Do You Have Free Will?
Free will has been a contentious issue for a very long time, and in that time, the topic has seen its fair share of misunderstanding. In this article, we will be quoting from, and responding to, two videos created by Cosmic Skeptic, otherwise known as Alex O'Connor, on YouTube revolving around the issue of free will, which is a topic people don't seem to understand. You'd think that people being educated in philosophy would possess the subtlety of mind required to actually philosophize, but then again, much of modern philosophy is such an amateur-hour exercise, you could be forgiven for thinking you've walked into a convention for needless pedantry.
The first video O'Connor has for us is embedded below.
In this rather (on the face of it) interesting video, O'Connor makes a fairly belaboured point about free will being impossible. It's not made from an amateur perspective, but an ignorant one, since it only troubles itself to discuss one definition of free will, which, as we'll get into, is wrong. He's right in saying it doesn't and can't exist, but he fails to grapple with the whole issue.
The first issue that we have to face is of course the definition of free will. And since, when I'm debating this, I'm the one who's denying the existence of something that someone else believes in, it really needs to be that someone else's definition that I'm using. Which is why a video like this can be quite tricky.
It's good to appreciate how difficult arguing the issue can be. It's the first (and only) good point in the video. Defining free will is important insofar as there are multiple "free wills" we can talk about.
So for ease's sake, I'll go with the most succinct and least controversial definition that I've been able to come up with, which is this: free will is the ability to have acted differently. And what I mean by this is that if we were to wind back the clock in any situation, it was completely within the realm of possibility for you to have acted differently. to the way that you actually did.
For instance, it would have been completely possible for me to have said,"bonjour,"at the beginning of this video instead of good morning, and the choice to say the latter was completely within my control. The idea is that you are in control of your actions, and any decisions that you make are determined only by your own conscious self.
This is the most useless definition of free will conceivable.
All of your choices have a basis, i.e., they are determined by something. If they weren't, then they would never be made at all since there would be no sufficient reason for them to occur, hence you wouldn't be free. This definition of free will is in fact the opposite. It's completely impossible and hence isn't even worth discussing. We all have reasons for behaving the way we do, and the factors that help us make our decisions aren't in our direct control. In other words, we can't control our will, but we can control the decisions we make using our will. Thus, the definition of free will being put forth is nonsense.
^^^ This is all Alex needed to have said. It would have made for a much more elegant and succinct argument.
Instead, what we get is:
But the thing is, there are so many things wrong with this that it's difficult to know where to start. I'll borrow a line of thought from Doctor Harris here. Let's begin by considering what would have to be true in order for us to truly have total free will–to be able to have acted differently
Well firstly, we would need to be aware of everything that is influencing our actions, including environmental factors, our precise mood, the influence of other people, the influence of past experiences, and more.
Secondly, we would need to be in complete control of every one of them Neither of these are true, or even possible. Now, you might concede this, but not think it a problem.
Okay, you say, so I can't control all of the factors that led me to like the taste of ice cream, but on a more mundane level, I'm still in complete control over whether I choose chocolate or vanilla.
Not so fast. Again, consider this most simple of choices: Chocolate or vanilla. Or, if it's easier, consider the last mundane choice that you had to make. (Walk or drive this morning, go out or stay in tonight) Think about why you chose one or would choose one over the other.
So what would make me choose vanilla over chocolate? Well there is only one possible answer, which I'll elaborate on shortly.
Yes, after much belabouring and repeating of the point.
I would need to want it more than chocolate. In order to choose vanilla, I'd need to want vanilla, but... is this something I can control? Can I control what it is that I want? Not a chance Consider the fact that you, presumably, don't want to punch your mother in the face. Can you choose to want to do that? This isn't the same thing as choosing to do it; could you choose to want to? No, no more than I could choose to want vanilla over chocolate. I just want chocolate more than vanilla That's just a fact about myself that I can't change. But okay, let's go further, you say. Of course I can't choose to want vanilla over chocolate when I really want chocolate, but What if I just decided, in the full knowledge that I prefer chocolate, to go for vanilla anyway, just for the sake of regaining my free will and nothing else.
Well, I'm afraid you'd still face the same problem, the exact same problem, in fact. In order to do that, you'd need to "want" to regain your free will, as you see it. Why is your desire to prove a point like this stronger than the desire to to have the ice cream you prefer? It just is, and if it happened not to be, you'd have chosen the ice cream that you do prefer.
