Our Own Free Will Is Ours
Food for Lovers
Amsterdam, May 3d 2021– Harris argues that if we fully grasped the case against free will, it would be difficult to hate other people: how can you hate someone you don’t blame for their actions? Yet love would survive largely unscathed, since love is “the condition of our wanting those we love to be happy, and being made happy ourselves by that ethical and emotional connection”, neither of which would be undermined.
And countless other positive aspects of life would be similarly untouched. As Strawson puts it, in a world without a belief in free will, “strawberries would still taste just as good”.
Those early-morning moments aside, I personally can’t claim to find the case against free will ultimately persuasive; it’s just at odds with too much else that seems obviously true about life.
Yet even if only entertained as a hypothetical possibility, free will scepticism is an antidote to that bleak individualist philosophy which holds that a person’s accomplishments truly belong to them alone – and that you’ve therefore only yourself to blame if you fail.
It’s a reminder that accidents of birth might affect the trajectories of our lives far more comprehensively than we realise, dictating not only the socioeconomic position into which we’re born, but also our personalities and experiences as a whole: our talents and our weaknesses, our capacity for joy, and our ability to overcome tendencies toward violence, laziness or despair, and the paths we end up travelling.
There is a deep sense of human fellowship in this picture of reality – in the idea that, in our utter exposure to forces beyond our control, we might all be in the same boat, clinging on for our lives, adrift on the storm-tossed ocean of luck.
F I N A L
Mr Burkeson is a British author living in New York