Category Archives: Free Will

Interview with Blake Ostler

There’s a podcast interview with Blake Ostler at Mormon Discussion.1 While I disagree with Blake on a few things (primarily the King Follet Discourse) I think he’s been a tremendously important voice within Mormon theology. He’s raised very important ideas such as the idea that inspired commentary was added as part of the Book of Mormon translation process. Agree or disagree with him but he’s always a must read.

What’s best about what Blake has done is to actually publish his arguments in an easy to access format so people can engage with them. There have been lots of great ideas and thinkers out there. But often the arguments are lost as they simply don’t get distributed broadly. Anything we can do to fix that is helpful.

On a related note Ben Huff told me that SMPT’s Element will be widely available on the SMPT site. (I’ll post more on this later when I have more time)

  1. I don’t know much about this podcast, and haven’t listened to the interview yet.

The Problem of Will in Free Will

There was a great two part episode of Partially Examined Life interviewing Eva Brann about her book Un-Willing: An Inquiry into the Rise of Will’s Power and an Attempt to Undo It. She basically traces the genealogy of the notion of will, locating the origins of modern philosophical notions in Augustine and Aquinas. The discussion they had was fascinating. Especially the second part where they critique the very notion of free will. 

I went to buy the book but inexplicably it’s only available in paperback with no Kindle or iBook version. I must confess I was pretty shocked by that in this day and age. Oddly her other books were available. 

One of the more interesting critiques was that it’s a problem to equate will with choice the way the contemporary free will debate tends to do. I confess the discussion really played to my own biases. I’ve long been quite skeptical of the way the debate has proceeded within philosophy. My own view is that if the concepts and intuitions don’t work such that we have freedom eventually what will change will be those very concepts. Brann’s book seems to play to this by noting the very different conceptions of will that have developed through the history of philosophy. Why do we pick one above others?

Continue reading The Problem of Will in Free Will

Attitudes to Free Will

Interesting paper with a few psychological studies on why people believe in free will. I’m always a bit loath to put too much stock in these since there are the usual issues of small studies usually with university students for test subjects.1 Still it does have some interesting conclusions. 

People tend to believe in free will more after considering an immoral action than a neutral one along with an increased desire to punish others. People also believe in free will more if there is a cheater around. Also the amount of crime in a country predicts the level of free will belief.

Continue reading Attitudes to Free Will

  1. Some of these studies were a little better, recruiting via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk group. However they still likely don’t represent a terribly representative cross section of the country, let alone humanity. Selection issues and sample sizes are traditionally problem with these sorts of studies. While there is replication, again there have been strong critiques of how replication is happening in psychological studies such as recent criticisms of priming studies. I’m not saying ignore these in the least. However I think they are perhaps best seen as early steps and that one should always be careful pushing the conclusions too far.