The key takeaway is this: you cannot determine your wants. Think of something you want. Try to not want it. Think of something you don't want and try to want it. It's not possible.
And even if it were, in order to change a don't want into a want, you'd need to want to want it. And vice versa. To change a want into a don't want, you'd need to want to not want it. You simply can't control what you want. Now, that's one piece of the puzzle, and it may seem odd to leave it there, but just wait until we put them together.
Go on, we'll wait.
Okay the next piece of the puzzle is to convince you of this fact: There are only two reason– two reasons, none more, in any circumstances for which you will ever [purposefully] do anything. In fact, it's impossible for you to ever do anything for any reason other than one of these two. And those two reasons are: because you want to, or because you're forced to. And this is fundamentally important and worth really understanding and thinking about You will only ever do anything in your entire life because you either want to or are forced to.
That's it. No exceptions.
And because of the fact that nobody seems to believe me on this point at first, I'll give you a common objection that I hear all the time. In fact, I recently spoke to ex-NFL player Arian Foster about free will on his podcast. And he, playing Devil's advocate, brought up the following: Consider exercise. Consider going to the gym. Most people don't want to go to the gym, but they do it anyway. Surely this is an example of someone doing something freely, and not because they want to or because they're forced to.
Not really. Because there has to be a reason for going to the gym, and for most people, and for Arian, it's something like to stay healthy, to stay in shape, to live longer, whatever it may be. So, we have to ask again the same fundamental question: why is the desire to stay healthy stronger than the desire to go to the gym? It just is. Or maybe it isn't. And some people stay at home and eat junk food instead. For these people, why is the desire to sit around or to eat junk food stronger than the desire to be healthy? It just is.
Again, remember you can't control the strength or object of your desires. It's they that control you. And if that doesn't unease you, repeat those words again to yourself until it does.
So, you're saying that the fact that people only act in accordance with their own desires should unease them? Why should it?
Your desires are part of you. They're not some demon lodging in your head and dictating your actions like some sort of grotesque brain puppet master. They are part of your will and character.
So even when you "don't want" to do something, but you do it anyway, this is only ever because of a stronger and equally uncontrollable desire to do something that requires you to do it. In other words, all of your actions really are controlled by your wants. And I really mean this.
Yes, that's obvious - you've made the same point roughly thrice already. You don't make the same point three times if you don't mean it.
Well, that's it for psychology, folks! Why study the human mind? - we have everything right here! People aren't complex beings at all - they're simple, mindless automatons obeying their wishes like some sort of computer program! They don't have subjective thoughts or experiences, and they don't make subjective decisions at all!
It is, of course, to be disputed whether or not there can be such a thing as a "more powerful" want. Such an idea assumes that wants are measured on a scale and that each want has a quantitative value that is objectively higher or lower (or the same) than any other given value.
This is what really convinced me of the nonexistence of free will. If you aren't convinced that everything you do is either because you want to or because you're forced to, Please, just pause the video and really think about this. I promise that any example you can think of has a hidden want lying behind it. Leave an example in the comments if you have to. I'm sure someone else can find it if you can't.
So now, as promised, let's start putting this together. There are two reasons you will ever do anything: because you want to, or because you're forced to. Of course, if you're forced to do something, then you're definitely not acting freely, and nobody would deny that, so that just leaves your wants.
But... well, we've already concluded that you can't control your wants, so actions motivated by wants aren't really free either. So being forced to do something isn't free will, and wanting to do something isn't free will. But being forced or wanting to do something are the only reasons why you do anything. Hence, free will is conclusively an illusion. Now I use the word illusion purposefully here.
We'll leave it there - that's the end of the argument proper.
Suppose that you could make a choice completely independently of your desires. 1) What would determine your choice? Why would you make one choice over another? Without any reason, without anything to inform it, your "choice" would be random, and this is free will by no definition, and 2) if you make a choice independently of what you want, is it really your choice?
Which brings us to the debate surrounding free will. Positions on this topic fit into two categories: incompatibilism and compatibilism. Incompatibilists assert that free will is not compatible with determinism (determinism is the position that every effect requires a preceding cause, much as we perceive in the real world - objects don't fall without being dropped or slipping; for every contingent fact or state, there is a cause, a reason why it is so and not otherwise).
If you've ever seen The Matrix, you've already come into contact with the kind of determinism and denial of free will being proposed here.
