Peter van Inwagen – Big Questions in Free Will

Peter van Inwagen is a personality I’ve had on my radar, but I haven’t spent any time with him because he is a referenced influence of Robert Kane or Derk Pereboom, who hold positions I disagree with.

Video: Peter van Inwagen – Big Questions in Free Will

Still, I was interested, so I thought watching a short 13-minute video interview might introduce me to him. I’ve enjoyed other Closer to the Truth content, so I gave it a go. I feel that Peter sets up the problem perfectly. No faults whatsoever. As I see it, the same problem and solution proposal arises that Galen Strawson adopts, yet this is where I disagree with them both.

As noam chomsky has speculated maybe our minds are just put together in the wrong way to find this fault we got a certain set of cognitive modules tossed up to us in our evolutionary history maybe we got the wrong ones for thinking about this problem

— Peter van Inwagen


Unless I decide to unpack the rest, I’ll cut to the chase. The argument is as follows:

  1. Humans are somehow hardwired to blame. (I do not know if this is universally true, but let’s accept this premise as being true.)
  2. Without the notion of free will (or at least human agency), we cannot assign blame.
  3. Therefore, in order to assign blame, free will has to be true.

I don’t disagree with this syllogism. However, in ‘free will has to be true’ , there are ostensibly two possibilities.

  1. Free will exists as a fact in nature—a priori
  2. Free will is a construction—a posteriori

Of course, the general consensus for proponents of free will is that it exists a priori. My contention is that this is not the case. Free will is an a posteriori construction.

Inwagen is falling into a heuristic trap: It feels like it’s true, so it’s obviously true. Borrowing from Daniel Kahneman, he and others are relying on System I and failing to trigger System II, where System II is required. Moreover, I take this position because I don’t think System II has what it needs to accurately analyse and assess the situation holistically. We can’t get outside of the system, so we make up a story that presumably serves our purposes.

I am not one who believes ‘the universe is a simulation’, but I do believe it serves as an apt metaphor. We are player characters in the game and we can’t see outside of it.

I like to sum it all up with the expression, the future can be different, just not because of you.

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