Chapter 9: Agency and free will


If you think back to the things you do and the movements you make, there is often a disconnect between the build up and the actual action. Think of it like waking up and it is freezing, but you are under the covers and there it’s warm.

The question James asks us in this scenario, is, how on earth do we get up, under these circumstances? Where does the will to get up and go about your day come from? It might involve a long process of convincing yourself of sticking a leg out of the covers, then removing them, then getting up, but other days, you blink, and you find that you miraculously just got up, without any conscious decision to do so. (Exercise 1) This is example of the oddity that is free will.

The problem of free will may be the most-discussed philosophical problem of all time and we can date is back to as far as the Ancient Greek philosophers two thousand years ago. The basic question is whether or not we are free to choose our actions and make decisions, and for us and this book, it is whether consciousness has any role to play in our acting freely or feeling the things we do.

Many religions bear the concept of free will, as well as the consequences of the actions that you make out of free will. Christianity has Heaven and Hell, in the Islam people are judged by the Almighty Allah. And when asked then what it is that made these choices, most religions point to the soul as the one with the free will. A form of consciousness then.

There are two main problems. For free will, the biggest problem is determinism: if this universe runs by deterministic laws, then everything that happens must be inevitable, so the argument goes, and if everything is inevitable, there is no room for free will. And without free will, there isn’t a point to doing anything, because there was no other way things could have gone.

The problem for the belief of absence of free

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