THE MEROVINGIAN: You see, there is only one constant, only one universal, it is the only real truth: causality. Action, reaction; cause and effect.
MORPHEUS: Everything begins with choice.
THE MEROVINGIAN: No. Wrong. Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without. [...] And this is the nature of the universe. We struggle against it, we fight to deny it, but it is of course pretense, it is a lie. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is, we are completely out of control.
Causality. There is no escape from it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace is to understand it, to understand the 'why.' 'Why' is what separates us from them, you from me. 'Why' is the only real source of power, without it you are powerless.
Sam Harris and the rest of the free will deniers might as well rename themselves Merovingian 2.0 because that's exactly who they sound like.
So, incompatibilism is the position that free will and determinism are incompatible. Compatibilism is the opposite - its proponents say that free will and determinism are completely compatible. Now, with the definition of free will being used above, this is impossible. Instead, compatibilists adhere to a different definition of free will. Simply put, if you act without external constraint, you act freely; you are a free agent that has made a choice and executed that choice. Your will is not constrained in any way - we would say that your will is free; you have free will.
If you are chained to a seat, you cannot stand up unless you break the seat or the chains. In this case, if you want to stand up, but you cannot, you are not free to act. When you're chained up, you have fewer courses of action available to you, and this corresponds with being less free and more constrained. If, however, you are free to stand up when you want to do so, you are freer and less constrained.
In compatibilism, there are two types of determinism: internal to yourself and external to yourself. The extent to which your internal determinism can interfere with the external determinism of the world (and thus implement your will) is a measure of how free you are. Someone who has more possible courses of action open to them is a freer person.
You will only act in accordance with your own desires. If you could ever make a choice independently of your desires, then you wouldn't be exercising your own will. This is why we said earlier that the definition being put forth was useless. It's not even free will. It's the opposite.
The definition we have proposed is the most useful definition.
That said, we're now transitioning into the second video from CosmicSkeptic on this matter, which is much more recent and much more competent, though still not irrefutable.
But since then [the time of the previous video, over 2 years ago in March of 2018], I've heard a lot of people claiming that a philosophy called compatibilism is the answer to the questions that I raised in that original video all those years ago, and I thought that I'd just take some time to discuss why I think it certainly is not.
So, this clash between determinism and free will leads to the problem. How do we square these? [...] Some people deny that determinism is true and say that human action is free, perhaps through some method of causation that we don't fully understand. Others, including myself, do the opposite, affirming determinism and denying that free will exists.
Strictly speaking, I'm not a determinist because I think that some things in the universe might be random, but random events are also out of my control by definition, so I would still deny that free will exists.
Anyone who claims that true randomness is possible is fooling themselves. Something that's random must, by definition, be determined by nothing, which is nonsense - just as much nonsense as the "free will" proposed in the first video.
But there is one other brave and, in my view, entirely misguided group called the complatibilists. As the name suggests, the compatibilist believes that free will exists and that determinism is true, and that these two propositions are perfectly compatible with each other.
Compatibilism has a long and rich history with advocates including Thomas Hobbes and David Hume, and more recently, Daniel, whose fiery debate with Sam Harris on the subject may be familiar to you, and in the face of this pantheon of respected compatibilist philosophers and detailed arguments, now stand I, the third-year philosophy undergraduate with a YouTube channel who thinks he can debunk it all. In my defence, I will be relying on the arguments of actual, professional philosophers.
You don't need any formal qualification to be a philosopher - you simply have to know what you're talking about and know how to think rationally and abstractly. Don't look to others to tell you how correct you are. If you're not capable of thinking, rather than merely studying and parroting the works of others, you'll never be a philosopher.
Philosophy means "love of wisdom." Where's your wisdom?
So let's start with one of the earliest compatibilists, Thomas Hobbes, who, in his magnum opus, the Leviathan, in chapter 21, entitled The Liberty of Subjects, says the following:
"Liberty, or FREEDOME, signifieth (properly) the absence of Opposition; (by Opposition, I mean externall Impediments of motion;)."
That is to say, so long as whatever you want to do is not impeded by some external constraint, you are free. That's it.
Exactly. This is the definition we proposed earlier. It is the best working definition of free will that doesn't immediately contradict itself.
So if you will to drive your car and do so, you acted freely, so long as whatever caused you to do so is internally determined, and not subject to either compulsion or constraint by any external factors, such as your car breaking down or something.
