Just Asking

If you are an atheist, and you think that free will, ultimately, does not exist, but you nevertheless act in your day-to-day life as if free will does in fact exist, aren’t you like someone who doesn’t believe in God, but under stress prays?


About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Just Asking

  1. No, I’m not. While contra-causal free will does not exist, there are certain types of free will which are compatible with determinism. (See compatibilism.)

  2. santitafarella says:


    I appreciate the link and I’ve read Dennett’s book (which I like very much), but I feel like free will in the hands of a strict materialist is akin to health care reform under Obama. You’re not really going to cover everybody, but you’ll still call it universal coverage. In other words, I’m not really sure that what is being called free will by a compatibilist is really free will. We’re getting a rather pale substitute, don’t you think?

    Let me ask you it this way: If I say to the universe—“I am a force to be contended with around here. My will actually achieves things! Don’t fuck with me!”—ultimately am I simply deluding myself, or not?

    Is this video, for example, a delusion?:


    • Boy, you guys could learn something about universal healthcare from us Canadians. It is truly universal up here and any politician that would choose to tinker with it is finished in politics. I would not think armed insurrection impossible under such circumstances. All this comparing the minor changes that Obama is putting forward to Nazi policies is so utterly stupid that we can only shake our heads in puzzlement up here.

      When considering whether you made a choice using your free will or not, you have to ask the following question: Would I have made another choice? Not ‘could’, but ‘would’. If not, then the choice was not free. There may be a number of choices available, but there is no reason to suspect that given the exact same circumstances you would make any other choice. It is that ‘could’ which gives us the illusion of free will. But ‘could’ is irrelevant if you wouldn’t. Sometimes the answer to the question is yes, but usually it is no, you wouldn’t have made a different choice even if there were other options. This goes hand-in-hand with the computational theory of mind. I’ve written extensively on the neuroscience of volition starting here.

      I for one am glad that contra-causal free will does not exist. Imagine the chaos. Our ability to predict and understand the actions of others is critical to interpersonal relations and societal living as a whole. If contra-causal free will were to exist, the randomness in actions that would ensue would make social living unworkable.

  3. santitafarella says:


    I looked at the link at your site and you write very well on a very complicated subject. But I think that you are saying (correct me if I misunderstand) that we are basically determined, and yet, in the way that we’re determined we would not choose otherwise. That is, we go in the direction of our desires. We wouldn’t choose differently, so we’re “free.” But I think this argument only works when we’re looking at good options (cake or ice cream). What happens when our options are “jump from the World Trade Center” or “burn alive” (options faced by people on 9-11). Suddenly the determinate universe appears to have simply set us up for cruelty, a kind of mockery of our freedom.

    I prefer freedom that makes a real difference in the real world. I’m not sure that you are saying that kind of freedom exists. I think you’re saying it doesn’t exist, but we wouldn’t choose different from what we do in any case, so it’s okay. Is that right?


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