Do humans have free will?
Is the universe and humanity within it deterministic?
Why choose a philosophy which makes your choice irrelevant in the first place?
Our mere ability to have this discussion suggests the importance of consciousness, choice, and the value of humans. The alternative is a deterministic worldview which treats us like billiard balls rather than the complex choice bearing individuals we appear to be based on the evidence available to us as human, philosophers, and scientists.
The World is a Stage:
We both act in the world and are acted upon. Ultimately, to my knowledge, we can’t verify via science either way. However, irrespective whether free will exists or not–we should act as if free will exists. (Which incidentally seems to be the larger question….at least to me….). If only because it makes life more enjoyable and fulfilling, but also because it makes ideas like responsibility a core. It give meaning to our desires to protect women and minorities from the dehumanization that others might. This resonates with the power and possibility that lies in the universe and in humanity.
The Value of Hope
Further, the argument for hope is compelling. That a world with hope and acting as if hope is a possibility makes more sense than acting as if there is an all controlling force in our chemistry. If we act like that, we would resemble some of the scenes from Lord of the Flies.
Argument Fail: Science Whether Chemistry or Biology Can’t Exclude Freewill and Choice
The core of this question has a far, far larger burden of proof. To say that genes, biology, or chemistry shape who we are doesn’t mean they determine who we are or to what extent that is the case (its a continuum if you will). This means that 99% of the answers here simply don’t answer the question.
For instance, chemistry wouldn’t be able to say if choice existed or not–it simply is not geared to make a determination of this philosophical query. If there is a study from chemistry or elsewhere that says otherwise, I would like to read it. The hidden or embedded premise that “chemistry can explain everything about humans and life” is a bit dubious. As such, chemistry in one sense begs the question of choice–almost in the same way that math begs the same question with respect to this answer. Chemistry isn’t a science capable of detecting human choice–which suggest using it as evidence is a bit of a fool’s errand.
However, the unpredictability of scientific results (aka the margin of error in experiments which involve human subjects and perhaps even animal subjects) suggests some force other than chemistry is at work, which further suggest chemistry alone is a poor tool to determine the answer–and further suggests a detectable degree of indeterminacy–which might just be choice.
Also, I imagine despite the correlations, that many chemists still believe in the notions of human choice. If you read the literature on soft determinism its far, far more convincing than the literature on hard determinism which relies on radical conspiracy theories which are extremely hyperbolic and lack connection to how we experience reality in our daily lives.
The Paradox of Determinism
James, oddly, an agnostic or atheist makes the following argument about the apparent pluralism in the world, ethics, and regret:
The only consistent way of representing a pluralism and a world whose parts may affect one another through their conduct being either good or bad is the indeterministic way. What interest, zest, or excitement can there be in achieving the right way, unless we are en- abled to feel that the wrong way is also a pos- sible and a natural way,—nay, more, a menacing and an imminent way? And what sense can there be in condemning ourselves for taking the wrong way, unless we need have done nothing of the sort, unless the right way was open to us as well? I cannot under- stand the willingness to act, no matter how we feel, without the belief that acts are really good and bad. I cannot understand the belief that an act is bad, without regret at its hap- pening. I cannot understand regret without the admission of real, genuine possibilities in the world. Only then is it other than a mockery to feel, after we have failed to do our best, that an irreparable opportunity is gone from the universe, the loss of which it must forever after mourn.
When picking your worldview on this question–it just makes sense to err on the side of choice. Determinism requires humans to act like robots,
but the experience of life isn’t robotic, despite patterns of behavior (realize I’m carving out distinctive middle ground here). Infinite regresses on other possibilities don’t seem particularly constructive–except to say that we have amazing imaginations which tremendously powerful and flexible engines.
So do humans have free will? Are we responsible for our actions? Do we live in an indeterministic universe? Which worldview is more coherent or makes more sense?
I believe this later concept is in Isaiah Berlins Four Essays on Liberty–but I’m not honestly sure. ( Link to Isaiah Berlin on Summary on Wikipedia)
I’m curious if Rene Descartes would have also proclaimed–I experience life as a choosing being–therefore I am. (Link to Rene Descartes summary on Wikipedia)