Thus, says Hobbes, "A FREE-MAN, is "he, that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do, is not hindred to doe what he has a will to do."
So, free will, according to this compatibilist, can be defined simply as the ability to do what you want to do. This seems plausible at first, right? - if you can do whatever you want, you're a free being. But there's a problem with this, and the problem I'm thinking of was highlighted well by the pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who pointed out that, yeah, sure, you can do whatever you will, but you can't will what you will. Right?
Imagine that you wanted to save money and so you put some funds into a bank account. According to Hobbes, so long as nothing external to you was compelling you or restricting you, you acted totally freely in depositing the money, but did you choose to want to save that money? Could you, if you so pleased, choose to want to waste the money instead? And that's not the same thing as simply choosing to waste it; could you choose to want to waste it?
No, you couldn't, as we all already know, but again, you're using a meaningless definition of free will. Any choice you make without regard to your desires, your will - if it was the case that you could make such a choice, it wouldn't be your will making the choice in the first place, hence you wouldn't have free will anyway.
You're refuting something that cannot, by definition, exist. This supposed free will refutes itself.
I certainly can't choose to want to waste my own money. And even if you could choose to want it, crucially, in order to do so, you would need to want to want to do it. And if you could control that want, you'd need to want to want to want it, and so on forever - Schopenhauer's point is that the ability to do whatever you want can hardly be called freedom if you can't freely choose what it is that you want.
That's why people have been marching in the name of political freedom for centuries. That's why the suffragettes campaigned for women's right to vote. That's why Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and many others campaigned in favour of civil rights - they did it for something that could "hardly be called freedom."
And Schopenhauer illustrates this with an example: he says that, as well as the "material," external constraints and impediments that Hobbes mentions, sometimes, our actions are restricted by what Schopenhauer calls "moral constraints," and he gives the example of a threat. Say someone threatens you with assault, saying that, if you commit action X, they'll beat you up, and that this compels you to not commit action X. Did you make this choice freely? I think most people would say "no," including perhaps Thomas Hobbes, who would probably see someone threatening you as an external constraint upon your will, making it not a free decision.
Put it this way: is there ever such a thing as an unfree decision? If it's not free, it's not a decision. Of course, if someone is threatening you, your decision-making process will be vastly influenced, but crucially, not determined, by such circumstances.
But what is a threat? If I say to you that if you commit action X, I'll beat you up, you still could commit action X, and I would beat you up. The reason the threat is successful is simply because you don't want to be beaten up, or at least, because you want to be beaten up less than you want to commit action X. But did you choose this? No, you didn't choose to want one more than the other, you just do, you couldn't simply decide to want to be beaten up, it doesn't work like that. [...] But this is exactly the process that happens inside our own minds every time we ever make a decision. [...] Now, for the compatibilists, this is freedom because I've done what I want, but I didn't control what I wanted; I was compelled by what I wanted. To say that you can do whatever you want is to say, "you can do anything, so long as it's this specific thing over which you have no control in determining." Some freedom.
Our will is our will. If you are able to do what you want, then you are exercising your will. Freely. Because no external constraints prevent you from doing so. If you're not exercising your will, it's not called free will; it's called free not-will.
Would you rather stick with the impossible definition of free will that's facially absurd? What's the point in talking about a completely self-contradictory concept? It's much more useful to define free will in terms of what could be possible, not in terms of what's certainly impossible.
It is indeed important to understand that, as Schopenhauer says, we cannot will what we will.
So, this is one reason why I think that the distinction between internal and external constraints is a silly one.
By what metric is it "silly?"
By your logic, you should have no problem with being kidnapped and shackled to the wall in a dark basement somewhere. If this ever happens to you, we hope you shrug your shoulders and say, "Well, I'm already constrained by my wills and wants, so shackling me doesn't make any difference; I have no free will either way."
Free will is a concept that concerns the mind. It's absurd to say that it makes no difference to free will whether you are constrained internally (i.e., mentally) or externally (i.e., physically). If you are externally constrained, then you might not be able to carry out the choices you want to, which limits your freedom as respects your desires and your will. To say that we don't have free will unless we escape our own will is absurd.
Remember, compatibilism relies on this distinction, recognising that all of our thoughts and all of our actions are determined, but so long as they're determined internally instead of externally, they're free, and my response has been to say that we have as much control over our internal constraints as we do external constraints - that is, we have no control over either of them, and so there's no meaningful reason for the compatibilist to make this distinction, it's totally arbitrary in terms of what you actually have control over, and if free will means to have ultimate control over our actions, we aren't free whether the cause of our actions is internal or external.
