Is Our Belief in Free Will Just for Comfort?

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Like many of us, an article published by a Yale University professor is not keen to take a firm stance on whether our actions are the result of free will or external influences. He makes the point that the concept of free makes sense to an extent because we feel that we make many decisions by our own volition. He contradicts this point, however, with the reasoning that we are born with many characteristics that are entirely out of our control, yet may influence our choices and preferences in the future (ex: name, hometown, fiscal situation).
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Instead of taking a definitive stance on the issue itself, the author examines how our views of free will adapt to situational circumstances. We may take credit for achievements and attribute them to our decision to work hard (free will), but later blame a car accident on weather conditions (uncontrollable circumstances) when maybe we could have just driven a little slower. This suggests that perhaps the notion of free will is simply something that is comforting for us to believe in because it gives us a sense of purpose and a sense of control over what happens to us. Regardless of whether there is evidence for or against free will, we may always choose to believe in it because it gives us motivation.
What I found most interesting in the article was the implication that we alter our views of free will and determinism simply to explain and rationalize every event in our lives, regardless of our intellectual view of the subject.

3 Comments

The concept of "free will" really intrigued me as I was reading our textbook, Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding. I like how you brought your own viewpoint into the discussion. As well as used a car accident as an example of outside forces partly to blame, instead of our own "free will."

The debate between free will and external influence is an interesting topic, but could there be a third variable? What about religion? In many situations, people may credit a high being for their situation or achievements. For example, look at Tim Tebow, he argues that neither his free will nor external circumstances, but rather his Christian faith for his achievements and his shortcomings. Though this is an interesting idea, religion is an untestable and unfalsifiable domain.

Personally, I agree with the idea that free will and determinism are largely ideas that are used by humans to explain certain scenarios that play out in our everyday lives. Throughout my life, I have witnessed a pattern of "free will" being the explanation for positive outcomes, such as success due to hard work, and random or "uncontrollable" circumstances being the reasoning behind bad events/results. The following article expands on your point even further: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/19/1/49.short
An interesting theory proposed in this article was that students exposed to a mentality that free will exists and actions can be predetermined were more likely to engage in cheating in their academics. Researchers ran two different experiments in which this result was confirmed.

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This page contains a single entry by holla328 published on January 31, 2012 10:46 PM.

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