(0:05) You make that sound like it's an easy question, like this is a starter question. But it’s
actually very hard.
So that's a good question, I think free will is...
Free will is…
Free will, I think is…
What free will is actually a pretty complicated question.
So, what is free will?
(0:31) Santiago Amaya:
Hello, this is Free Will Matters. My name is Santiago Amaya and I'm an associate professor
in Philosophy at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. I am very happy to host this podcast.
The problem of free will has been at the center of many discussions in Western Philosophy
for the last 20 centuries. But in recent years the problem has reappeared in a fresh form.
There are new and exciting developments in the field that make this a fascinating topic of
conversation. For this podcast we have invited various philosophers who work in free will.
Philosophy might be a daunting thing, but with their help we will get to know better the
what, the how and the why of free will. Welcome.
Today we have philosopher Daniel Speak, who's coming from Loyola Marymount
University in Los Angeles. Daniel specializes in metaphysics, especially the metaphysics of
free will, and in the philosophy of religion. He is the author of many papers, including a
monograph on the problem of evil.
Hi Dan, let me begin by asking you this. You're known for defending a libertarian view of
free will, actually, an interesting version of libertarianism. Perhaps we should begin with a
summary of the view.
(1:46) Daniel Speak:
Yeah, so apparently, I'm known for defending the libertarian view of free will. I'll try to
summarize that view and say something about what I find appealing about it. So, one thing
to say is the libertarian view about freedom of will, on my view, doesn't bear any interest in
relationship to the view that's called libertarianism in kind of political or economic
positions. So, it's not a political view per se, it's a view about the nature of freedom, the
metaphysics of freedom.
And what the libertarian view says is two things: One, that we do have free will. So,
libertarianism is what I sometimes call an optimistic view. It's optimistic about our actually
enjoying free will. And then the other is the incompatibilist aspect. That's the view, though
we have free will, if the world were determined, it would turn out that we didn't have free
will. So, the libertarian is committed to the idea that our freedom depends on the world not
being ordered by strict, causally deterministic laws.
So, what do you find appealing about libertarianism?
So, what do I find appealing about this view? Well, I'm tempted to think that most of us
when we first start thinking about the nature of our own agency will think of ourselves
naturally as beings who are able to act freely. Act, choose any of two things, you know,
we're deciding between whether or not to tell the truth, or to tell a lie in a given case. I
think most of us have this experience that right at the moment of that choice, holding
everything about the past fixed, we could either tell the truth, or we could tell the lie and
there's a way in which when that gets cashed out, carefully, it looks to... you have the sort of
most attractive version such that if determinism is true that would be false about me. I
couldn't have done either of the two things. If we did have this capacity to act in a way that
was not determined by the past and the laws of nature, there would be a kind of higher
capacity or dignity or value to our agency. So part of what motivates me about
libertarianism is the idea that we should aim as philosophers to vindicate our reasonable,
but high expectations or aspirations for ourselves as agents. It seems to me libertarianism
has more promise for that than competitor views like compatibilism.
Libertarianism has some well-known problems. One of them is what philosophers have
called the luck problem. Dan, can you explain that problem for us?
So, the luck problem is this: if you're a libertarian, like me, then you think that determinism
is false. So you think the world is not governed by laws that guarantee, because the past
and the laws of nature, that you'll do a particular thing at a particular time. So it's
undetermined at a given moment whether or not I will tell the lie or tell the truth, if I'm
genuinely libertarianly free. But if indeterminism is true, the luck problem is this: well then
at the moment when I decide, let's say I decide to tell the truth, nothing about the past and
the laws guaranteed that I would tell the truth. And here's another way you might put that:
it starts to look like it's a flip of the cosmic coin whether or not I told the truth or told a lie.
After all, holding everything about the past fixed at the moment I was deciding I could have
done either one. So when I do tell the truth, in that case, you might think it's reasonable to
ask: Well, what explains the fact that you told the truth rather than told the lie?
And the account then, on my view, of what explains why I chose to tell the truth rather than
tell the lie is just this: me. I caused it. The buck stops with me and in a way that raises
problems of its own. But if someone says “then isn't the matter of luck that you picked
that?” And what I want to say is “no, it's not a matter of luck.” There is an explanation that's
not lucky at all. I expressed the most fundamental kind of control over that action. I caused
it for the reasons I had.
Supposed you became convinced that your view on free will is false. What would be the
most appealing fallback view for you?
Yeah, if I did become convinced that libertarianism was false. Do I have a fallback view?
What looks like it? This is interesting 'cause I have thought about this question quite
explicitly and partly in response to very good friends of mine. It turns out that, as we say,
some of my best friends are compatibilists or at least revisionist compatibilists. And when
my friends push me on why I continue to be a libertarian, part of my response is this: these
compatibilists, they have extraordinarily powerful worked out compatibilist views that
show to my mind how a substantial portion of the moral life can be accounted for in
compatibilists terms. I'm very grateful for that work, because though I am a libertarian and
so I'm committed to the view presently the determinism is false, I could be persuaded. I
could get enough evidence sometime, in the near future, that determinism is true or that
there's some other way that my libertarian free will is undermined. And my inclination is to
think: thank God I have a built in fallback position if I become convinced that libertarianism
is false, I'm going to become a revisionist compatibilist. I'm going to adopt the view that
there is enough in the kinds of reasons responsiveness views about moral responsibility
and free will in those positions that we get to vindicate most of the natural platitudes about
the moral life, and that will be good enough for me.
