Thanks to the South Hampshire Humanists who invited me to speak to them about free will last month. They have reviewed the talk in their recent newsletter:

… we were treated to an excellent exposition of the determinist position from our member Jonathan Pearce, suitably accompanied by slides. He began by reminding us of the three main positions — Libertarian (we own the decisions we make), Determinist (everything we do is determined by past conditions) and Compatibilist (Determinism and Free Will both exist). A show of hands indicated that the audience was roughly evenly divided between the first and second of these. Jonathan said that 59% of philosophers are compatibilists, of whom Daniel Dennett (author of Freedom Evolves) is the best known.

He went on to argue, however, that the Compatibilist position is illogical: if a decision is not caused by something it must be random, in which case it cannot be freely willed, so there must be a reason for it — hence Determinism.

Determinism denies the Principle of Alternate Possibilities (PAP) because to do otherwise would mean that the environmental and genetic causes of who you are would have to be different. We were persuaded that there is much scientific evidence for the determinist position in the fields of psychology, biology and neuroscience.

Jonathan then raised the question of human responsibility. If everything we do is determined then why should we be praised or blamed for our actions?

Some people believe that the link between antisocial behaviour and genes is so strong that is should be accorded the same status as mental illness or an abusive childhood in deciding punishment. Praise and blame are part of the causal circumstance leading to our actions, and can help people who are prone to antisocial behaviour to behave more responsibly.

Finally Jonathan pointed out that in the absence of free will there can be no judgemental god! Following the break Jonathan fielded several questions on subjects that included the evolution of language, the nature of consciousness and Daniel

Dennett’s theory that free will does exist as part of the deterministic process.

A show of hands at the end suggested that a few people had moved in the determinist direction.

For a proper exposition of Jonathan’s position and much

else. his lucid and entertaining book FREE WILL [ISBN:

978-0-9566948-0-5] is highly recommended.

The only thing I would add to that is that more than a few people changed their mind as their was only one person who remained libertarian at the end compared to the half of the audience at the beginning.

Again, many thanks to all involved.