Free Will and Psychological Determinism


Steve Snyder in Scientia Salon:

I am going to connect issues of free will and determinism … to Buddhism! (But only as a psychology, folks.) I’m going to explain why I reject free will in the sense of being associated with a unitary self, and also why I say “mu” to the whole dualistic issue of “free will versus determinism.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it comes from Zen Buddhism. There’s no precise translation in English, but a good approximation to the meaning is to “unask” a question or idea. In other words, saying “mu” to “free will vs. determinism” rejects the dualism, that these are the only two ways of looking at decision-making in human consciousness. Related to that, to the degree that these are ever useful terms, it rejects the polarity behind them, that is the idea that a particular action is either one hundred percent determined or one hundred percent of free will.

And that gets us into the meat of the piece.

The reason I say “mu” relates to the idea of subselves, multiple drafts of consciousness, and even Hume’s “fleeting impressions.”

To use Daniel Dennett’s language, if there is no “Cartesian meaner” in a “Cartesian theater,” there’s no “Cartesian free willer” there either. There is no unitary conscious self with a free will at the center of the controls. And, depending on how one understands the idea of “volition” — how much daylight one puts between it and “free will,” and spells this out — there’s arguably no “Cartesian volitioner” there either.

Now, whether our subselves, or whatever of the “multiple drafts” is in the driver’s seat at any particular moment, might be engaged in something that might be called quasi-free will, is another question. I think something like that does happen.

More here.