Ok, so here's a question that we've asked to some of our guests. In the last decade or so,
there have been an incredible amount of developments in the field of free will. Can you tell
us, in your opinion, about one of the most exciting recent developments?
Almost everyone at some level, almost every theorist, thinks that free will is gonna turn out
to be a graded concept, that it’s going to admit degrees. People can be more or less free,
they can exhibit more or less free will. But very little work has been done to try and explain
how those gradations could be specified, how it, what would be the principles you would
deploy to try and identify when you had high-octane free will or lower-octane free will, or
what have you. They’re connected to contemporary movements. I think that's a really
interesting project, interesting in its own right 'cause we need some account of this. But I'm
also inclined to think that work that's done on that is actually going to help us to
understand the very notion of free will better, because our intuitive way in which
philosophers have been operating for a long time, it's an on or off switch: either you have
free will or you don't. My guess is that that thinking, even when it's not explicit, is exerting
a kind of conceptual pressure on our theorizing about free will itself, and that the more
theorists continue to think about how to think about gradations, we're actually going to get
more insight into the nature of free will more generally. So that's one exciting aspect for
The other is this move, the impact of sociality on freedom of the will. There's been a
temptation throughout the history of Western Philosophy, at least to think about the free
willed person as this singular ontological entity disconnected and autonomous, not being
affected or impacted by his or her, “his or her,” which means “his” in the history of
Philosophy, social milieu, in some respects independent of their sociality. One of the things,
on my view, exciting about new work on freedom of the will is an attunement to, an
awareness of, the way that our capacities, especially the capacities for free choice and for
managing ourselves and what have you, are built upon our sociality, depend on the way
that we're related to other people, depend on our social environments and in the resources
that are made available to us, and in our social scaffolding that makes possible various
forms of reasoning and what have you. That’s a big messy set of issues to think through.
Let me ask you a more personal question. Dan, you are a Christian philosopher and also a
libertarian. To what extent are the two things related, that is, to what extent one’s religious
views make certain views about free will more attractive to one. Is, for example, skepticism
about free will compatible with the Christian view of the world?
Is there some respect in which we should be expecting religious views to be making some
views in the free will literature more persuasive than others? This is a deep and important
question. Think, for example, about the problem of evil for theism. The problem of evil for
theism is this:
how is it that if God exists and is described in the ways that Christianity describes God,
maximally loving, maximally powerful, maximally good, etc. How is it that a world that
supposedly overseen by that being, could have the transparent garbage that our world
possesses? Here I don't mean garbage just in terms of ugliness, but in terms of moral
disaster. That's not just a matter of what horrible things some people do to each other, but
also things like the Ebola virus in West Africa and people dying from floods and how is a
world that's overseen by a maximally good God, allowing for such things to happen?
There is no easy answer to that question on my view. It's not like I've got the silver bullet
for that. But one thing that historic Christian thinkers have said about that problem, at least
to get an initial point of leverage, is that at least some of the horrors in the world can be
accounted for by virtue of the fact that God makes human beings with a robust kind of free
will and if God does that, then at least some of those things that human beings bring about
by their own free will, those are not things that God can be blamed for and that God can
have a sufficient reason for allowing those kinds of things to happen, if in fact free will is
valuable as we sometimes think it is.
So there's no question that my attractions to that kind of response to the problem of evil
animate my own libertarian views. But it's worth seeing that to the question about whether
or not, for example, skepticism about free will is compatible with the Christian worldview.
It does turn out that though I'm attracted to libertarianism and maybe in no small part
because of my Christian commitments, I do not think one has to be a libertarian about free
will, in order to be a Christian. I don't think there is a necessary connection there. Indeed,
there's been a lot of Christian thinkers throughout history who have been much more
attracted to compatibilism about free will. Why? Because a lot of Christian thinkers have
thought that God has exhaustive foreknowledge, that God knows not just everything that's
happening right now, but God knows everything that will happen in the future, even what
Emily will do next week with the freedom of her will. And, so what a lot of classical
Christian thinkers have thought is that in virtue of that, it's probably true that Emily
couldn't have done anything other than what she's going to do next week. And yet, Emily
can be morally responsible and free. So there's a sort of compatibilist impulse in a lot of
Christian theological and philosophical reflection through history. I think that's a perfectly
reasonable view. I have my reasons for rejecting that view about divine foreknowledge, but
I see how Christian thinkers can be motivated that way.
Free Will Matters is part of the LATAM Free Will, Agency, and Responsibility Project. It is
produced by Cerosetenta thanks to a generous grant of the John Templeton Foundation and
with the support of Universidad de los Andes and the University of California in San Diego.
For more information, visit us at freewill.uniandes.edu.co