I don’t see why free will and determinism wouldn’t be compatible. At the moment I make a choice, I’m picking the option that I prefer. Does it matter if what led me to that preference was entirely determined by prior occurrences?
Let’s think about what it would mean to not have free will. Suppose I preferred option A, but just before I make the decision some external force affects my neurons and causes me to prefer option B. Well, at the moment I chose B, that was my preference. That scenario is not inconsistent with free will or determinism (the external force is just part of the prior chain of events).
I think what people mean by free will is that they could have made a different decision. Sure, they could have, if things had been different. That is what they mean. And that is free will…and determinism.
I pretty much agree with Katja Grace:
…you feel like your actions are neither determined nor random. You choose them.
And that is precisely why they are determined. They are determined by you. And you already exist to the finest detail at the time you are making the decision. If you made choices (or some element of them) not controlled by your personality, experience, thoughts and anything else that comes under the heading of ‘the state of your brain as a result of genetics and your prior environments’, they would be random, which still isn’t free will…
The narrator of Dostoyevsky‘s Notes from Underground was disturbed by determinism:
If, for instance, some day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me..? Then I should be able to calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do;
Just because someone with perfect knowledge could accurately predict what you would do, that doesn’t mean you don’t have freedom. If what you did wasn’t predictable (i.e. included some random elements), how would that give you any more freedom (you have no control over the randomness)?
I liked this paragraph on free will from the book Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser:
Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests. We see him aligned by nature with the forces of life — he is born into their keeping and without thought he is protected. We see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles, his innate instincts dulled by too near an approach to free-will, his free-will not sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect guidance. He is becoming too wise to hearken always to instincts and desires; he is still too weak to always prevail against them. As a beast, the forces of life aligned him with them; as a man, he has not yet wholly learned to align himself with the forces. In this intermediate stage he wavers — neither drawn in harmony with nature by his instincts nor yet wisely putting himself into harmony by his own free-will. He is even as a wisp in the wind, moved by every breath of passion acting now by his will and now by his instincts, erring with one, only to retrieve by the other, falling by one, only to rise by the other — a creature of incalculable variability.
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