Do we have free will?

Matthew Taylor of the RSA sometimes writes about cultural theory and when he does it’s always worth reflecting on. At the very end of 2009 he was looking at the idea of free will:

Faced with a social choice we can do what we want or feels right for us (individualistic impulse), do what the group expects/needs (egalitarian impulse), do what we have been told (hierarchical impulse) or ‘decide’ it’s not worth making a choice (fatalistic impulse). Is it credible and useful to think of the everyday experience of free will as the process of switching between these alternative responses?

The problem with free will is that we only have it until we walk out of the door in the morning and maybe not even that long. Every time we make a choice we are interacting with institutional forces and established practices which have a strong shaping power over our lives.

Let’s say I decide to go to the city by train this morning, but like Frank Sinatra I’m going to do it my way. Although the timetable says the trains leave on the hour, I’m going to catch the one that leaves at twenty past the hour: I’m a free person and can do what I like, no? Continue reading “Do we have free will?”

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Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?

This is the title of a recent paper by a group promoting ‘experimental philosophy‘. This involves the “use of the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people think about philosophical issues and then examine how the results of such studies bear on traditional philosophical debates” (Nadelhoffer and Nahmias, 2007: 123)

The paper examines two related philosophical concepts, determinism and moral compatiblism, and seeks to discover whether views regarding these differ across national cultures. Reading the paper through the lens of the Four Cultures is an interesting experience. Continue reading “Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?”