Free Will? Determinism and How We Judge It

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In the article "Do You Have Free Will? Yes, It's the Only Choice," (found at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/science/22tier.html?pagewanted=all) John Tierney discusses free will and determinism. The question posed in the study explored in the article was if in a hypothetical, completely deterministic world, were people morally responsible for their actions? In the situations that the subjects had to judge, people usually said that "Bill" and "Mark"--the hypothetical men living in this world--were not responsible for their actions like cheating on their taxes, since their actions were caused by past events. However, people judged that "Bill" was morally responsible for killing his family because he chose to do so. This study looked at people's perception of free will and determinism. The article also discussed the fact that people who believed in free will were often better performers in their jobs.

My reaction to this article is that there still could be debate over free will vs. determinism. However, I think this debate really lays in people's own perceptions. People didn't blame "Mark" for cheating on his taxes because there was no one that could easily be shown as the victim. But people had harsher judgment for "Bill" because it is obvious who the victim is when he killed his family. People don't want to believe that this is an event that was bound to happen no matter what, caused entirely by previous events. It's easier for people to make sense of something horrific if they can blame it on one person's choice. Believing in free will gives people a sense of control which is comforting.

1 Comment

This is really interesting. To take this in a different direction and give more comfort to the people experiencing difficulty in the freewill/determinism debate, here's a little cognitive beef jerky to chew on. Maybe free will is the answer, maybe determinism is the answer. I like to think that free will is true looking forward and that determinism is true looking back. For example: it was my choice to chose the U of M as the college I wanted to go to (free will). Once I got here, though, I was placed into T-Hall. Then I met all of the friends I know now whose decisions to come to the U of M were made on their own account as well. I am incredibly satisfied with where I am in life and among friends that I would all for determinism. If it were true, determinism would have given me all of my friends now, and I love all my friends now! Free will seems to be the conscious guide and determinism the unconscious guide. Where will our free will point us next? Will we ever know if we get there?

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This page contains a single entry by giers003 published on February 5, 2012 10:57 PM.

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