Thursday, June 11, 2015


This'll be fun: heading to the Nashville Belcourt with film major Older Daughter to see the Altman classic Nashville. I've never seen it on the big screen, in the company of fellow Nashvillians. “This is a film about America. It deals with our myths, our hungers, our ambitions, and our sense of self. It knows how we talk and how we behave, and it doesn't flatter us but it does love us.” Roger Ebert
This morning's walking question was: Are ambitious, accomplished determinists and fatalists disingenuous in denying that ambition presupposes belief in free will, or that satisfaction in accomplishment depends on it?
This afternoon's answer: not disingenuous, necessarily. Deluded, possibly, from my point of view. (It's important to add that emphasis and claim it as mine.) That is to say, I have a hard enough time motivating myself to concentrated and sustained action in service of my goals, without the additional burden of believing that what I do or don't do is separate from my will. And if I came to believe that my greatest victories were in some significant sense fore-ordained, I'd be deflated and dispirited.
But I also acknowledge that not everyone feels or would express those beliefs in that way. I always ask students about that, and they always split: some consider belief in free will indispensable, others can take it or leave it.
So, this time I'll be watching Altman's film through the free will/determinism lens. Does Nashville the movie make more or less sense than Nashville the city, on the supposition that at least some of us here are acting willfully? And does that make us more or less absurd, more or less lovable, more or less "American"?

The closing number may hold a clue: "You may say that I ain't free, but it don't worry me."

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