That's emphatically not what free will means in compatibilism.
Even the definition Hobbes put forward mentions nothing about control - but the incompatibilist definition you mentioned in your first video does: "For instance, it would have been completely possible for me to have said,"bonjour,"at the beginning of this video instead of good morning, and the choice to say the latter was completely within my control. The idea is that you are in control of your actions, and any decisions that you make are determined only by your own conscious self."
If we define control as the ability to change something, then no, you cannot control your will, but what you can do, if you are not externally constrained, is implement your own will - that is, using your will, you can control which choices you make and which actions you take. This is what we mean by free will - freedom from external constraints, which permits us to behave as we choose, or as our will chooses.
And so this is where the compatibilist doesn't so much defend free will as simply redefine free will. To them, free will is not about actual control over our actions, it's simply about whatever determines our actions being internal to ourselves. That is, we commit an action freely if it is a result of internal determination, even if we have absolutely no control over that internal cause or over the action itself.
Compatibilism doesn't "redefine" free will. The free will incompatibilists propose isn't free will at all.
Compatibilism offers us a useful, workable definition of free will. So what if it doesn't involve internal control over your own will? As you perceive it, you will always choose what you want to do, and that's the very reason why we think we have free will in the first place - because our choices obey our wishes. Again, this idea of being able to control your own will is nonsense, since our will is what motivates us to control anything in the first place. If we consider the issue this way, of course we're going to run into problems! If you think of free will the way O'Connor does, you plainly have no understanding of compatibilism at all.
Compatibilism doesn't so much deny incompatibilism as conceive an entirely different situation. Even though they are opposing positions, they're not really even in the same class as each other.
Of course, there may be those who irrationally assert that incompatibilist free will is compatible with determinism, a logically nonsensical position.
Compatibilism simply states that free will has nothing to do with the ability to ultimately control your actions. Instead, free will is about committing actions over which you may have no control, but the cause of which comes from somewhere inside you.
So, forgive me for not finding this a satisfactory analysis of free will. If you're happy to say that you're free despite having no control over your actions, then I think maybe we're just talking at cross-purposes.
Compatibilism doesn't say you have no control over your actions. It says that you have no control over your will, which should be quite common knowledge in this "progressive" age. If you execute an action according to your will, then that is an action over which you have control. It's absurd to claim that, unless you are the ultimate cause of your actions, you don't have any control over them.
In fact, you are the immediate cause of your choices, and that means, therefore, that you do have immediate and direct control over them. The entire point of free will is that you determine your actions, and not some external being or thing.
But for the sake of argument, let me simply grant that there is some relevant difference between internally and externally determined actions for whatever reason.
There is a relevant difference - your will and desires and your conscious, subjective decision-making. That's the distinction compatibilists make. This should be obvious. How can anyone have studied compatibilism and yet so consistently miss the point? Clearly, you haven't been paying attention.
Let me simply grant that free will is just the ability to act in accordance with internal causes and without external constraint. Even then, I think compatibilism fails and let me tell you why.
Remember, compatibilism assumes that determinism is true. It's an affirmation of the compatibility between determinism and free will.
If determinism is true, then everything that happens in the universe is the result of some previous chain of causation dating back to the beginning of time. Every thought in your brain is determined by something prior to it, as is whatever determined that, as is whatever determined that and so on and so on.
So, now, let's consider the supposed difference between an external cause of action and an internal cause of action, that distinction which compatibilism relies upon.
We saw this coming a mile off.
So, the compatibilist thinks that if, say, a boulder were to roll over and knock me off a cliff, I didn't freely choose to fall off that cliff because the cause of my doing so was external to me. But if I jump off that cliff, then I did act freely because the cause of me falling off the cliff was internal to me.
Okay, well now consider the following: let's say that I'm just walking along a road and a boulder rolls out in front of me, and, not wanting to be crushed by it, I jump out of the way. According to the compatibilist, did I freely choose to jump? Well, kind of. I mean, I did jump because I wanted to jump, I wanted to avoid being crushed, and that desire is entirely internal. But who wouldn't want to avoid being crushed? Sure, I wanted to jump, but the cause of that want was the boulder, something external.
