about determinist arguments to prove that we do not have free will is that they are using empirical observations and experiments to solve a philosophical problem. Philosophical problems are about concepts and their relationship to other concepts. As such, philosophy is not informative about the world (Gilbert Ryle). When we ask the question “Do we have free will” we are asking a question about the concept Free Will and that question can only be answered by an analysis of the concept as it is used by us in ordinary language, e.g. “Did you hand over your wallet to that man of your own free will, or did he force you to hand over your wallet?” Science has no role to play in this analysis.