The debate over whether the belief in possessing a “free will” can be maintained in the light of modern science, in particular neuroscience, has often been presented as a choice between two extremes. On the one hand, we have the conception of strict determinism excluding free will; on the other hand, we have a conception of freedom of choice excluding determinism. Neither position, I claim, is scientifically realistic. The introduction in neuroscience of “variable determinism” suggests that we can be simultaneously determined and “free”. The important questions before us rather concern how to understand this balance and how to structure our societies accordingly.
In this article, I focus on the doxastic and normative questions about the possible role of free will in our belief systems and social structures and on the role of neuroscience in challenging, or supporting, different positions. In line with a previously developed theoretical framework, I argue that the variability theorem, if correct, may offer empirical support for the compatibility of free will and causality, thus allowing for a rational belief in free will understood as a non-zero capacity to influence the causal processes of states and behaviour.
So long as there is contingency in the causal relations (i.e. determinism including variability), there may be a fundamental dimension of voluntary influence in our choices. This measure of variability and control is sufficient to safeguard the possibility of “free will” under these particular aspects, leaving open the extent of the freedom that we actually possess.
De facto, our capacity for choice is strongly influenced by a variety of causal mechanisms and antecedent events over which we in reality have no or very limited influence: our natural, social and cultural environments all shape us.
This variable determinism is also important to understand in terms of social applications, and the aim of this article is to translate this aspect of science and philosophy to society. In that endeavour, we need to be aware both of the freedom bestowed us by the variable determinism revealed by neuroscience and philosophy, and of the limits of this freedom.
Understanding of this balance and its broader contexts should become more deeply integrated not only into our general world-views but also into our social structures shaping our legal and educational systems, child-care and moral upbringing favouring tolerance and respect of human rights.
Pour citer cet article :Evers Kathinka (2021/2). Variable Determinism in Social Applications: Translating Science to Society. In Monier Cyril & Khamassi Mehdi (Eds), Liberty and cognition, Intellectica, 75, (pp.73-89), DOI: n/a.