I read a fascinating article about free will the other day. The first premise seems unremarkable to me: we initially make our decisions based on emotion, and then rationalize those decisions after the fact by reason. That premise seems well-correlated to me with empirical evidence in many cases; though there might be a small subset of cases in which people actually reason something out first before acting. However, the author then asserted that, because our decisions are primarily driven by emotion, that we only have the illusion of free will. I am not quite sure I completely followed the logical chain from the premise (emotions drive most decisions) to the conclusion (we feel like we have free will even though we actually do not). My questions to the panel are, (a) is the initial premise as reasonable to you as it seems to be to me, and (b) how does the conclusion follow logically from this premise? Thanks very much!

I have to admit: I'm as puzzled as you are.

Let's suppose I'm trying to decide which flavor of ice cream I want. My choices are chocolate and rum raisin. I like them both, and there's nothing unreasonable about eating either. What would make the author of the article treat my ending up with rum raisin amount to a free choice? That I did an exhaustive utility calculation? In the circumstances, how is this better than picking rum raisin because at that moment I'm feeling nostalgic and I'm struck by a warm memory of the big scoops of rum raisin I used to get from the ice cream shop in my home town when I was a boy?

More generally, what's the issue? Did my momentary emotion compel me to pick the rum-raisin? That doesn't seem plausible. What reason was there for not giving in to my emotion? I'd go a bit further. In a case like this, wouldn't it be a bit unreasonable to second-guess my urge? What's the issue?

If it's supposed to be that there's an explanation for how I came to pick what I picked, then that's true, but why does it matter? Suppose I made a utility calculation. No doubt there would be a reason for that too. (It would probably bring in features of my psychology that are a lot less reasonable than this "rational" calculation.)

Of course, picking between flavors of ice cream is trivial enough that it doesn't make great fodder for the free will problem. If we consider a more momentous decision, the premise that it's merely emotion is a lot less plausible; I'd be amazed if the evidence even came close to showing that serious decisions are always emotion. But in that case, the premise doesn't apply and doesn't give us a path to the conclusion.

There's another issue. It sounds as though your author assume that decisions have to be rational to count as free. In some sense of "rational," that may well be true. But it also sounds as though s/he is equating "rational" with "ratiocinative" --- with being the outcome of explicit reasoning and calculation. If so, that's a problem. It assumes a strongly non-cognitive view of emotion, and a cramped conception of what counts as rational.

So I'm not impressed yet. Maybe if I read the essay I'd find something that would change my mind. But given what you've said, my worry about the premise is not just that it's not true in a wide enough range of cases, but that it carries extra assumptions about emotions that are open to doubt. Those assumptions would be needed to get us from the premise to the conclusion --- those assumptions and, I suspect, a whole lot more.

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