I’ve been thinking lately about the nature of free will, and to what extent it can be said to truly exist.
I think we do have free will of a very real kind, but not of the sort granted by a deity as part of the package of a metaphysical spiritual essence.
My understanding is that we are not completely independent of the laws of causality, of those uncountable, and often unknown, factors, things and events that happen to us prior to the decisions we make.
While we do have the capacity to freely select from a set of options those decisions we come to make, I do not find the notion of a dualistic free will, one completely independent of external causation, an unmoved mover if you will, to be one that best matches and explains the evidence of our behavior and actions in relation to reality.
It seems to me that making decisions with no relation to prior causation also means making them without any relation to each other, and that would be random will, not free will.
We are not little gods within our bodies, mystical souls granted us by the Infinite outside.
Certainly, we are not robots, and to some extent most of us can generally be held accountable for our actions, and we should be, but our decisions are based upon a complex framework of chance, necessity, and contingency, with a bewildering number of factors outside of our direct control, and often outside of our direct knowledge, that serve to compel our behavior and as events unfold, constrain the possible choices we will face in ways we are often completely oblivious to.
My personal view of free will does not involve anything existing above, outside or apart from nature and causation.
I think that not depending on an external and arbitrary agency for our morals, ethics, and accountability can only heighten our sense of responsibility, not threaten it.
A natural causal model of free will, as opposed to supernatural contra-causal Free Will, can go a long way to enabling us to show a little more compassion to those in a bad situation, perhaps a little less judgmental conceit toward those less fortunate, a more fair-minded view toward those with different opinions and strange and even erroneous beliefs, if one considers that in those same situations, in the same causal conditions, the same sequence of life events, the same personal fortunes or set of beliefs could very well be the case for oneself.
It is to accept that nobody is intrinsically superior or more worthy than anyone else, and I think it would go a long way to people treating each other much better, much more civilly, than they generally do.
It would be to understand that we don’t need to get these from a deity in the sky, but from ourselves by a better comprehension of ourselves, the way the world works, and the limits and circumstances we all experience that both constrain and expand our choices, enabling us to make better, wiser, and above all, more informed and rational decisions in matters of daily life and public policy.