Free Will? An investigation into whether we have free will or whether I was always going to write this book

By Jonathan MS Pearce

This book is a fine introduction into the age-old philosophical debate as to whether we have free will, or whether we live determined lives. Pearce approaches the subject in a lively manner, explaining terms clearly and using anecdotes to break down some of the heavier philosophy so that it is available to the popular philosophy reader. Now that we are understanding our genetic heritage and our neurology better, can we account for all our characteristics and decisions? The author also looks at how theories of free will and determinism integrate with religion, particularly Christianity. If we live under the illusion of free will, do religions need reassessing? How does free will work when God knows what we are doing in advance? Does God have free will? How does prophecy interfere with free will? How is our justice system affected if we know exactly why people commit crimes? These and other crucial questions are investigated with a deft touch, and the author uses recent and important scientific findings to support the text supplying a valuable overview to the subject.

“…his lucid and entertaining book FREE WILL is highly recommended” – The South Hampshire Humanists

Here are some Amazon reviews of the book:

Free Will – an investigation into whether I was always going to write this book, by Jonathan Pearce, was a thoroughly enjoyable intellectual amble. Pearce is not a professional or academic philosopher, and he does most of his philosophizing at the local pub with a group of likeminded “tippling philosophers”, and brings this style to the book. He is also well read as to what academic philosophers are thinking. This combination, a well informed writer, who writes in a conversational “pub” style without academic jargon, makes for a particularly accessible and non-dogmatic read.

While the book is organized into sections and chapters, their content repeats somewhat, and subjects and themes cross between chapters and sections freely. I did not find the book to have any linear or cumulative structure to it, though it seemed to break down into three main portions. The first portion of the book introduces the reader to the problem – that Free Will seems to be incompatible with either causation or randomness, and pretty much everything seems to be either caused or random, so there is no obvious method that Free Will could work. Pearce introduces the Libertarian, Compatabilist, and Determinist POVs as ways to resolve this conflict, and expresses his views that Libertarianism is incoherent, Compatabilism is just sugar-coated Determinism, and that he is a happy Determinist. He also introduces his theme of second-guessing the judicial system, in particular its retributive and judgmental aspects.

The middle portion of the book elaborates on these three POVs. While it does not add much to understanding of Libertarianism or Compatabilism, this portions discussion on Determinism was particularly interesting. Here, Pearce recounts psychological, neurological, upbringing, genetic, and philosophical studies on the strength of influences on our behavior. These studies provide very interesting insights into humanity, and Pearce does a good job compiling info from a variety of sources. The scope and magnitude of the influences he recounts he considers to be strong evidence for determinism, and he repeats this claim several times in the conclusion.

This claim is the major reasoning shortfall I found in the work. Pearce himself admits that almost nobody holds by pure Libertarianism. Libertarians hold by influences and predilections, and acts of will to overcome these influences. His examples all show INFLUENCE. They only refute pure Libertarianism, not influenced Libertarianism. Therefore, since they are not critical test cases between Determinism and Influenced Libertarianism, they are not evidence for Determinism.

The last section of the book focused primarily on religions, and how they deal with Free Will and Determinism. He points out that a God who knows the future, and who is outside of time, is incompatible with Free Will. This is fairly explicitly accepted in Islam, but most Christian theologians have come up with sugar-coated Compatabilist techniques to argue that we sort of have free will, even though everything is already determined. He takes many tangents here to critique the limited freedom involved in stringent religious codes, with repeated interventions by God, etc. He wanders even further afield with moral critiques of Old Testament laws, and the actions of Yahweh. The point seems to be that most people who reject determinism do so because of the religious necessity of Free Will, and he is trying to refute those claims by showing the simultaneous religious necessity for determinism, and if that fails, demonstrate that religious views are flawed for other reasons. These logic and moral critiques are for the most part valid. However, the attacks on religion in this portion of the book fit only tangentially into the purpose of the book, and look like something he should have mostly excised, and turned into a separate book critiquing religions.

One hole he failed to plug is that some theologians have taken a route out of his determinist minefield, by holding that God is INSIDE time, and experiences change. He mostly brushes over this point, but does launch a side attack to try to refute it, by attacking time. He asserts time is like a dimension (and calims this is how most physicists think of it today), and therefore physics is already holding that the future already exists (is determined). However, as the multidimensional String Theory and M-theory universes have X dimensions AND TIME (no more than one time field), not X dimensions ONE OR MORE OF WHICH ARE TIME (time and dimension fields are fundamentally the same) – it is clear that time really isn’t a dimension. While it may be possible that most physicists hold this opinion, its failure in practice trumps his citation of expert support…

This book elucidates the three most commonly held ideas of free will (Libertarian, Compatibilism, Determinism) and examines each. Using a bit of humor, facts and anecdotes the author succinctly takes the position of determinism while being humble enough to admit that his views are tentative as more facts come in. (Though, it seems as more facts do come in they continue to prove determinism despite our wish for the opposite!)

Excellent book and probably should be the starting place for those interested in the topic, regardless if you come from a secular or a theistic background. The author includes the facts of determinism also while considering some of the Christian claims which I thought was very interesting.

Come join the Tippling philosophers and get ready to have your mind stimulated.

I recommend this entertaining and well-argued, mind-blowing book in which the author examines a notion we all seem to take for granted in the West, i.e., our dearly beloved notion of free will. In this book we learn that in spite of the overwhelming dominance of this cherished notion deeply embedded in our cultural, legal and religious belief systems, it is clearly scientifically and demonstratively false and does not exist. First, the author gives us the basic definitions of terms, then examples, philosophical and historical arguments, important religious positions and rebuttals. One of the author’s early hypothetical examples is about a couple going out to dinner and trying to decide what to eat. To “choose” to have pizza, the couple has to rely on many reasons determined by a variety of known and unknown facts concerning their biology, psychology, economic status, childhood and the environment causing their preferences and showing their overriding susceptibility to these kinds of influences that leave no room for a free choice on their part. After the author brought up this couple for the third time, I had to put my Kindle down and go to the kitchen and heat up a pizza! I was falling under the discussion’s suggestion that pizza would taste pretty good right now and I realized I was demonstrating the author’s point about human susceptibility to suggestion and lack of free will by my own spontaneous behavior!

The author convincingly shows that determinism is borne out in countless recent scientific discoveries in neuroscience, psychology, biochemistry, physics and genetics which new findings are important and have wide application in all aspects of our lives. There is a new dawn of knowledge exploding around us and our lives depend upon our absorbing many new scientific discoveries in many complex fields. We cannot blame a god or a devil for our circumstances; the author deftly dispatches them from the new matrix. We have to get with the new paradigm and look at how we can improve our critical thinking, how we can make better economic decisions, how we can use our new scientific knowledge to create new art, how we can see one another in a more compassionate light and how we may reform education and the criminal justice system. I recommend this book because we need to make a lot of informed decisions every day and we need all the rational help we can get to understand our common humanity and to develop the full power and beauty of our finite being.

This is a really good book written for intelligent laymen and not philosophers. As such it is incredibly effective and well done. The author brings in a wide range of evidence against free will and discusses the three main philosophical ideas related to free will – libertarianism, compatablism, and determinism and the arguments for and against them….

Highly recommended.