The old debate on free will has lately flared up again. Are we "biochemical puppets, swayed by forces beyond our conscious control", or "authors of our own actions, beliefs, and desires"? Or something in between? The Chronicle of Higher Education recently invited several thinkers to weigh in on the question of free will, which then spawned additional commentaries. One that I really enjoyed reading is this essay by my friend, Chris Schoen. The Iris Murdoch quote he provides with commentary towards the end is particularly insightful.
Sometimes people have arguments they don't want to have in order to shore up some principle they wish they didn't have to defend. Actually, most debate can probably be characterized this way, though it doesn't always nestle up against outright absurdity the way that the argument I will speak of here is so prone to do, namely the argument that something called "Determinism" means that something else called "Free Will" cannot exist.
This is a rather hot debate right now, largely because advocates of the "incompatibilist" or "hard determinist" view I have just described believe they smell blood in the water and have moved in for the kill. Sam Harris, the smartest man who was ever wrong about everything, has a recent book out on the topic ("Free Will,") and Jerry Coyne, the smartest horse ever to be led to water while steadfastly refusing to drink, has made this topic a regular staple on his blog.
The conversation has lately found its way into the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, which recently featured five essays on the debate by Coyne and some of the top names in neuroscience and philosophy of mind.