Free Will Test

If you are thinking of answering the question about free will, you will have to make sure you are not confusing it with freedom.

Free will is the condition of being able in and of yourself, to make your own impulses to action match your decisions. Your will is your ability to make yourself try to do stuff. You have free will if you are truly able to make your own decisions. (Some people claim that if determinism is true, free will can't exist. I think these people really don't understand free will or determinism.) You can easily have free will while living in the most repressive society ever, since "free will" is about the freedom of your will, not the freedom of your person. Similarly, if people don't have free will, giving them all the political freedom in the world won't give them free will.

Freedom is the condition of not having anyone preventing you from doing at least some of the things you might want to do. Secular States like the US and European countries generally have a lot of freedom, while Theocracies like Saudi Arabia generally have very little freedom. But freedom is not free will. If free will exists, the people in Saudi Arabia have just as much free will as the people in Denmark or The Netherlands. Therefore, discussion of the freedoms existing in various countries has very little, if anything, to do with whether or not free will exists.

When you get to the free will odyssey assignment, you will find that you can easily do it without ever mentioning the freedom or unfreedom of any country whatsoever. (And, unfortunately, you can write for weeks about freedom without ever saying anything even remotely relevant to free will.)

Read the following example, and then answer the question to see if you understand the difference between free will and freedom.

Three students, Tyrone, Patty, Ray and Billy are sitting my classroom listening to me lecture. Unlike all of my real lectures, this fictional lecture is boring.

Patty decides that the lecture is too boring to stand and tries to leave. Unfortunately, Patty's legs are even more bored than she is, and have both gone to sleep, preventing Patty from leaving. Patty decided to leave of her own free will, but the sleepiness of her legs deprived her of the power to leave.

Tyrone also decides he can't stand it anymore, and starts to get up to leave. Instantly, heavily armed Ninja Warriors of Doom drop from their places of concealment in the ceiling and physically prevent Tyrone from leaving. Like Patty, he decided to leave of his own free will, but the tyranny ninjas deprived him of the freedom to leave.

Ray is pretending to be interested in the lecture, but the playful and insane Doctor Paranoia is focussing a body control device on Ray and takes control of Ray's body, making him get up and leave the room. Ray is horrified, but he cannot overcome the body control device, and finds himself leaving the room despite his absolute determination to remain in the room and pretend to be interested. Ray has the power to leave the room, because his legs work. He has the freedom to leave the room, because the Ninjas ignore him. But he does not leave the room of his own free will, because he didn't make the decision that got him up and out of the room.

Billy is also determined to stay and hear the lecture, but the evil and bizarre Doctor Hysteria focusses a mind control device on Billy and takes control of Billy's mind, inserting a volition that makes him get up and leave the room. Billy is a little surprised, but not upset because the mind control device makes him falsely think that this is his own will. He doesn't know why he's doing it, but the insidious device makes him think he's chosing to do it, and he finds himself leaving the room despite his actual personal choice to remain in the room and pretend to be interested. Billy has the power to leave the room, because his legs work. He has the freedom to leave the room, because the Ninjas ignore him. But he does not leave the room of his own free will, because he didn't make the decision that got him up and out of the room, even though Dr. Hysteria has made him believe that he made the decision.

Remember, both Ray and Billy had the freedom to leave the room, but neither of them did it of his own free will.

If free will exists, it exists in all mentally healthy human beings, even ones who live under totalitarian dictatorships. In fact, the question of what political system a person lives in is completely irrelevant to the issue of whether or not that person has free will.

You can also read pages 361-413 in Palmer for another perspective on free will.

Now, one of the following paragraphs reflects a proper understanding of free will and the other is so far off base that it might as well be on another planet. Certainly it would be worth zero points as part of an essay on free will. Pick out which one is about free will and click it's "(This one?)" link.

A. Free will exists because we in America have the free will to choose whether to be Democrats or Republicans, to follow whatever Judeo-Christian religion we prefer and to shop at whatever mall we like. (This one?)

B. Free will exists because even a prisoner in a tiny cell has the ability to want to leave the cell. It's true that he doesn't have the power to leave the cell, but he can achieve a mental state such that, if the door opened, he would walk out through it. (This one?)

If you're wondering why I make you take a test before allowing you to choose this topic, read freewillexplain.htm.


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