On July 6, philosopher William Edwards wrote a defense of free will in Quillette called “The Academic quarrel over determinism.” Besides a vigorous defense of free will, included two paragraphs that I saw as deeply misguided and misleading (see my preliminary note here):
Needless to say, there is substantial evidence that people who believe in free will, or at least believe that they are in control of their own lives, are more prone to exhibit good mental health and productive, ethical behaviour. There is a not inconsiderable moral dilemma here. As we illuminate the role of DNA and other fixed factors, we will acquire knowledge that should allow us to improve and save countless lives. On the other hand, if more and more people come to accept the idea that they’re not choosing their thoughts and actions, their subsequent behaviour may guarantee that a lot more lives are in need of saving.
Thinkers like Harris and Weinstein are preoccupied with how we build a less risky world, which may be partly why their thinking appeals to conservatives. However, it is worth remembering the well-established relationship between risk and reward, because whether or not we believe in free will may turn out to be the Pascal’s Wager of the twenty-first century. With that in mind, any professional gambler worth their salt should bet on free will. There is just too much about the universe that we don’t understand, and the potential pay-off from agency is staggering.
The first paragraph involves a lot of selective citation, since the data on whether belief in free will has salubrious personal effects is contradictory and complex. The second paragraph involves one forcing oneself to believe a proposition for which there’s no evidence, simply because the unevidenced belief is beneficial.
I’ve just published a rebuttal, also in Quillette, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot below. Comment here or (preferably) on Quillette.