Last week, as a “Today’s Topic” segment, Cracked.com uploaded the following video, titled “Why Your Decisions Are Meaningless And Choice Is An Illusion”
For the first 6 minutes after Katie Stoll/her character prompts the conversation with an awkward “do people have free will?”, Michael Swaim/his character debates passionately for our lack of free will, with references to pop culture and various related concepts, delivering his debunking of free will in a argumentative, professor-like explanatory tone atypical of Cracked.com’s usual register.
But then, in a sad, but perhaps unsurprising attempt at making a balanced video… it is revealed that Swaim decided to give up on recycling because they moved the bins and his trash can is closer and thus makes it more convenient to trash than recycle. The video takes a downhill turn from there, with Katie leading Michael to reflect on his immoral action supposedly caused by a lack of free will, and realizing that maybe it’s best to believe in free will even if it is false. Finally, the video finishes with the kicker “[philosophy] is all bullshit anyway”.
Listen, the moral responsibility argument does not make sense to support Free Will, even as a belief. Belief in free will does not make you choose the better option, it just makes you think you are the ultimate cause of your actions. People who believe in free will do bad things all the time, and instead of finding real reasons not to do bad things, they just simply try to “will” themselves into changing… which doesn’t really work because people need real reasons, not shaky ideals.
The drive to be moral is actually something entirely separate, but best summed up in terms of self interest. Moral responsibility doesn’t mean taking complete credit for your actions, rather it means recognizing that the responsibility for your future well-being depends on your actions, and taking the decision making process of those actions seriously because you value your future well-being.
So in the context of the video, if Swaim was able to recognize the long term benefits of recycling as sufficiently important to his self interest (eg. cleaner air, less pollution, more resources), then he would have judged it worth the trouble to either walk the extra distance, or find alternate ways to conveniently recycle. Of course, whether or not Swaim could recognize the long term benefits of recycling entirely depends on his prior circumstance and a willingness to be responsible for the enviornment, which in itself is like everything else, predetermined.
In the context of society, it means that the responsible people need to (and will) affect influence that improves the responsibility of their peers and future generations. And we must do this not by spreading lies such as “free will is real” or that “it’s okay to believe in free will”, but by demonstrating, through facts, reason and experience, the tangible benefits of being moral. The process of discovering those facts is what will eventually compel us to do the right thing… no free will required.
P.S. Philosophy is a science in abstract logic. I know society likes to consider theologians and compatiblists as philosophers which is why there is the perception that philosophy is anything-flies bullshit, but society needs to start treating wrong philosophy the same way it treats wrong science. With disbelief.