So although the immediate cause of me jumping was internal, ultimately, the cause of my action was external, so I think it's fair to say that I was compelled to jump out of the way by something external to me: the boulder, and therefore didn't act freely. But here's the thing: if determinism is true, then any internal cause for any action is ultimately determined by something external, since if determinism is true, then whatever causes you to commit any action is itself determined by something else, and that's determined by something else, and that's determined by something else, and so on and so forth, until you get to a time before you were born and before the earth existed. The chain of causation that ultimately determined your action will always stretch back to something external, just like the chain of causation when I jumped from the boulder stretches back, ultimately, to something external, even though the immediate cause was internal, my desire, my want, to jump.
Still not getting it.
That's all well and good, but again, the principle of free will, as compatibilists define it, is not broken here.
Essentially, you're presenting exactly the same argument as you did before, except from a different perspective. First, you were using it to argue that we don't have control, and now you're using it to emphasise the fact that we may be influenced by causes external to ourselves.
But this does nothing to prove compatibilism false within its own premises. The ultimate cause of something is irrelevant. Compatibilism does not deny that we are influenced by external causes. What matters is the immediate cause of our choice and whether or not that choice is in line with our will. Free WILL is concerned with WILL, not the cause-by-proxy of any given decision. This is reflected in the quote from Hobbes you made earlier in the video.
But who wouldn't want to avoid being crushed?
Someone who wishes to commit suicide and who saw the boulder coming. Surely, you have more imagination than this.
I really think about this, as with my boulder example, though the immediate cause of my action may well be internal, it is always ultimately determined by something external if we follow the chain of causation back far enough. Now, if determinism is true then this is true without exception. Every action you ever take is ultimately determined by something external to you.
The boulder did not cause you to jump out of the way - you did. If the boulder hadn't come along, you wouldn't have jumped - so what? The boulder influenced your action; it did not determine it. If a boulder is coming your way, then you can make a choice as to whether or not you're going to jump out of the way, depending on your state of mind - it's not inconceivable that someone might make a different choice than you would, which means that the boulder itself is not the determiner of your actions. You're reading a sentence right now - the sentence does not determine your interpretation of itself, nor does it determine which action you will take after reading it; it will merely inform those things. Your interpretation and your action are (ultimately) solely up to you.
You're also thinking in purely materialist terms here. In order for this argument against free will to hold up, you'd also need to disprove the existence of mind external to matter, since any such mind would not be part of the chain of cause and effect you've so confidently referenced.
So even if the compatibilist is right that there is some relevant difference between actions that originate internally and those that originate externally, if determinism is true, then all actions originate externally, ultimately; there's no such thing as an ultimately internally determined action and therefore no such thing, according to the compatibilist's view, as a free action.
External events inform your will - they do not determine it, as we've just shown with your boulder example. Again, compatibilism does not concern itself with what influences you to behave as you do. It's solely concerned with your will and whether it is exercised freely.
Of course, you can always simply deny the idea that our actions are all determined in this way, but then you're just not a compatibilist because compatibilism assumes that determinism is true. All I'm trying to show is that if you do think determinism is true, as the compatibilist does, then you've kissed goodbye to free will, even the vaguely redefined form of free will that compatibilists hold to, let alone a kind of free will in which you're actually in total control of your actions.
Let me demonstrate this problem a bit further by using the terminology of the philosopher Peter van Inwagen, who, in his essay The Powers of Rational Beings: Freedom of the Will, defines two types of facts.
The first he describes as such: "There are certain facts that no human being can do anything about - and that no human being in history could ever have done anything about. Among these are the fact that the earth is round, the fact that magnets attract iron, the fact that there were once dinosaurs, and the fact that 317 is a prime number."
Even those who believe in free will will obviously accept that some such facts exist, facts over which we have zero control. Inwagen calls these "untouchable facts," since there's absolutely nothing we can do to affect their truth.
Now, to believe in free will is not to say that we have control over everything, of course, just that there are some things that we have control over - that is, there are some facts that aren't untouchable; things like deciding to drive your car, and we might call any fact that you do get to control a "touchable" fact. So, if free will exists, there are some touchable facts, facts over which you do have control, distinct from untouchable facts, like the fact that earth is a globe, it's as simple as that - free will is just the existence of some - at least some - touchable facts.
