One of our commenters says he has solved the determinism problem by becoming a “compatibilist.” Briefly, a compatibilist is someone who tries to avoid the logic of his premises by resorting to semantic dodges about the meaning of free will. The compatibilist says that free will is compatible with determinism (thus the name). Isn’t that kinda like saying my existence is compatible with my nonexistence? Yes, it is. But the compatibilist avoids this problem by re-defining “free will.” The compatibilist says that “free will” does not mean “the liberty to choose;” instead, says he, it means “the absence of coercion.” In other words, he says that so long as a choice is not coerced it is completely free even if it is utterly determined.
The problem with this approach is easy to see – just as we don’t get to win a game by changing the rules to suit us in the middle of the game, we don’t get to impose meaning on words to suit the conclusion we want to reach. The entire issue in the determinism/free will debate is whether we have liberty to choose. Suppose I ask my friend Joe the following question: “Do I have free will, if by “free will” I mean ‘the liberty to choose?’” It is obviously no answer to that question to say, “Yes, you have free will if by free will you mean, “the absence of coercion.” I really do want to explore the question about whether I have the liberty to choose, and Joe’s answer is not helpful. You might even say Joe dodged the question. Thus, in the end, the compatibilist answers a question no one has asked.
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1953, aphorism 109