Getting the Fly Out of the Bottle: The False Problem of Free Will and Determinism
Peter K. Westen
University of Michigan Law School
Buffalo Criminal Law Review, Vol. 8, pp. 101-54, 2005
Free will and determinism are said to constitute the most written-about problem in the history of philosophy, one that continues every year to produce major publications by major university presses, each claiming insight into moral and criminal responsibility. Commentators differ sharply in their approaches to the problem, ranging over those who embrace free will and reject determinism, those who embrace determinism and reject free will, those who reject both, and those who embrace both, including those who do so by virtue of redefining what counts as free will. Yet despite their disagreements, commentators seem to agree about one thing: they agree that the relationship between free will and determinism is a genuine problem in metaphysics and morals, that is, a problem that evidence, analysis, imagination, intelligence are capable of resolving, at least in theory.
I argue, in contrast, that the relationship between free will and determinism is a false problem, that is, a problem that we are incapable of resolving, even in theory. It is a problem that we have constructed for ourselves - or, perhaps, more accurately, a problem that has been construed for us - because it is the product of contradictory modes of thought that we are obliged to bring to bear in reflecting upon it. Free will and determinism are hypotheses about the world that are inconsistent with presuppositions by which we must reason about them. Thus, determinism is a causal hypothesis regarding the nature of physical bodies and events, including ourselves, that is inconsistent with the presuppositions of reason and knowledge by which we assert it to be true. Free will, in turn, is an effort to explain reason and intentional conduct as being physically uncaused that is inconsistent with the nature of explanation itself.
The proper response to a false problem is not to search for further evidence or to strive for better analysis. The proper response to a false problem, including that of free will and determinism, is to stop thinking about it.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 54
Keywords: free will, determinismAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: March 14, 2005
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