So here's the problem: van Inwagen introduces a logical principle, which goes as follows: if P is an untouchable fact, and Q follows from P, then Q is also an untouchable fact. That is to say, if there is some state of affairs, some fact, over which you have no control, which we'll call P, and if it's also true that, if P then Q, then since the cause of Q is untouchable, Q is itself untouchable. You didn't cause it, you couldn't stop it - untouchable.
We can see exactly where this is going.
For example, let's say that P is the state of the universe 5 billion years ago, clearly an untouchable fact, and let's say that Q is the formation of the earth. If the formation of the earth follows necessarily from the state of the universe 5 billion years ago, then since the first fact is untouchable, so is the second.
Now, determinism is simply the belief that, for every state of affairs "Q," there is some preceding state of affairs "P," which brought about Q by causal necessity. So the fact that I'm currently saying these words was brought about by some previous cause, itself brought about by some previous cause, and so on and so on until we get to, say, the state of the universe five billion years ago. And using van Inwagen's principle, we can see that every single step along the chain of causation, from the state of the universe 5 billion years ago all the way up until now, is an untouchable fact, since whatever follows from the state of the universe 5 billion years ago is also untouchable, meaning that whatever follows from that will be untouchable, and anything that follows from that will be untouchable, and so on, until you get to any action which we commit today, which, if determinism is true, and there is this unbroken chain of causal necessity, must also be untouchable.
So if a belief in free will is just the belief that there exist some touchable facts, then free will doesn't exist unless determinism is false, because if determinism is true, then all facts are ultimately untouchable.
Now, compatibilism says that both exist at the same time, that free will is compatible with determinism, and therefore, compatibilism must fail, and it's as simple as that.
It's much simpler than that.
All you've really done is reiterate the causal argument from earlier - saying that, since some events took place in the past that we didn't have control over, and there is an unbroken chain of cause and effect since such an event, then we don't have free will.
This is the same argument which, in other words, doesn't have anything to do with compatibilist free will. Compatibilism doesn't define free will as control over facts.
And we will, again, point out that you are thinking in strictly materialist terms here. There's no consideration for whatever preceded the big bang or whatever might exist outside of the universe. You can't make a blanket assertion denying the existence of free will and then go on to only consider the concept in light of your personal worldview.
Besides which, we will promptly show that this reasoning about "touchable" and "untouchable" facts is heavily predicated on materialism.
Imagine that one human and one god exists. The god is infinitely more powerful than the human, such that any action taken by the god cannot be prevented by the human. And let's say that both god and human have existed forever - neither one caused the other. Except where they interact, they are part of entirely separate causal chains - but for the sake of simplicity, we'll leave interaction out.
Say that the god places a rock into the physical universe. The human, by definition, couldn't have stopped that from happening. Now, the fact of the matter is that the stone is sitting at the bottom of a canyon. Can the human take the rock and move it up to the top? Could the human destroy the rock altogether, turning it into dust? Could the human throw the rock into an active volcano, melting it?
By van Inwagen's reasoning, this should be impossible since the fact of the rock being at the bottom of the canyon was caused by an untouchable fact - namely the god's decision to put the rock there - and should therefore be an untouchable fact itself. But clearly, it's possible for the human to move the rock and do whatever they want with it.
Van Inwagen's reasoning only works if humans are part of the untouchable chain of causality. If they're not, then it becomes blatantly wrong. And if humans are part of the untouchable chain of causality, it will certainly follow that they cannot change anything because they would not be able to change themselves.
But again, this doesn't refute compatibilism because compatibilist free will has absolutely nothing to do with control over facts.
Interestingly, van Inwagen actually concludes that free will does exist, but he does so on the basis that his intuition of free will is just so strong that it must be accurate, even though he has no idea how it would work and he admits as such. He essentially makes a really great case against free will, and then essentially just throws his hands up to the sky and goes, "Ah, well, free will has to exist, though, so it's all a grand mystery."
It's quite a disappointing ending to the otherwise brilliant essay, which you can read in full by clicking the link in the description, but remember this, remember something important: both advocates of libertarian free will and those who say that it doesn't exist think compatibilism is false.
Well, you know the old saying: always trust your gut.
To say that compatibilism is false is not necessarily to deny free will, but just to deny its compatibility with determinism, so even if you do believe in free will, my arguments can still hold up and you can still be an incompatibilist.
And yet they still don't address free will as compatibilists define it, even though you said you were going to play devil's advocate. You haven't really made a dent in compatibilism at all, given that you kept presenting arguments pertaining to the incompatibilist view of free will (i.e., libertarian free will).
