Whether or not one adheres to ultimate philosophical beliefs in free will, or in its absence, it makes for some reasonable working assumptions for creatures in the habit of thinking and communicating in narrative terms.

I think free will? paradox can be resolved by defining the concept in a way consistent with common usage and scientific knowledge. First the paradox: How can we be free to choose among alternatives if we are determinstic physical systems? Quantum mechanics does not provide a way out, for then our behavior is random which is no better than being deterministic. Incidentally when the question of free will was first debated in the middle ages, the paradox was how could we be free to choose if God already knows how we will choose. In any case, it is a real concern because our notion of moral agency depends on the assumption that we can choose between right and wrong.

My solution is to cast the concept in a different light and say that something has free will to the extent that its behaviour is generated endogenously. A leaf blowing in the wind as it falls to the ground has little or no free will because the way it moves is determined by factors external to the leaf. Simple organisms living in the ocean have a bit more control over how they move, but are still largely at the mercy of the currents. As animals gain in complexity, they tend to have more and more control over how they can behave. Humans have the greatest amount of free will of all known systems, but even they are influenced by external elements to a fairly large degree, so there is room for improvement.


Last edited on Friday, January 17, 2003 12:26:58 am.