Free Will: Dr Johnson Was Right

Shand, John (2022). Free Will: Dr Johnson Was Right. Human Affairs, 32(4) pp. 394–402.



In this attempt to deal with the problem of free will Tallis identifies intentionality as a feature of our lives that cannot be explained by deterministic, natural, physical, causal laws. Our ability to think about the world, and not merely be objects subject to it, gives us room for manoeuvre for free thought and action. Science, far from being antagonistic to the possibility of free will as it is usually presented through its deterministic explanations, is a manifestation of our freedom and could not exist without it. However, doubts arise for the argument owing to a lack of explanation as to how freedom is possible no matter how persuasively we are shown that it appears to be. That is, what kind of world would it have to be for freedom to exist and be explicable. I conclude with my own view, alluded to by Tallis, but not followed up, that the problem with the scientific worldview is that it is wedded to objectivity as the only stance deemed veridical as to the nature of reality, one which therefore cannot by necessity allow subjects or freedom. As freedom is a property of subjects, the scientific worldview cannot allow for freedom. Once the condition is dropped that only the objectively knowable can be real, freedom also may be real, defined as a knowable property of our subjectivity. There is no need to deny physicalism if the definition of it is released from the epistemic bonds of objectivity and we hold that some physical properties may be known subjectively, namely those that characterize our subjective life.

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