It is possible to live happily and morally without believing in free will
What We Believe But Cannot
(also reprinted in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Houghton Mifflin)
It is possible to live happily and
morally without believing in free will. As Samuel Johnson said, “All
theory is against freedom of the will; all experience for it.” With
recent developments in neuroscience and theories of consciousness,
theory is even more against it than it was in his time. So I long ago
set about systematically changing the experience. I now have no
feeling of acting with free will, although the feeling took many years
to ebb away.
what happens? People say I’m lying! They say it’s impossible and
so I must be deluding myself in order to preserve my theory. And what
can I do or say to challenge them? I have no idea—other than to
suggest that other people try the exercise, demanding as it is.
the feeling is gone, decisions just happen with no sense of anyone
making them, but then a new question arises—will the
decisions be morally acceptable? Here I have made a great leap
of faith. It seems that when people discard the illusion of an inner
self who acts, as many mystics and Buddhist practitioners have done,
they generally do behave in ways that we think of as moral or good. So
perhaps giving up free will is not as dangerous as it sounds—but
this too I cannot prove.
for giving up the sense of an inner conscious self altogether—this is very much harder. I just keep on seeming to exist. But
though I cannot prove it, I think it is true that I don’t.
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