Hardly for lack of trying among moral entrepreneurs and poseurs. Florida philosophy prof Alfred Mele notes, however, “no free will” experiments are set up to favour unconscious decision-making, and entirely leave out of account the type of decision-making most of us consider important to free will. For example:
Participants in these experiments are instructed to perform a simple action whenever they want and then report on when they first became aware of an urge, intention, or decision to perform it. In some studies, they are told to flex their right wrist – or click a key on a keyboard – whenever they want. In others, they have the option of pressing either of two buttons whenever they want. Nothing hangs on when they flex or click or which button they press. Any decisions participants make about these simple actions are arbitrary. In fact, participants are instructed to be spontaneous rather than think about what to do.
The discerning reader will have noticed something interesting already. The instructions participants receive place conscious reasoning about what to do out of bounds. The experimental setting is very different from a situation in which you’re carefully weighing pros and cons before making a difficult decision – a decision about whether to change careers, for example, or about whether to ask for a divorce. It would not be at all surprising if your conscious reasoning made it highly probable that you would consciously make any decision you made. At any rate, in light of salient differences between an arbitrary unreflective selection of a moment to act or a button to press, on the one hand, and a choice about a momentous matter made after painstaking conscious reflection, on the other, we can’t be confident that all decisions are made in the same way. More.
Lots of people would benefit if the idea of free will could be banished. Too bad they are nearly always the wrong people.
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