In the last post, we concluded that the will must be free in some way, but we didn’t really specify in which way. I was going to do that in this post, but I realized that it would likely be more helpful to first discuss in which ways the will is not free. In fact, this will help us to narrow our focus down to see the simplicity of what is properly meant by the term, free will.
Free From Reality?
The most important question which must be asked about free will is, “free––from what?” You see, many wish to hold that, in order for the will to be free, it must be free in every possible way, from every possible thing. To this, I ask: free from reality? Then the will is not a real thing, for that is what it means to be “free from reality.” Free from any sort of cause and effect? Then the will is eternal, with each choice being an eternally existent, uncaused cause. It becomes evident very quickly that it is irrational to suppose that the will, or your choices, are free from any and all influence whatsoever. And as a consequence, it becomes evident that we need to think a little more carefully about what we mean by free will, and where the significance of the freedom lies.
Reread the last post, or re-think about why it is inescapable that the will must be free: is it not because your choices must be yours; flowing from your own judgement and desires? Then we have identified what your will is not free from: it is not free from you. It is not, and cannot be, free from your own judgement and your own desires. That is what it means to have free will: that your will––your choices––flow from your own thoughts and values. But this creates a problem for those who wish to advocate libertarian free will, in which they insist your will must be free, even from your own desires and judgement. “You choose your desires!” they claim.
Free From Your Desires?
Let’s analyze that supposition though. Let’s say you do choose your desires. Say, for example, you chose the desire to crave chocolate. Why did you choose that desire? Either that choice was caused by a prior desire, or it wasn’t caused at all. You say, it was caused by a prior desire: “I desired to choose to desire chocolate.” Ok, and did you choose that desire, too? You see where we’re going? It’s an infinite regress. What they really want to say is that choices are not caused by desires; that they are uncaused. That you simply choose; that your choice simply is––without any cause or reason. And now we’re back to the deification of the will, where your will––and not just your will, but each individual choice––“just is”, causelessly and eternally. Aside from making the will sound awfully deistic though, there’s a horrible sort of assumption behind the insistence that our choices need to be free of any sort of causation.
The Death of The Will
That assumption is that any influence upon the will at all constitutes a “bondage” upon the will, negating its significance, and rendering it “robotic”. It’s the assumption that the essence of freedom is utter neutrality; having no desires, inclinations, or influences leading to one side or another. What would this look like though? Having no preference toward one alternative or another, being utterly neutral, would mean being utterly apathetic. It would mean being void of any desire, any reason, any motive for the choice being made. The choice, therefore, would not be an expression of one’s own self (of one’s own judgment, character, and values). It would be the equivalent of a zero tossing a blank coin into a dark void. And that is what the libertarian free-willers say makes your choice “meaningful”.
On the contrary though, there can be no meaning to such a phenomenon, and that phenomenon certainly couldn't be considered a choice in any meaningful sense. As we established before, the essence of free will is that it comes from yourself: from your mind, and your values; that it is an expression of your own judgment. This means that, far from protecting the will, the libertarian idea of free will actually decimates the will, and turns it, literally, into nothing, by attempting to divorce it from any and all influences and contexts, the greatest of which is reality.
So we saw in the first post that your will must be free in some way, and we've seen here that the will cannot be free from all influences or causes. In fact, it must not be free from reality, or from your self––from your judgement and desires. Next, we’ll turn to considering what the will is free from, and what implications that might have on one’s worldview.