To reiterate, because apparently, some people are very confused by compatibilism: the compatibilist's definition of free will does not concern the amount of control you have over your will, or the "ultimate" cause of your actions, or whether or not you can will what you will, which is what CosmicSkeptic's arguments pertain to. Instead, for the compatibilist, free will involves freedom from external constraints in such a way that you are able to behave and choose as you will. It's as good a definition as any, and certainly better than the incompatibilists' alternative. You deterministically reduced that plethora of potential choices into one actualised choice based upon your will. What else would free will mean? You're not constrained internally because you're not being forced to make a choice you don't want to make.
It may be true that you can't control your will - but all decisions require a will in the first place, that's what a decision is. If it doesn't involve a deterministic will, it isn't a decision!
So, the compatibilist position champions the sanest definition of free will. The incompatibilist definition is patently absurd. It defines freedom from will, not freedom of will. None of us can ever be free from our own will. We are bound to it. We are indistinguishable from it. Who would ever want to behave independently of their own will? It's the most ridiculous idea we've heard all October, at least. And if you were, you wouldn't be the one making decisions.
The Three Species of Humanity
If the matter really is as simple as we've outlined, then why is it that the debate continues? It's because people have radically different ways of thinking. What equals "proof" for a faithful Christian will not equal "proof" for the scientist (the empiricist) or the rationalist. These are not only completely different worldviews, they also indicate a different method of thought entirely.
O'Connor does not think as a faithful or as a rationalist - he thinks as an empiricist, which his videos on free will demonstrate. He will, therefore, have some degree of trouble understanding the arguments of the faithful or the arguments of the rationalists.
Nietzsche said, "As soon as you feel yourself against me you have ceased to understand my position and consequently my arguments! You have to be the victim of the same passion!" In other words, if you cannot put yourself in another's shoes, you will never understand their arguments. They use different "reasoning" than you do. They think entirely differently. Their logic is of a different world to yours. If you are not the "victim of the same passion," then you have failed to understand their worldview.
Even if the truth of reality were laid bare for everyone to see, very few would accept it as truth. Humanity is a stumbling species, and it owes this fact to nothing else more than the idea that people have different ways of thinking, different standards for "proof" and "evidence." Swiftly after comes the problem of interpretation. Numerous people can interpret the same thing in different ways. It's almost as if there are three species of humanity, not just one. These three species are so different, they cannot agree on what reality is.
Faithful people think that reality was revealed to humanity long ago, and that this revelation is the only way to knowledge - they will therefore assess any claims according to whether or not they fit the "character" of a revealed word. Empiricists think that reality is limited by what we can conceivably learn through our senses - they will analyse claims according to whether or not there is any empirical (physical) evidence for their truth. Rationalists think that the only way to true knowledge is through reason - they will hold claims to a rational standard.
The three species are separated by large gulfs and chasms. They scarcely understand one another at all. If you think you can convert the zealous faithful or the staunch materialist or the fierce rationalist to a different point of view, you're more than likely kidding yourself. To do so would be to attempt to change their way of thought and way of life completely. Few tasks are more difficult.
This article's purpose is to demonstrate that, even if you think you know what the other side is talking about, you can very easily get sucked into your own viewpoint and become incapable of imagining anything outside of it. The reason why people so adamantly disagree is that they have entirely different ways of thinking. If you want to understand the other sides, then you must put yourself in their shoes. Only when you understand a person's method of thought can you understand their arguments.
In the Contra Christum section of this website, we often hold the claims of faithfuls up to a rationalist standard. In reality, it will convince no Christians to change their minds because Christian thought has nothing to do with reason and everything to do with emotion and faith. This article is not likely to convince a materialist that they are wrong about free will, either - it does not argue on their terms.
The liberal does not understand the conservative, and vice versa. The republican does not understand the democrat, and vice versa. Their irreconcilable difference of thought is what often leads to conflict. They are aliens to each other. They might as well have come from different planets. They might as well live on different planets.
If you left faithfuls on one planet, empiricists on another, and rationalists on another, after a thousand years, they would all arrive at completely different conclusions about reality, and their respective worlds would be in entirely different conditions. The question is, which one can lead to truth? Which one reflects reality the best? The more you think in terms of reality, the better you will understand it. Is faith the language of reality? Is it rather matter? Is it rather reason? It's absurd to say it's all three.
The choice is yours.