A: We do not have free will.
B: So what kind of will do we have then?
A: I don’t get the question.
B: Well, if you deny free will, it must be because you think the will is something else.
A: No, I think the whole idea of free will is a fiction, like “sunrise” or “the end of the rainbow”. It’s just a false judgment of appearances.
B: That’s fine- but to explain away the appearance of freedom isn’t the same thing as to explain away the appearance of a will. So what is a will?
A: It’s what people think makes them be able to choose this or that- even though they can’t.
B: So a will is nothing other than what makes people think they are free?
B: But then a free will would be the free appearance of being free. This is incoherent.
A: All right, will must mean something, but I still think it means free somehow.
B: Does it seem reasonable to say that will is a kind of appetite, and that we can question whether this appetite has some sort of freedom? Even if “will” doesn’t exactly mean “appetite”, you’d still admit that we have desires and appetites.
A: Yes.”Will” doesn’t sound exactly the same as appetite or desire to me, but we really do have desires or appetites, and I deny that we have any real choice about which one we are going to follow. A perfectly formed science could tell us why some monks follow the desire or appetite to fast in the desert and pray while playboys follow the desire to live the high life. But they had no choice but to follow the desire they followed.
B: So what sort of thing is desire? For example, can we desire something that we are utterly ignorant of, or do we at least have to have some idea of it?
A: I’m not sure that “not being utterly ignorant of X” and “having some idea of X” are the same, but that seems right.
B: So the desire for X follows some awareness of it- though this can mean many different things. The desire for peace, for example, can be had even during war.
B: So you’re claiming that we have no choice but to desire the goods we desire?
A: Right, once we learn enough, we’ll know exactly why we see all these things as good. Just look at what evolution can explain about beauty, morality, altruism, etc.
B: But we desire these goods only so far as we know them?
B: Now do we know everything we desire with absolute clarity, or not? If we want peace, do we know exactly what the peace will consist in, how we will get to it, how fast we can attain it, and all the other relevant details?
B: But then our knowledge of these goals is vague and indeterminate, and could be fulfilled in any number of ways.
B: But if I truly desire, say, peace, and desire follows knowledge, then if the knowledge is indeterminate then the desire is indeterminate. But isn’t an indeterminate desire the opposite of a determinate desire? So isn’t this an undetermined desire- a free will?
A: I don’t know. I’m not sure that everything that is indeterminate is also free. Quantum events are undetermined, but I doubt they are free; so are dice throws.
B: But I’m not saying that every non-determined thing has to be free, but I would say it is non-determined. If desire follows knowledge, then if our knowledge is not determined to one course, how can our desire be?
A: Maybe there are more causes to desire than knowledge.
B: there almost certainly are, but this isn’t the point. We agreed before that desire is impossible without some sort of knowledge. You can’t very well say that when we desire peace we must know it, but then when we desire this or that particular means we need not know them. I don’t see how you can have an utterly determined desire unless you posit that we have an utterly clear knowledge of absolutely everything that must be done- which we clearly don’t have.
A: So are you saying that our freedom arises from our ignorance?
B: I don’t know if I would say exactly that, but there is some truth in that. “freedom” in a human sense requires that we don’t know exactly the way to attain a goal.
A: But we are not free with respect to this goal?
B: I don’t think so. If we had a perfect knowledge of the goal, and a perfect illumination of how to get to it, and a perfect rectitude of our will to attain it, and most importantly, if there were no intrinsic contingencies in the very natures of things that made goals uncertain, then we would not be free in the sense that I now say we are free.
More simply, if we stood face to face with the goal of our life, and knew it as such, then we would have absolutely no choice but to choose it.
A: Yes! that’s exactly what I think! I think this is exactly what science will show us!
B: Well then, I think we agree. The question only becomes now what is the goal and end of our life, correct?
A: Yes, exactly.