|Robert Vickrey, The Labyrinth|
I was a terrible student and probably not exceptionally bright to begin with. I'm dense. Sometimes I need things explained to me.
I have several friends who talk to me about "free will" and was hoping for some help toward understanding the concept.
A good place to start would have been asking these friends for a definition of "free will," and I wish I thought to do it. I can only make inferences. When people refer to "free will," what they seem to be referring to is an obscure capacity by which the individual (or perhaps his or her mind) acts as an autonomous creative agent with regard to his or her behavior. I'm told that people freely choose their actions and are accountable for these choices.
Stupid Question #1: What if we act without thinking? Are we still exercising free will?
When it comes down to it, how many of our actions throughout the day are predicated by a conscious choice? When my phone vibrates, I usually don't pause to consider whether to answer it or let it keep buzzing -- I just answer it. When I eat mashed potatoes I don't pause and deliberate before taking the next spoonful; I just keep stuffing potatoes into my mouth until no potatoes remain. I don't get up in the morning and choose to go to work -- not in the sense of assessing the situation and gauging the potential costs and benefits of going to work or playing hookie. I get up and go to work.
If all of our actions are volitional, why are we not constantly aware of arriving at a crossroads with every new moment?
Stupid Question #2: How does habit square with free will?
When something you regularly do becomes so routine, so natural that you cease to be aware of it, are you still choosing to do it? Can you choose not to do something you're oblivious to doing?
I am in the habit of answering my phone right away when my boss is calling. I am also in the habit of skipping phone calls that arrive at the dinner table -- after checking the caller's number.
Sometimes my phone rings at the dinner table and I discover my boss is calling me. Now I'm aware I have a choice to make.
How frequently is it the case that we become aware of choice when two or or more of our opposing habits or exclusionary desires come into conflict? What other circumstances make us aware of choice? Are there any?
Do we only possess and exert free will when we're conscious of having to select a course of action from multiple alternatives? Are we just running on rails the rest of the time?
Does that imply that our actions between junctures of conscious decision-making (possibly the majority of our actions) are not volitional?
If we possess and exert free will at all times, who or what's making the calls when we choose without thinking, when we act unconsciously, habitually, or indeliberately? If a person's "will" dictates his actions even when he's not conscious of it, are we still talking about freedom of action?
Stupid Question #3: Is there such a thing as "partial free will?"
If so, what are the determinants of those instances when we are able to act freely?
What does it mean to "act freely" anyway?
Can most people say that they choose how they live? If you followed somebody around for a day and asked her to explain every action, to describe to you the processes by which she decided to do such and such things, adopt such and such routines, or carry such and such preferences, would she be able to tell you? If not, could she still claim that the course of her life, as a whole, was voluntary and self-determined?
I'm confused. Please help.