Note: This piece was written rather early on. For the latest, greatest, explanation, please see "Why Hard Determinism Fails".
My position on free will is that there's no logical reason to abandon the empirical
evidence of our experience in favor of the claim that free will is an
illusion. Everybody, everywhere, has empirical evidence of free will.
But nobody, anywhere, has ANY evidence that free will is an illusion.
To my experience, the biggest stumbling block to arguing for
compatibilism is to show how free will is compatible with determinism.
Henceforward, I will be using the term "self determinism" instead of
free will: this should help remind the reader that I claim free will is
limited by and compatible with determinism.
Determinists argue that heredity (genetics), experience, education,
circumstances, evolution, instincts, preferences, morality and/or other
"causal factors" force our choices for us; that choice is an illusion.
They're absolutely correct. That's exactly how it works.
What they neglect to consider is that human intelligence includes the
ability to mentally extrapolate cause and effect into the future to
gauge potential scenarios. In short, people make plans. We anticipate
causality and mentally play out various scenarios. We all do this quite
naturally and effortlessly (with varying degrees of success). Given how
automatically we prognosticate, it appears to be hard wired into the
brain. It's human nature.
And therein lies the key: prognostication is one of those "other causal
factors" thrown into the mix of influences that make our decisions for
us. Of all the causal factors that go into decisions, prognostication
is the one that gives us self determinism.
How? I'm glad you asked. Prognostication, puts us a least a step ahead
of causality because causality can only operate in the present: it must
wait for the future to arrive. For simpler matters, we can often size
up our prospects without much thought at all. Regardless, we mentally
lay out "causal paths" that (usually) lead to our goals. I would
venture to assert that evolution has led to extra significance or
weight assigned to our prognostications when they're part of the mix of
influences that determine our actions.
In this way, even though causality has led to our choices, our
estimates of future potentials leads us down causal paths that are self
determined and purposeful.
No hocus pocus. Nothing unnatural. Determinism still rules. But when
determinism meets human intelligence, it becomes self determinism.