At this time of year, I like to hearten others making New Year’s resolutions by defending free will, which has been attacked by various scientific pundits (who are just misguided, not stupid or evil). After all, how can you believe in resolutions unless you believe in free will? ...in his 2003 book Freedom Evolves, Dennett lays out a sensible, down to earth view of free will. He notes, first, that free will is “not what tradition declares it to be: a God-like power to exempt oneself from the causal fabric of the physical world.” Free will is simply our ability to perceive, mull over and act upon choices; in fact, choice, or even freedom, are reasonable synonyms for free will.
Dennett calls free will “an evolved creation of human activity and beliefs,” which humanity acquired recently as a consequence of language and culture. Free will is a variable rather than binary property, which can wax and wane in both individuals and societies; the more choices we can perceive and act upon, the more free will we have. Dennett’s most subtle, profound point is that free will is both an “objective phenomenon” and dependent on our belief in and perception of it, “like language, music, money and other products of society.” (continues)