I’m tempted to write up a Doggerel entry on it sometime, but for now, I thought I’d have a post for discussion on the topic. The big problem I have with the phrase is that a lot of people are way too attached to outdated, incoherent, unfalsifiable, or self-contradictory definitions of it. I haven’t talked about it in any “academic” context, so I don’t want to get caught confusing one type for another. Those of you better read on the history of the concept have my permission to write long comments about the hair-splitting differences.
My general idea of free will would be something along the lines of “able to consciously evaluate possible actions and determine which is most optimal.” In a way, it’s like a computer’s ‘decision’ that results from a deeply nested set of If/Then statements. Humans are “free willed” because we’re capable of a large set of possible decisions and we’re capable, in part, of thinking about how we make those decisions. At the other end, insects generally react to stimuli with little or no thought about the context of their actions. Of course, like consciousness, this would be on a spectrum instead of a strict binary thing, and circumstantially variable within a particular organism: If I see something threatening suddenly rush towards me, I don’t consciously evaluate possible defense strategies so much as blindly react.
One thing I don’t get is the deal with substance dualists, anti-determinists, and “fuzzy” free will ideas. If souls exist, how do they make decisions, and how is it inherently “freer” than a brain making decisions? How does bringing in the stochastic nature of quantum mechanics make decisions “freer” than a deterministic universe? All it does for me is tack on new variables, middle men, and such for no real gain.